This blog is about dealing with hurt feelings. In three short articles, it charts my learning over a period of several months.
1. My dilemma – written on 19.8.20.
Image: level17-design, Pixabay
The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me
(Job 30:27; NIV).
Introduction During the summer of 2020, two people hurt me badly, on separate occasions. I decided to be direct with them, and did so as lovingly as I could. However, both reacted to my feedback with anger and blame, and neither was willing to work together towards reconciliation.
My dilemma: Should I speak out, or say nothing? This breakdown in two significant relationships left me ruminating for many weeks about all that had gone wrong, generating a constant sense of dread. Sadly, this was not a new experience. Dealing with hurt feelings has posed a serious dilemma for me throughout my life: is it better to speak out to those concerned, or to say nothing?
What did Jesus say and do? As always, when I don’t know what to do for the best, I looked for guidance in the teaching and example of Jesus. However, he taught, and displayed, both outspoken and silent ways of responding to hurt, criticism, and injustice, which I have always found confusing.
For example, on one occasion he stated: If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them, and if they repent, forgive them (Luke 17:3; NIV).
Yet he also said: If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also (Matthew 5:39; NLT).
So, what happens when I try to follow each of these two apparently very different approaches?
Speaking out Experience has taught me that when I speak out directly to someone who has hurt me, it almost always backfires. In response to my feedback, they turn on me with anger and blame, or end our relationship. I then react to their hostility with my characteristic endless sense of dread.
Saying nothing On the other hand, when I say nothing, I allow the other person to hurt me without protesting, absorbing the pain and damage, just as I did with my emotionally abusive mother. This makes me feel powerless, worthless, and depressed.
Thus, whichever approach I try, I generally end up feeling as if life is not worth living.
Forgiveness Fortunately, Jesus was absolutely clear that whether or not we speak out, we should always forgive those who hurt us. This applies even if they never acknowledge what they have done, and never apologise. Forgiveness gives me something positive to work on during the months of emotional distress which follow each time someone upsets me.
Conclusion When people hurt me, I see myself as having only two basic choices: to speak out, or to say nothing. Either way, the outcome is equally damaging for my mental health. Not knowing how to resolve this dilemma has plagued me all my life, and remains a serious problem to this day.
After writing the piece above, I began to talk my dilemma over with a few, trusted people for the first time ever. Gradually, my thinking about it began to change, as described in the next article.
2. My action plan – written on 30.8.20.
Image: Jackson David, Pixabay
If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God
(Matthew 5:23-4; NLT).
Introduction After writing the above article, I spent a long time working out how to improve my ways of relating to those who hurt me. From the insights gained, I gradually put together an action plan to follow whenever a crisis arises.
My action plan Rather than seeing my response as a stark choice between speaking out and saying nothing, I decided to tackle each situation in a series of stages.
Stage 1: Withdraw, pray, reflect When someone behaves unacceptably towards me, I will not confront the person involved immediately. Instead, I will simply tell them that I need time to reflect on what they have said or done. I will then withdraw to sleep on the matter for at least one night. Taking time out will enable me to pray, discuss the situation with someone I trust, and think carefully, before responding. This should help to prevent me from reacting angrily in the heat of the moment, with a high risk of permanently damaging the other person, our relationship, and myself.
Stage 2: Decide whether or not to be honest During the time out, if I decide it is pointless, or inappropriate, to speak directly to the person concerned, I need take the matter no further. Instead, I will work on praying for them, and forgiving them.
On the other hand, if I decide to tell the other person how their behaviour has affected me, I need to remember that they may have had no intention, or awareness, of upsetting me, and might therefore be very taken aback when I raise the subject.
Stage 3: Speak out briefly, and lovingly When I decide to give direct feedback, I will do so as briefly and lovingly as possible. I will remind the person of what they said or did, and be honest about how it has hurt me. Anything beyond this is superfluous.
Stage 4: Wait to see how the person responds If the other person reacts badly, there is no need for me to do anything further. We are all responsible for our own behaviour, and I can’t expect everyone to respond exactly as I wish. Instead, I will try to put the whole matter behind me, though I admit that I have always found this impossible.
On the other hand, if the other person reacts positively, and apologises, I will accept this immediately, forgiving them completely. We can then be reconciled, and the whole matter will be resolved.
Stage 5: Start afresh Finally, however badly things turn out, I can try to start afresh each day. Every time I find myself ruminating about what happened, I will remind myself that the matter is now closed, and that it’s time for me to move on.
Conclusion From now on, when someone hurts me, I have an action plan to follow. My overall aim will be to maintain a careful balance between being speaking out, preserving relationships, and protecting my mental health.
After finishing this article, I made further progress in dealing with hurt feelings, as described in the final piece of this series.
3. My further learning – written on 23.1.21.
Image: Manfred Antranias Zimmer, Pixabay
Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves
(Philippians 2:3; NLT).
