By Christina Cecotto, LCSW
Having hurt feelings is something everybody has experienced at one time or another. There are some who are more sensitive to feeling hurt than others. This has a lot to do with our self-talk and our interpretation of others’ actions. In order to determine what is causing us to feel hurt, we need to become aware of what we are telling ourselves when we are feeling hurt in the context of the situation. This can help us to identify whether we are telling ourselves the truth or distorting the truth about the situation.
Factors that Determine Sensitivity
It is common to use two cognitive distortions when our feelings are hurt; personalization and magnification. Personalization is when we “take other’s actions personally when they have other intentions” (Beck, 2011, Cognitive Distortions Worksheet). An example would be, “you did that on purpose” (Beck, 2011, Cognitive Distortions Worksheet). Magnification is when the negatives are magnified. These are not the only cognitive distortions one may have when feeling hurt, but they are some of the most common when it comes to hurt feelings.
Other factors that determine one’s sensitivity or lack of sensitivity to being hurt by others are attachment styles and core beliefs. There are three categories of negative core beliefs that one may hold depending upon their childhood experience and self-talk. The three categories of core beliefs are worthlessness, helplessness, and unlovable core beliefs. Within these categories there are multiple specific core beliefs that one may hold and interpret their experiences according to these core beliefs. (Typical Core Beliefs)
Other factors that play a role in hurt feelings are attachment styles. In the book, How We Love by Milan & Kay Yerkovich, there are five “love styles” or types of insecure attachments described in easy to understand terms. They include the Avoider, Pleaser, Vacillator, Controller, and Victim. These attachment styles are developed from our childhood experiences and relationships with our parents. Once adults, they are often manifested in our most intimate relationships with our spouses, children, and God. I will only describe one that is most sensitive to feeling hurt. This does not mean that those that have the other attachment styles don’t feel hurt, but that they are not as prone to struggling with feeling hurt as frequently. The Vacillator is one of the love styles that experience hurt feelings most frequently and is a common attachment style.
The cause of the Vacillator attachment style is believed to be from sporadic and inconsistent attention from parents. Parents of Vacillators were often more focused on their own needs than that of their child. This is not always the case, but is found to be a common cause of this attachment style. The Vacillator’s motto is “be idealistic and find the perfect relationship that provides all the connection and attention I need” (Yerkovich, 2007, p. 3). The Small Group Curriculum Participant Syllabus in How We Love outlines the traits of a Vacillator as the following:
- Sensitive and alarmed when others pull away
- Rehearse about events before they happen and hope for certain outcomes
- Desires connection and is always trying to make it happen
- Hurt when others want space and time away
- Often feels misunderstood and unsupported
- Spends a lot of time ruminating about relationships and where they fit in
- Gets angry when hurt and disappointed
- Ruminates after events as to how they were perceived
- Dives into relationships with enthusiasm and intensity
- Hopes others will guess when they are hurt and pursue them to find out what’s wrong
- Often has feelings of jealousy and easily feels excluded and left out
- Moody and tends to feel either really happy or disappointed and let down
- Feels like longing for connection is never satisfied
- Feels better after they vent and get things off their chest. (p. 3,4)
If you are a Vacillator you may not have 100% of these traits. You may benefit from taking the How We Love quiz to determine the percentage of each love style you may have. The quiz is based upon one’s self-report so like any self-reporting assessment, there is a possibility of bias. You can determine the traits to look out for and the growth goals that will help you overcome these traits by becoming familiar with the resources on their website. These insecure attachment styles are overcomable and you can become a secure connector.
An Example of Unhealthy Thoughts
Let’s take a look at an example of a woman who is a Vacillator and has a core belief that she is unlovable. She also falls into the traps of two common cognitive distortions, personalization and magnification.
Sandra was hurt that her husband, Kevin, forgot once again to do an important errand she had requested of him several days earlier. She had asked him multiple times to do this errand and was beginning to feel that he didn’t care about her. She began to entertain thoughts that he didn’t really love her because if he did, he would make a bigger effort to do what she had asked. She was hurt and angry. After stewing on these thoughts, she exploded and started yelling at Kevin. Kevin was caught off guard by her outburst. He tends to have difficulty with forgetting things already, but he often feels he can’t please his wife no matter what he does.
There could be potentially other factors at play here as to why Kevin isn’t following up on the errand requested of him. Sandra wouldn’t know these other factors unless she asked him. But, either way, she jumps to conclusions and falls into the trap of Personalization. She becomes very hurt and angry as she entertains the thoughts that she is unloved.
