On Responding to Hurt Feelings.

By: Jen Shoop

Author Jedidiah Jenkins wrote, of memoir: “Sanitized writing is not worth reading. Unless the pain is looked at and shared, it is behind the barn and festering. Trust me: what is unsaid is not smothered. It is coming out sideways.”

I read those words and wondered.

Later the same afternoon, I came across a quote on the subject of speaking up when feelings are hurt that said something like: “Short term discomfort is better than long-term pain.”

I read those words and I wondered, too.

These provocations are difficult for me to accept. It is not in my nature to be combative, or even confrontational. I would much rather smooth things over; I prefer to kiss and make up. My parents always implored me to “be the bigger person” and “turn the other cheek.” My father in particular is prone to forgiveness by virtue of the phrase: “You never know what’s going on with the other person.” I remember one time recounting to him a very strange interaction at a funeral, and he said: “People grieve in all kinds of ways. You have to give people a lot of space.” I think of those words often. I had anticipated solidarity — could even imagine the screwy face he would make while exclaiming: “what a mean thing to say!” — but he returned my judgmental account of the situation with humbling grace.

Still. It is true, what Jenkins says. If serious hurt goes unbroached, the emotions do crawl out “sideways.” And it is possible to be so forgiving as to become a doormat. Grave offenses should be dealt with; insults need not be tolerated. We owe ourselves that.

How to reconcile all of this?

I think this is such a nuanced area that short Instagram excerpts and other quick rubrics do more bad than good. Because, in my experience, sometimes, it is the right thing to push back. Other times, it is the right thing to do the less emotionally-intensive thing by “voting with my feet” — e.g., opting not to spend time with people, avoiding certain contexts, etc. And still other times, it is the right thing to do nothing at all, to let the insult glide right off my back and plunge into the water behind.

And across nearly all of those cases, by the way, I would say an immediate (e.g., same-moment) reaction is not necessary. I say this because you may be like me, and I am not good on my feet. I do not like to be in the line of fire. I spent too much of my early-to-mid-30s on a dais, pitching, answering questions, and I know how much it requires of me, and how difficult it is to make peace with my own misfires and missteps. I still think back to a handful of questions lobbed at me in those days and wish I’d answered them differently. Outsized esprit de l’escalier. And those are interactions that for the most part took place outside of the realm of my heart. I guess what I am saying is that I have learned I am better with space to unpack things. Rarely in my experience has it harmed the situation to take some time — even just ten minutes! — to take a breath, take a lap. That space enables me to make a better assessment of the proper response. The one caveat in “taking a beat,” though, is that the further I get from the point of hurt, the likelier I am to shrug it off, and sometimes those feelings need air time. In most cases, I give myself an arbitrary deadline — almost always 24 hours or less, unless I know there will be a natural in-person time or place in which to follow up — to communicate my feelings.

Some of the inputs I try (do not always succeed) to call to mind while making this assessment:

What are some less-obvious reasons someone might have said/done this? (Sort of like the antidote to catastrophic thinking: surfacing many possible explanations prevents me from immediately assuming the worst and most injurious.)

Could I have misinterpreted what was said/done?

Did I do something out of line to precipitate this?

How serious of an offense is this? Am I blowing it out of proportion?

Is this part of a pattern?

How have I responded to similar situations with this person in the past? Did my response work or not?

Is this situation worth the energy of a response?

Is this person worth the energy of a response?

On this last point, I want to recall an Instagram quote that I did find illuminating: “Some people deserve an answer. Some people deserve a word. Some people deserve nothing at all.” This is harsh to hear, of course, but I do agree that there are situations where it is simply not worth my energy to “go there.”

How do you handle moments of hurt? How do you determine the “proper” response? What has worked?



+An adjacent framework for handling lighter-weight insults/omissions/unkind words: the five second rule. (I loved the comments on this post and specifically have rehearsed saying: “What do you mean by that?” Have not yet had the wherewithal to deliver it.)

+On apologies. Wow. This post — or, the podcast that preceded — represented a major healing turning point for me.

Shopping Break.

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+If you liked those Ulla velvet trousers I featured last week, but not the price, found a great similar pair under $100 here! Pair with the Ulla turtleneck and a big tangle of gold necklaces and WOW. You get the Ulla vibe look for much less.

+Some of the La Ligne x Target knits are still available and now marked down to clearance prices!

+Asking for these silhouette charms for Christmas — would adore one for each of my children!

+Chic coated ankle jeans — $30 off with code NOVSAVE.

+1 of these left in my size and…DO I NEED IT. AHHH. It’s so me!

+An under-$20 turtleneck in a great mustard color.

+Cute fair isle sweater for a little. Also love this $23 knit.

+Great sporty sherpa coat. The kind of thing I’d love to thrown on over running gear post-workout!

+Love these cute glittery $3 ornaments — add depth and shimmer if you have a lot of ball ornaments!

+Chic modern crib for under $400.

+This Eiffel tower ornament!

+Fun burgundy mini.

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2 thoughts on “On Responding to Hurt Feelings.

  1. I so agree that Instagram self-help-isms can be so oversimplified they can actually be the opposite of helpful. It is an insidious medium to shout life advice from, in my opinion, especially because so many people claim their advice is applicable to all. Every situation is different. Every person is different. I appreciate your line of questioning and the guidance to take a beat.

    I’ve been contemplating Joan Didion’s Vogue essay “On Self-Respect” this year. It ends with:

    “To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.” I like the idea of assigning things their proper weight. Not making a mountain out of a molehill or vice versa. But also, I do think responsibility for one’s emotions is important, and if you don’t, say, express your anger cleanly it will likely come out as irritation or judgment or resentment, etc. The “sideways” emotion Jenkins references. This is, in fact, why I think people can become stuck in negative emotional ruts. Suppression or repression or avoidance are not long term solutions.

    It’s truly nothing an Instagram square (or a comment like this) can adequately capture but I appreciate you brining this up 🙂

    1. Wow – what a great quote from Didion (I expect nothing less) and I love the takeaway you’ve left with. “Assigning things their proper weight.” Even that, though, can be a challenging exercise, as things that are freighted for me might not be freighted for someone else, and vice versa. Hard sometimes to poke my head up above the ridge and get an accurate read! But I do love that mentality.

      Thank you for writing in! A lot to think about.


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