Introduction Despite my hopes, putting together my action plan didn’t make me feel any better about my two shattered relationships. I was still living with constant dread, which drained my already very limited energy. My sleep and dreams were disturbed, and I began to slip into depression. Clearly, my approach to dealing with hurt feelings was incomplete.
Then, one day, I suddenly realised that when I’ve been honest with someone about their behaviour towards me, and they have taken it badly, or stopped speaking to me, there is one more step I can take, in the hope of resolving the situation.
One more step I can write to the person concerned, saying how sorry I am about everything that has gone wrong between us. I can tell them that I’m praying for them, and for our relationship, and let them know that I long for us to be reconciled. Even if they don’t respond, I will then know that I have done all I possibly can to put things right between us.
This insight enabled me to write carefully and lovingly to the two people who had hurt me. To my delight, one responded with great generosity of spirit, though sadly the other did not reply. However, by sending these letters, I finally managed to stop ruminating about all that had gone wrong. In consequence, my abiding sense of dread slowly began to diminish.
The teaching of Mother Theresa At this point, I believed my action plan was complete. Some weeks later, though, I stumbled on Mother Theresa’s teaching about how to deal with exactly the kind of hurtful situations that had destroyed my peace of mind for so many months.
In her book, “The Joy in Loving” (Penguin Books, 2000), Mother Theresa offers brief but powerful advice on how to become more humble, and therefore more Christ-like. The wording varies slightly in different editions of the book, so I have amalgamated the most relevant points into a single list which hopefully maintains the spirit of her approach:
Do not dwell on the faults of others.
Accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.
Accept criticism, even if it is unmerited.
Accept insults and injuries.
Accept being slighted and disliked.
Accept contempt, being disregarded, and being forgotten.
Be courteous, kind, and gentle, even when provoked.
Inspired by the simplicity and clarity of these teachings, I began to absorb and practice them. Not long afterwards a friend unexpectedly censured me for something which was not under my control. Feeling hurt, I began to defend myself, but quickly recalled Mother Theresa’s wise words, “Accept criticism, even if it is unmerited.” I stopped speaking, and turned away. Overwhelmed by despair, I started to weep. To my friend’s credit, she quickly realised how much she had hurt me. She approached me, apologising profusely. We clung together for a long time in great distress, comforting each other. Eventually I was able to explain how afraid I had been of her sudden anger, and how much her words had upset me. I told her that I loved and valued her, and we were fully reconciled.
Humility, acceptance and courtesy This was a deeply healing experience, unlike anything I had previously experienced. Moreover, it was not followed by dread, or depression, which seemed little short of a miracle. I therefore resolved to adopt Mother Theresa’s approach of responding with humility, acceptance, courtesy, kindness and forgiveness whenever someone hurts me.
Conclusion These three linked articles have described how I resolved my lifelong dilemma about the best way to respond when someone hurts me. I no longer see myself as having a straight, binary choice between speaking out and saying nothing. Nor do I need a complex action plan that relies on how the other person reacts at each stage. Instead, from now on, whenever I am criticised or attacked, I will use the simple, humble approach encapsulated in Mother Theresa’s teaching.
To my delight, this completely resolves my original dilemma, as it is entirely in accordance with the spirit of Christ’s own words: Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also […] Then your reward in heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High (Luke 6:27-9, 35; NLT).
There can be no finer action plan than this.
My warmest thanks to all those who engaged in discussing this issue with me, especially Alan, Dianne, Rosemary, and John. Their contributions have been invaluable. Many thanks also to Ber, whose technical help and personal encouragement enabled me to write and organise this document.
They look, but they don’t really see
(Matthew 13:13; NLT).
1. Look at our world –
At our conflict and strife.
2. Look, for our greed
Is destroying all life.
3. Look at our hate –
We’ve forgotten God’s way.
4. Look, see the truth,
Ask forgiveness, and pray.
Image: Nicole Schüler, Pixabay
1. The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Do all these evildoers know nothing? They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on the Lord (Psalm 14:2-4; NIV).
2. From the least to the greatest, their lives are ruled by greed (Jeremiah 6:13; NLT).
You did not reflect on your actions or think about their consequences (Isaiah 47:7; NLT).
3. Hatred stirs up quarrels (Proverbs 10:12; NLT).
They have chosen crooked paths and have forgotten the Lord their God (Jeremiah 3:21; NLT).
God’s way is perfect (2 Samuel 22:31; NLT).
Follow the way of love (1 Corinthians 14:1; NIV).
4. You will look back on all the ways you defiled yourselves, and will hate yourselves because of the evil you have done (Ezekiel 20:43; NLT).
Perhaps even yet they will turn from their evil ways and ask the Lord’s forgiveness before it is too late (Jeremiah 36:7; NLT).
Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other (Isaiah 45:22; NIV).
1. Lord Jesus,
May so many give up sinning
That all the world
Will glimpse your shining presence.