Sandra grew up in a home where her father was inconsistently available. She began to believe that she was unlovable at a very young age and as a result carried out this belief into adulthood. This caused her to be sensitive to any evidence that suggested she was unlovable. She interpreted experiences to mean she wasn’t loved when that wasn’t so. This caused her to miss evidence that she is loved due to the misinterpretation of the motives of others. This would be called Selective Abstraction. Selective Abstraction is when “you pay attention to only the negative aspects of a situation instead of considering the entire experience” (Beck, 2011, Cognitive Distortions Worksheet). This only leads to Magnification because the negatives in regards to this situation are magnified and the feelings begin to build even more (Beck, 2011, Cognitive Distortions Worksheet).
Coping Skills for Hurt Feelings
We can avoid hurt feelings by asking ourselves, what evidence do I have that this is true? Or what evidence do I have that this is not true? Could there be an alternative explanation? If Sandra were to ask herself these questions, she would consider the evidence that her husband already has difficulty with managing his time and is forgetful. This would help her not to take his actions so personally. She would also take into consideration the other evidence suggesting that he does love her. If she practices not personalizing and magnifying her husband’s actions, she can begin to get out of the habit of feeling hurt.
We can avoid hurt feelings by asking ourselves, what evidence do I have that this is true? Or what evidence do I have that this is not true? Could there be an alternative explanation?
She can also review the growth goals to overcome her insecure attachment style. In the Small Group Curriculum Participant Syllabus for How We Love by Milan & Kay Yerkovich, the growth goals for how to overcome the Vacillator attachment style are outlined as follows:
- Use [A Feelings Word List] to discover the feelings under your anger (anxiety).
- Learn to be disappointed without going to “all bad.” Every day, person, job, church, etc. is both good and bad…
- Notice your tendency to idealize and learn to live in reality. This means disappointments and setbacks are normal.
- Notice how times of ruminating and preoccupation build anxiety. The buildup of anxiety often leads to venting. Instead of rehearsing and reviewing, count your blessings, sing a song, review the good and seek to be present in the moment verses in your head spinning.
- Learn to grieve; it will lessen your anger.
- Turn complaints into requests.
- Don’t expect others to mind read. Ask directly for what you want. (pg. 9)
Reviewing and implementing these growth goals daily can lessen feelings of hurt and disappointment.
Choosing Your Mindset
According to Dr. Dick Tibbits who wrote the book, Forgive to Live, there are two possible pathways one can take when wronged; the victim mindset or the victor mindset. The victim mindset says, “you are responsible for my pain so you must do something to make me feel better and if you refuse to help me, I will resent you.” The victor mindset says, “I am responsible for my happiness so I must make choices and act in ways that are best for me and no matter what you do I am free to forgive and live my life.” The victor mindset empowers us to take responsibility for our emotions and have more control over how we live our lives. There may also be a time and place to set boundaries and use good communication skills to address others hurtful actions depending on the situation. To learn more about setting boundaries you can read Boundaries or Boundaries in Marriage by Dr. Cloud & Townsend.
The victor mindset empowers us to take responsibility for our emotions and have more control over how we live our lives.
So, what if Sandra’s husband’s behavior was done to spite her? Even if her husband truly didn’t love her, it still doesn’t mean that she is an unlovable person. Would it still hurt? Absolutely! But it wouldn’t hurt to the degree that it would if she were to believe that she was unlovable because of her husband’s actions.
It also helps to know that we are loved with an everlasting love from our Heavenly Father. When we acknowledge Him in the midst of our pain and allow ourselves to be shielded by His love that can also serve as a powerful coping skill. Spending time meditating upon God’s love for us rather than on how someone may not love us allows our hearts to be filled with love despite the pain.
Yerkovich, M. & K. (2017). How We Love for Singles: Small Group Curriculum Participant Syllabus. Alive Communications, Inc.
Beck, J. (2019). List of Typical Cognitive Distortions. Beck Institute. www.beckinstitute.org.
Beck, J. (2019). Typical Core Beliefs. Beck Institute. www.beckinstitute.org
Christina Cecotto, LCSW is a Christian counselor, life and health coach. She understands the impact that physical and spiritual health have on mental health and is passionate about providing holistic care. She has found that individuals have a high success for healing when the whole person (spiritual, physical, and mental) is addressed.