Reacting to Hurt: A Decision Tool

Reacting to hurt - things to consider before responding to a prompting event

If you’re anything like me, when someone close to you does something that feels hurtful, there’s a strong urge (sometimes a very strong urge) to react in a way that’s driven by that hurt. That reaction isn’t necessarily appropriate or useful, though, and sometimes it can involve some pretty dumb shit. I came up with this decision-making aid after I had an unreasonable reaction to something a friend did, in the hopes that I’ll refer to it in the future rather than simply reacting. It’s kind of like the dudgeon-o-meter, but for feeling hurt rather than being angry/offended.

I’m not a highly sensitive person in a sensory sense, but I’ve always been emotionally sensitive. That’s part of who I am, and I don’t see it changing anytime ever, so I’ve just got to work with what I’ve got.

Wise Mind

Wise mind: overlap between reasonable mind and emotion mind

Before diving in, I wanted to mention wise mind, a dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) concept. It refers to the area of overlap when both reasonable mind (your more logical thinking mind) and emotion mind are engaged. In terms of the brain, this would correspond to the prefrontal cortex (reasonable mind) and the limbic system (emotion mind).

Hurt gets emotion mind going full steam ahead in response to the perceived threat, and it’s easy for reasonable mind to get left behind in the dust. Systematically thinking through an issue can help bring reasonable mind back online to help pull you back towards wise mind.

Step 1

Is there any chance that it’s not directed at you?

Personalization is a cognitive distortion that involves making something about you that actually has nothing to do with you. In the incident that prompted this, a friend did action X. He could have done that for reasons A through F, but all I cared about in the moment was that emotion mind was screaming at me that he did action X to signal something to me, i.e. that he didn’t want to be my friend anymore. Later, I was able to recognize that the chances of it being about me were probably pretty low, but I really should’ve considered that when I was formulating my initial reaction.

Step 2

Could you be reading things into the prompting event that aren’t actually there?

This goes along nicely with personalizing. Action X is action X and nothing more, but it’s easy to start tacking on extra meanings, like action X was done with the intent of sending message Y. Message Y might actually be there, but it’s very possible that it exists nowhere except inside my head. All that is objectively there is action X, so I shouldn’t be reacting to whatever extra messages that I’m cooking up.

Step 3

Are there alternative possible explanations, even if they seem unlikely?

Occam’s razor essentially says that the simpler explanation is more likely to be correct than one that is unnecessarily complex. When feeling hurt, it’s easy to start concocting complicated stories about things. But what if there’s a simpler explanation? Or any other explanation, for that matter, like potential reasons A through F for my friend’s action? They may seem pretty unlikely when caught up in the moment, but that doesn’t mean that they actually are unlikely. Thinking up other potential explanation helps to engage reasonable mind.

Step 4

Would your interpretation change if the prompting event was directed at someone other than you?

It’s easy to get all worked up about things as they relate to ourselves, but what if we consider how action X might relate to somebody else, particularly a neutral person? Would it look different to you? If so, there’s probably some personalization going on.

Step 5

Might your reaction be influenced by any cognitive distortions?

We’ve already considered personalization. Catastrophizing is a go-to cognitive distortion for a lot of people. I started off by personalizing action X, and then I ran with it into catastrophe-land and interpreted it as a signal that the friendship was over. I was later able to recognize how far I’d run with it, but it would’ve been good to give more consideration to that before I got so far into out-there-land.

Step 6

Might you later regret an impulsive reaction?

Emotion mind can drive some pretty wackadoo behaviours. Me feeling wounded should really never be allowed anywhere near a keyboard, which I think my friend would very much agree with. When I found out about action X, there wasn’t much thinking that happened before I fired off an email accusing him of ending the friendship. A short while later, I sent a couple more snarky messages telling him to use words rather than hint at me; of course, the hinting was something that my head had come up with.

Later, I realized what a nincompoop I’d been (I don’t think that word gets used often enough) and wished I’d practiced a little more self-control. I think doing steps 1-5 might’ve helped with that and taken a little bit of control away from emotion mind.

Step 7

If there’s any doubt, wait at least 4 hours, or better yet, 24.

Is it likely that I’ll do this anytime soon? The chances seem low, but at least it’s something to work towards. I think I have actually made progress in shortening the delay until reasonable mind comes back online, but I need to work on pushing back that initial reaction.

How do you tend to react when you’re feeling hurt? Do you freak out and act impulsively? What’s your process for talking yourself through it?

The post Therapy Tools for Mental Health has more tools to support your mental health.

45 thoughts on “Reacting to Hurt: A Decision Tool”

  1. Love the Venn Diagram for Wise Mind….! Step 7 the waiting suggestion is excellent but oh so hard for me to do when I am in a sort of fixation mode with anxiety. Thanks for the post…

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