2. Lord Jesus,
May so many seek forgiveness
That all the world
Will learn to live in peace.
3. Lord Jesus,
May so many find salvation
That all the world
Will listen to your teaching.
4. Lord Jesus,
May so many grow to love you
That all the world
Will come to share your feast.
1. Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all (1 Corinthians 15:34; NLT).
Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us (Colossians 3:11; NLT).
I am the light of the world (John 8:12; NLT).
2. Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you (Acts 13:38; NIV).
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:14; NLT).
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all (Isaiah 11:6; NLT).
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9; NIV).
He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:4; KJV).
3. Let all the world look to me for salvation! For I am God; there is no other (Isaiah 45:22; NLT).
All the people will see the salvation sent from God (Luke 3:6; NLT).
The grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people (Titus 2:11; NLT).
This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him (Mark 9:7; NLT).
4. The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord (Isaiah 11:9; NIV).
People will come from all over the world – from east and west, north and south – to take their places in the Kingdom of God (Luke 13:29; NLT).
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world (Isaiah 25:6; NLT).
Two people have hurt me badly in the last few weeks. In both cases, after some thought, I was honest with those involved, expressing my response as lovingly as I could. However, they both reacted with anger and blame. Sadly, offering to meet for reconciliation has brought no response.
Since then, I repeatedly go over all that happened, which generates a constant, painful, and exhausting sense of dread.
The crux of my anxiety is that when someone hurts me, I don’t know whether I should speak out, or say nothing. Each approach has different consequences.
What did Jesus say and do?
As always, I look for guidance in Jesus’ teaching and example. However, he taught, and displayed, both outspoken and silent ways of responding to hurt and injustice, which I find confusing.
Until his arrest, Jesus always spoke the truth in love when people criticised or insulted him. He was, in fact, very direct. His honesty made him a lot of enemies, and contributed to his death.
After his arrest, Jesus said very little, no matter what he was accused of, and how he was treated. This puzzled his captors, perhaps antagonising them even more.
Over the years, I’ve tried both approaches. What happens when I follow Christ’s example in these two, very different, ways?
A. Speaking out
When I “speak the truth in love”, it almost always backfires. The person I’ve been honest with turns on me, angrily blaming me for what I said, even though it was their own hurtful behaviour towards me that I spoke about. I then react to their hostility with my characteristic chronic dread.
B. Saying nothing
When I say nothing, I simply allow the other person to hurt me, absorbing the pain and damage, just as I did with my emotionally abusive mother. Without feedback, of course, there is a risk that they may continue to damage me. This makes me feel helpless and powerless, worsening my chronic depression.
Either way, I can easily end up feeling as if life is not worth living.
Fortunately, Jesus is absolutely clear that whether we speak out or say nothing, we should always forgive those who hurt us. This applies even if they never recognise what they have done, and never say they are sorry.
When people hurt me, I ruminate endlessly about how I responded, and what went wrong. Whether I speak out or say nothing, the outcome is equally damaging for my mental health.
Worse still, I also feel guilty for having “caused” the other person to strike back angrily at me, and to hate me from then onwards.
So, when someone hurts me, should I speak out, or say nothing? I still don’t know the answer to this question, which has plagued me all my life. All I can do is to pray for those who hurt me, asking God to guide and heal us all.
Image: Himsan, Pixabay
Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely, the one who shared my food, has turned against me (Psalm 41:9; NLT).
What did Jesus say and do?
Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21; NIV).
You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (Matthew 23:33; NIV).
The leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise (Mark 15:3-5; NLT).
If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God(Matthew 5:23-4; NLT).
A. Speaking out
Speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church (Ephesians 4:15; NLT).
If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them (Luke 17:3-4; NIV.
The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me (Job 30:27; NIV).
B. Saying nothing
He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth (Isaiah 53:7; NLT).
You have taken away my companions and my loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend (Psalm 88:18; NLT).
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me (Psalm 42:7;NIV).
Why wasn’t I buried like a stillborn child, like a baby who never lives to see the light?(Job 3:16; NLT).
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there [and] Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:33-4; NIV).
When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins (Mark 11:25; NLT).
Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you (Luke 6:27-8; NLT)
The Lord of Hosts […] is wonderful in counsel and excellent in guidance (Isaiah 28:29; NKJV).
Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example,
that you should follow in his steps
(1 Peter 2:21; NIV).
1. Thank you, Lord,
For your example: Silence In response to blame.
2. Thank you, Lord,
For your example: Courage
In the face of fear.
3. Thank you, Lord,
For your example: Pardon
As you bowed to pain.
4. Thank you, Lord,
For your example:
Help me, please,
1. When the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent.“Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. But Jesus made no response (Matthew 27:12-14; NLT).
2. If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine (Matthew 26:39; NLT).
3. When they came to the place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross [and] Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:33-4; NLT).
4. You need to persevere, so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised (Hebrews 10:36; NIV).