Why Do We Hurt the People We Love?

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Can you remember the last time someone hurt you, either verbally or physically? Chances are, it was probably someone you know.

Research has shown that the people we love the most are the ones we hurt the most. We’re more likely to be aggressive towards our loved ones than strangers. This is true for people of all genders, and throughout all relationships, including family, friends and romantic partners.

Why do we do this? It’s often a combination of many unconscious factors that we’re simply not aware of. Recognizing what might be going on beneath the surface may be enough to stop you from saying or doing something you’ll later regret.

These are some common reasons that may cause aggressive behavior, as well as ways to interrupt the cycle and start spreading more love.

Ineffective Communication

We may get angry at our loved ones simply because we don’t know how to communicate our deeper feelings, like hurt or sadness. Difficult feelings can be hard to express, and it may take a level of vulnerability that you’re not comfortable with to open up to someone who’s hurt you.

Solution: When you feel angry with someone, pause for a moment before saying anything to them. Why are you angry? Did that person insult you, or hurt you another way? Speak to the person about how you feel and the underlying issue instead of lashing out.

Broken Promises

Needless to say, broken promises are a significant hurt that many of us experience in relationships. What makes us break promises? Research has found that your self-regulation ability has a huge influence.

Self-regulation refers to your ability to control your own behavior. People with greater self-regulation skills tend to keep their promises. These people often act with the long-term in mind. Whereas, people with poor self-regulation tend to break more promises. They often make more emotional, in-the-moment promises that are difficult to live up to.

Solution: Be honest with yourself about how well you can control your own behavior. Do you always keep the promises you make? Or do you sometimes fall short? Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t always follow through, promises all start with good intentions. Just make sure you never promise more than you’re able to deliver.

The Company You Keep

Research shows you may choose friends and romantic partners who are more compatible with, and supportive of, your personal bad behavior. So, if both of you have a short fuse, expect a lot of fireworks.

Luckily, the same research found that loving relationships can also provide the support you need to quit negative behaviors. You can help each other to work through your issues together because you’re both on the same page.

Solution: Even if you and a loved one have negative behavior patterns that seem to feed off each other, you can still stop the cycle by changing your response. Try to stay aware of the patterns you both fall into. The next time you see a conflict starting to brew, don’t react the way you normally do. Instead, ask your loved one how you could help settle the conflict.

Related: How Love Can Help Conquer Addictions

The Downside of Trust

We’re often less careful about politeness and good manners with the people we’re closest to. The more trust you have in each other, the more freedom you feel to act and speak openly. This can build a greater sense of intimacy, but it also makes it easier to unintentionally hurt the other person with your words or actions.

Solution: If a loved one says or does something you feel is hurtful, try not to take it personally. Speak to them as soon as possible and ask them why they acted the way they did. It’s likely the person didn’t even realize they hurt you and you can quickly clear up the misunderstanding.

Childhood Baggage

We all experience some amount of emotional hurt and trauma growing up; it’s simply part of life. But as adults, we may have an unconscious desire to recreate the same feelings as when we were children. It may not be logical, but these first impressions of life can form neural pathways in our brains that we keep going back to.

We may unknowingly try to recreate our childhood experiences to bring up those early feelings. For example, if your parents were emotionally distant and unable to give love when you were a child, you may reject others and avoid intimacy as an adult in order to recreate the feelings of emotional distance.

Solution: It’s never too late to heal past hurts. Spend some time thinking about your experiences as a child. Was there anyone in your early life who caused you pain? Can you see any ways that has influenced you today? Speaking to someone you trust or a counsellor about issues from your childhood can help you let go of emotional baggage you don’t need to carry anymore.

Asserting Your Independence

Everyone has a healthy need for self-determination and independence. But sometimes a close relationship can feel a bit stifling and like you’ve lost track of yourself. You may try to hurt the other person as a way to push them away and get some space for yourself again.

Solution: Pay attention if you seem to be picking fights with a loved one over relatively small issues. Is there a reason that person is getting on your nerves? Do you simply need a little breathing space? Let them know how you feel and that you still love them, even if you spend a little more time apart. Consider taking a class or starting a hobby alone so you can reconnect with yourself.

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