Sticks & Stones: How to Handle When Your Feelings Are Hurt

It happens. You get blown off, your person breaks a promise, or someone says something mean. It's happened to all of us and happens with varying severity, but getting your feelings hurt is never pleasant. The good news is, there are some behavioral management techniques you can practice that help regulate your emotions so you can keep your cool and find your inner resilience.

Respond vs. React

Reacting often comes in the form of a reciprocal verbal attack and for some people it can even trigger strong enough feelings to provoke a physical response. Before reacting, decide if what you you want to say or do is going to help the situation. The best option is to respond by doing what works best for you: calmly defending yourself, walking away, or using humor to diffuse the immediate situation. 

Shift Your Attention

If you're in a situation that you can't escape (a work meeting, for example) try not to let your mind focus on the hurtful event that just occurred. Instead, tune into something else: a conversation happening close by, the rise & fall of your chest with every breath, the hum of the ceiling fan. If you're really feeling hurt, excuse yourself and head to the bathroom to gather your thoughts. 

Process It.

If the person who hurt you did so unintentionally, sometimes the best thing to do is take your thoughts directly to that person and calmly let them know. Straighten it out. If your feelings were hurt (whether intentionally or unintentionally), simply talking about what happened with someone you trust can make an incredible difference. 

Ask Yourself: Why Am I Hurt?

Sometimes the act is legitimately hurtful and mean, and feeling hurt is a natural and appropriate response. Other times, we may respond emotionally to a playful comment or action from someone else and take it for more than what it was. Sometimes this emotional response is a knee-jerk reaction that has become an automatic response over a long period of time. Habits are difficult to break, and perhaps it's even more difficult to look deep within yourself to recall painful past experiences that are causing you to continually react and feel hurt. If this is the case, try and work on acknowledging & forgiving that experience and focusing on the present moment and onward.

Put the Past Behind You

Try and let what happened just be what it is and focus on the right now and the next moment. If you choose to forgive, do so when it feels right for you. You don't have to "forgive & forget", but continually holding onto and revisiting the experience is going to keep you stuck in the past. By acknowledging that it happened and making a plan to move forward, you're handling the situation in a mature and emotionally beneficial way.

Who Has Control?

You do, over yourself - but not over other people (or their behaviors). This is one of the hardest things about being a human: anything can happen and anything can be said at any moment, and usually our feelings are hurt when we expect it least. If you notice a pattern with certain people, maybe it's time to seek out social experiences elsewhere. By detaching yourself from the comment or action against you, you become less a part of it. It suddenly just becomes someone else's ill-intended act and you were simply on the receiving end. Detach yourself from the act and you'll immediately begin to feel better.


Self-care is important even if your feelings aren't hurt. Finding time to recharge is important for re-establishing vitality in our minds and in our bodies. Taking care of yourself can come in many different forms: a relaxing bath, a walk outside or a cup of coffee with your friend. Whatever it is for you, do it right away as part of the "moving on" process. 

"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" 

I feel like I heard this old adage developed from a nursery rhyme over and over as a child. While the real meaning encourages a child to ignore hurtful comments, this is only effective to a certain degree. Ignoring our emotions does not allow for growth. 

The literal interpretation of that old adage is downright wrong: words can and do hurt, and while I'm not a parent yet, I want my kids to know that there is a fine line between ignoring hurtful actions and sticking up for yourself. Knowing how to respond and practicing self-control is one of the best ways to cope when someone else's actions have you feeling down & out. The resilience is already within you, you just have to be willing to tap into it using the tools mentioned above. 

I'll leave you with a quote:

"In the end, just three things matter: 

How well we have lived,

How well we have loved,

How well we have learned to let go."

- Jack Kornfield