No one likes to talk about hurt feelings. I would be willing to bet that we sweep hurt feelings under our proverbial carpets than any other feelings. Look deep within most people and you will find a massive bundle of unresolved and unreleased hurt feelings. Hurt feelings make us feel weak and vulnerable. Hurt feelings are too hard to talk about. Most of us just feel more frustrated and hurt whenever we try to talk to the person who has hurt our feelings. So we stuff our hurt feelings deep down and try to get on with our lives. Unfortunately, this never works.
As teenagers and young adults hurt feelings might manifest as destructive behaviors, uncontrollable rage, rebellion and other forms of acting out. As adults hurt feelings may show up as depression, cynicism, passive aggressiveness, misanthropy, relationship difficulties, chronic stress and anger, chronic pain, anxiety and other feelings of overwhelm. When we are hurt it does not take much to make us scream out in pain. However hurt feelings manifest, my point is that for most people hurt feelings do not go away. Hurt feelings age along with us, forming the basis for who we are and how we see the world. Even though we often just sweep them under the carpet and try to pretend they are not there, hurt feelings can influence almost every aspect of our lives. I know from personal experience. I think I have been learning how to deal with hurt feelings almost as long as I have been alive.
For most of my life I would either express my hurt feelings in fits of rage and self-destructive behaviors or I would become like a rock and completely shut down. More often than not I would keep my hurt feelings to myself but they leaked out in all kinds of passive aggressive ways. Before I began practicing mindfulness, other than repressing or raging, I had no idea what else to do with hurt feelings. What else was there to do? I presume most human beings are in a similar situation and this is why most acts of violence, rage, war and hate are nothing more than unskilled expressions of hurt feelings.
Mindfulness is a practice of generating awareness of what we experience in our consciousness. The good news is that if you are reading this you are conscious. Everything you experience, you experience in your consciousness. Walking, driving, talking, thinking, eating, sitting at your desk, hearing sounds, anxiety, reading, pain in your back, watching television, making love, petting a dog, exercising, sitting in a chair, hearing sounds- all of this is experienced in your consciousness. The moment you are no longer conscious you will not be able to experience any of these things (such as when under anesthesia). But in order to know that you are experiencing all of these things in your consciousness, you have to be aware. If you are not aware, then you don’t know.
Most of us live our lives so deeply entrenched in thoughts and emotions that we are not aware. We fly airplanes, drive cars, cook dinner, work at jobs, talk with people, walk down the street in states of complete unawareness. But just because you are not aware of your awareness, does not mean it is not there. A person who practices meditation is basically practicing becoming aware of their awareness. They are creating some detachment from their identification with thoughts and feelings so that awareness can show up. Once you spend any significant amount of time practicing meditation you realize that awareness is like a mirror and thoughts, feelings, sensations and sounds are like objects appearing in the mirror. We know that the objects appearing in the mirror are not the mirror, they are just transient reflections temporarily appearing. In meditation we are practicing watching these objects as they come and go.
When we become more aware we are able to notice how thoughts and feelings are always coming and going, coming and going. Continually. If we are aware of thoughts and feelings we are able to avoid becoming so deeply identified with them (and then suffering the consequences). We can notice the hurt feeling or the negative thought appearing in our awareness but then let them move through and gradually dissolve. Like an object appearing in a mirror we can avoid becoming identified with the hurt feeling. For example, when we see ourselves reflected in a mirror we do not think that we are the mirror. We realize that we are just an object being reflected by the mirror. Same with feelings and thoughts. If we are able to be aware of thoughts and feelings that arise within our inner space, we can also let the thoughts and feelings come and go. We do not have to be identified with them if we don’t want to. We do have a choice.
Ideally you want to be able to be aware of a hurt feeling the moment that it arises in you. Hurt feelings are really sticky and if we are not aware that they are there often they will consume us. If we are able to be aware that the hurt feeling is there and if we can notice the hurt feeling in the same way that we notice an object appearing in a mirror, we will also be able to notice how the hurt feeling gradually dissolves. All feelings and thoughts are continually arising and then dissolving away. Every single one. When practicing mindfulness we are cultivating the ability to be aware of thoughts and feelings as they arise and dissolve away rather than letting our lives be dominated, shaped and messed up by negative thoughts and hurt feelings.
I still experience hurt feelings, but now I notice them. “There is a hurt feeling Randall,” I tell myself and then without reacting to it, I remain aware and just watch the hurt feeling as it gradually dissolves away. I wish someone would have taught me this when I was 15! I could have avoided many holes in the wall, bouts of bitter drunkenness and days or weeks spent in complete emotional shutdown! It feels like this is what is meant by that term emotional intelligence, this ability to be mindful of when hurt feelings arise and then remain mindful as the hurt feeling dissolves away and is totally released within ten minutes or so. Gone. And then I go on with my day without sore knuckles. Who would have thought?