How To Tell Someone They've Hurt You Without Making Them Get Defensive
Telling someone that they've hurt you is one of those things that sounds easy in theory but can actually be very, very difficult. It's why mastering a few simple ways for confronting someone who hurt you can dramatically improve our relationships. It can be the difference between a healthy conversation and bottling up our feelings for months or even years.
In an article for Psychology Today on the best ways to deal with people who hurt you, psychotherapist Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D said, "Confronting someone who has hurt you can be a difficult and daunting task for a lot of people. We become frightened that our intention (to end the hurt) will be misunderstood, and we will look like a fool. We may also fear that even a gentle confrontation may push our friend away or turn a coworker into an enemy. Hesitation is understandable, but something needs to be said, or the problem may continue." Goldsmith also noted that telling someone that they hurt your feelings is definitely appropriate, and should even be viewed as protecting yourself from future hurt.
Basically, telling a person that they have genuinely hurt you or crossed a line is important, but the question then becomes how do we do it? If you've found yourself struggling with this issue, here are seven tips for telling someone you're hurting.
1. Choose Your Words Carefully
In a piece for Tiny Buddha, life coach and yoga instructor Raeeka noted that it's important to choose your words carefully when confronting another person with your feelings. "Know what you are going to say in advance," she wrote. "Be honest and straightforward. There’s no need to drag up previous incidents; they are not relevant here. Focus on precisely what has happened that has upset you and explain your reasoning." Knowing exactly what you want to say will also help you to make sure you're communicating exactly what you mean.
2. Be Prepared For All Outcomes
Raeeka also recommended setting reasonable expectations for the conversation and preparing yourself for all potential outcomes. "Before you approach the individual, be prepared for the possibility that you will say your piece and they will disagree with you. If you go into this with an expectation of an apology or acknowledgement of being in the wrong, you may feel like speaking your mind didn’t 'work,'" she said. "Be prepared, also, for new information that may make you re-consider your position."
3. Write A Letter — But Don't Always Send It
On her website Getting To Zen, life coach Lisa H. suggested writing a letter to the person stating your thoughts and feelings, as it will give you a chance to communicate your exact feelings without being interrupted. However, she also said to hold on to the letter for several days and reassessing your feelings before actually sending it. That way you can be sure you won't be confronting someone in anger.
4. Use "I Feel" Statements
OK, I know this sounds super basic, but there's genuinely a reason we were taught to always use "I feel" statements in grammar school. In a piece on expressing difficult emotions on his website, relationship counselor Larry Alan Nadig, Ph.D, stressed the importance of focussing on how a comment or action made you feel when discussing it with the other person. He said that starting a conversation with "you" statements can sound accusatory and instantly put the other person on the defense, which can prevent an open and productive dialogue.
5. Express Positives With Your Negatives
Dr. Nadig also suggested stating positives when confronting the person. This could be as simple as, "I wanted to get this out in the open because I really value your friendship and don't want anything to come between us," or, "I appreciate all you do around the house, but I was definitely hurt when..." This again will increase the likelihood that the other person won't instantly become defensive and that they'll actually hear what you are trying to say.
6. Be Specific
In an article about expressing your feelings respectfully for GoodTherapy.org, licensed family therapist Irene Hansen Savarese said to be specific when discussing the incident that bothered you, as opposed to speaking in generalities. "Give concrete examples such as, 'I feel scared when you don’t call,' she said. That way you can keep the conversation targeted and specific.
7. Make Sure You're Aware Of Your Own Motivations
Savarese also stressed the importance of knowing your own intentions before expressing yourself to the other person. Are you still angry and really just want to get into a fight? Do you in some way want to hurt the other person with your words? If the answer is yes, then now is not the time to try to have a meaningful discussion. Take some time to calm down and then reevaluate your intentions.
Communicating that someone has hurt you is never easy, but it should also never feel impossible. Just make sure you've thought carefully about what you're going to say and aren't approaching the other person in anger, and then no matter what the outcome, you'll know you did your best.