Dear John,

How do I stop feeling so hurt by others, like when family members don’t say ‘thank you’ or when I say ‘hello’ and people don’t respond?

Sincerely,
Ms. Locs

Dear Ms. Locs,

Thank you for writing in! Your question is a good one in that it speaks to such a powerful and innate need we all have to feel appreciated and acknowledged. It is a wonderful and beautiful wish to be seen, met, and heard in a way that confirms our interconnectedness with each other.

My response to your question is twofold. The first deals with working on yourself. The second focuses more on working in relation to the other. My hope is that my guidance can move you toward harmony in these kinds of interactions.

A journey towards transforming unhelpful behaviors nearly always begins with an acknowledgment of what is happening. The pattern you are describing is that you are getting caught up in feeling hurt when others do not offer you the gratitude and courtesy that your humanness deserves. Your feelings on this make total sense and, putting myself in your shoes, I would feel the same. As you likely know, it can be tricky to get others to change. Therefore, we’re going to zero in on those behaviors that you can transform and how you can ask for what you want with integrity.

It sounds like you’re already clear on identifying that you’re feeling hurt. What may follow out of that recognition (i.e., hurt is happening) is a deeper inquiry into this pain to see what else may be bothering you. Often our emotional experience is layered, so it may be helpful to meditate on (or sit with) the discomfort and see if anything else comes up that may also be worth examining. For example, along with hurt, there may be other emotions, such as disappointment or loneliness. Only you can look within and see what needs unearthing.

An essential teaching that stems out of the contemplative traditions is the human tendency to over-identify with experience. In this case, I wonder if you may be getting caught in an over-identification with a stream of thoughts or interpretations that stem from others ignoring your “hello.” While being ignored is unpleasant, there’s also the possibility that you can let other’s responses to you rinse away, like water down a stream.

Let me be clear that this is a very different approach than dismissing your feelings altogether. That sort of dismissiveness would be a spiritual bypass and a disservice to you. Rather, what I am describing is a step toward non-identification. One path to non-identification is the practice of meditation. In meditation, you can gain a deeper familiarity with your internal environment and learn how to embrace your experience and make genuine contact with it. Eventually, through this authentic connection, you can let once troublesome things go.


Related: A Meditation for Authentic Communication


Now, I would like for you to take a moment to pause. See if you can imagine yourself free of this kind of hurt. As best as you can simply acknowledge it, let it be there, and ask yourself, Is there more underneath it? If so, do your best to embrace all of it, and then see if you can begin to disentangle yourself from any hurt by recognizing that it is not you. Breathe and set yourself free! You may know this process as the mindfulness “RAIN” practice (read more about this mind-clearing tool here).

Let’s turn our discussion now to the relational component. As I mentioned earlier, we, as humans, are meant to be together. We are creatures of belonging. We need a healthy and positive community to survive. I believe that it’s ultimately everyone’s natural inclination and responsibility to move toward authenticity and self-transcendence. One of the major obstacles (but definitely not the only) along the path toward self-transcendence is the challenges we all face with offering each other clear and loving communication.

Perhaps those situations where your family members do not provide you with a “thank you,” you could use that as a coachable moment? For instance, the nonviolent communication (NVC) movement recommends requesting specific actions from others rather than demanding them to be different. Making clear behavioral change requests educates the other as to what your needs are. It also steers them away from resistance and defensiveness. Remember, it is essential to provide the other with clear examples of the target behaviors you are requesting. In this case, a gentle request to the other to acknowledge your giving and explain why that acknowledgment matters may be beneficial. Stay focused on illustrating the positive opposed to citing the things you don’t want and don’t like about what the other is doing. For more NVC approaches, check this out.

In those situations where others ignore your “hellos,” remember that unless you process the situation with the other, you cannot be sure what they’re thinking and feeling. It’s true that humans can, at times, execute accurate empathy and, to some extent, sense what others are thinking and feeling. But people cannot perform this with perfection all of the time. Perhaps, if it is safe, you could strike up a conversation with an individual who seems likely to snub and gather more data about them and how they’re responding to you. You may be surprised at what you learn about them and yourself. When you find yourself at the unpleasant end of a snub, remember that inner-move toward non-identification and give yourself the freedom to keep shining and smiling all day long and never allow anyone else to dim your light. It is yours to keep bright!

On engaging in more authentic communication, I must recognize how challenging and frightening it can be. I certainly cannot do justice to the complexities and specifics of human communication in this type of article. Therefore, I must acknowledge that I am only offering you a slice of what is possible. I simply cannot offer you the kind of finely tuned advice that may get you completely across this interpersonal gap. For this reason, I typically encourage all those who write in to find a local licensed therapist or communication coach who can provide more in-depth counsel on how to navigate these kinds of complex interpersonal dynamics. I cannot overestimate the value in working with another who you can brainstorm with and try out different approaches and get their feedback.

Thank you again for writing in, Ms. Locs, and wish you the best on your journey!

With light and love,
John

By