No one likes getting their feelings hurt. It’s agonising. It fills you with a strange mix of sorrow, rage and anxiety—all at the same time. You might also notice that these feelings become more intense depending on who offends you. After all, if it was your father or your boss that did it, the situation could get rough.

For one thing, you probably feel like you don’t have the right to defend yourself, yes? Most people feel that it’s wrong to express anger, especially against people they love or respect, so they swallow their feelings instead.

Yet, this reaction is neither helpful nor needed. Understand that you are not obliged to own the actions or feelings of other people, no matter who they are. Although tempting, stewing over such things only leads to angst and bitterness.

But how do you prevent other people’s insults, criticisms or downright rudeness from causing you pain? Do you really have what it takes to protect yourself from the emotional tyranny of others? Can you even do this without causing more trouble? I believe you can. So let’s talk about how this is done.

There are no bad emotions

When we are at odds with someone, it can be hard to tell who is right or wrong. But I promise you that you can never be wrong for having an emotional reaction. That’s like saying birds should be ashamed of flying. At no time should you feel guilty for simply feeling anger, shock or any other emotion. Put in another way, it’s okay to feel whichever way you like.

As children we are often taught to refrain from being too wild, too loud or too angry. And no matter how old you get, this message stays stuck in your head. This is why we often struggle with intense emotion. We let it riddle us with guilt, fear and a deep-seated urge to remain silently dissatisfied.

However, having strong feelings, especially after someone has emotionally crushed you, isn’t wrong; in fact it’s normal. The question isn’t whether or not your feelings are okay. The real question is how to find a beneficial way to express and protect your feelings without producing guilt or regret in yourself.

To be understood you must first understand yourself

Before you go around blaming people for how you feel, you must first examine yourself. This is uncomfortable. No one likes to see their own flaws or admit that they might have something to do with a negative situation. But self-reflection is crucial. For example, let’s say you believe that your boss hates you with passion. He doesn’t like how you dress, speak or work. And so, whenever he’s around you feel nervous and awkward.

But what’s really happening? Is it that your boss hates you or could it be that you hate your boss but don’t feel that it’s right to feel that way? Is your boss really a bad person, or does she remind you of someone else you don’t like? Is it really this single person that burns you up inside or could it be that she represents something larger that you despise? The sources of our feelings aren’t always clear-cut. Take the time to examine why you feel the way you do, for hurt feelings are nearly always softened by careful thought.

Realise that it may not be about you

Sometimes when people struggle in life they take it out on others. Usually this happens when people unconsciously express personal stress without knowing it. That doesn’t mean that it is okay for someone to be abusive simply because they are stressed; it just means that sometimes it is helpful to imagine yourself standing in their place before you judge their actions. It is important to remember that empathy and compassion toward others, including people we dislike, can change our feelings even in the most difficult situations.

Accept that you cannot read minds

When someone does something to upset you, you’ll often try to read his mind to decrease your own anxiety. It’s a primitive way of preventing a worst-case scenario from happening. This, of course, is preposterous. Not only is your mind reading in vain, but it also increases anxiety and misunderstanding. It even gets in the way of using more effective problem-solving skills. Things like silence, assumption and sloppy guess work will only serve to intensify a situation rather than resolve it.

The key to protecting your feelings

So far we’ve talked about what to do when someone does something to hurt you:

  • Acknowledge how you feel
  • Understand why you feel that way
  • Try not to take it  personally
  • Try not to guess why the person did what they did.

But that’s not all. Perhaps the most important thing you can do to protect your feelings is to set clear boundaries with people. While you’re obviously not going to go around providing people with a list of rules, when someone does offend you, it is critical that you speak up.

To be fair, people sometimes have moments of stupidity and unintentionally act badly; forgive those people. However, if you notice a harmful pattern in the way someone treats you, then you must act. Tell the offending party how and why you were offended, but most importantly, clearly state that you will not tolerate their bad behaviour.

If expressing your concern directly is not an option, then introduce some space. Limit the time you spend with people that emotionally drain you and fail to respect your boundaries. You can even be kind about it. Trying to feel compassion and empathy for them will help you to increase your tolerance and patience towards them. Your gentle reserve will send a clear message that will be heard with time.

Whenever you take personal responsibility for someone else’s behaviour, you’re setting yourself up for sorrow, rage and anxiety. When you fail to care about yourself and your needs as much as you care for others, you are also setting the expectation that you are okay with people treating you poorly.

My advice to you: be kind and firm with others and you will better protect your feelings from bad behaviour.

This was first published in the March 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.


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