A reader recently wrote to me saying that she had put a lot of energy into a project, and a colleague had criticised her work in a very harsh way. She wanted not to care, but it kept playing over and over in her head and it made her feel physically angry. The feedback hurt her. She liked her project, she thought it was a good idea. She also felt she didn’t deserve to be spoken to like that. Her question for me was, “I’m often affected by negative comments from people – whether it’s my husband or a stranger. How do I let it go?“
Since reading her message, I’ve had Elsa stuck in my head. I didn’t have an answer for her off-hand. I kept wondering, “How do I let it go?” I remember asking the very same question to my therapist a few years ago. “Choose to let it go”, how??? How do you choose to not let something bother you when it grates on you so much you just want to punch that person in the face?!
I started thinking:
Why would someone be rude to someone else?
When a person is rude to someone, they might be feeling angry with them. Instead of saying this directly, “I didn’t appreciate when you …, please don’t do it again”, they speak impulsively from a place of anger. They say something childish or disrespectful. They try to hit you where it hurts.
Sometimes, you have nothing to do with the person’s anger at all. That person may be rude to you just because you happen to be there. Perhaps that person’s not in a very good place emotionally, and you are somehow adding that little bit of irritation that they can’t handle that day and they explode with you.
The person who passes nasty comments is a bit like a child behaving badly – they are experiencing emotions that they don’t know how to cope with.
I also wondered:
How do hurtful comments affect the receiver?
Hurtful comments are referred to as hurtful because they actually physically hurt. If you think of a time someone hurt you, you can probably locate an uncomfortable sensation in your body. Maybe in your chest… It feels a bit like you’ve been hit there.
When someone is rude to us, most of us feel anger. We want to hurt them back, bring them back down to size. Anger feels like a big ball of pent up energy that we literally need to “let go of”. Whether we expel the energy by hitting, shouting or going for a run, anger can make us feel really uncomfortable until we do.
Anger is a secondary emotion. It arises to protect us from other emotions. A hurtful comment can bring us in touch with the most delicate parts of ourselves. A person insulting your work can make you question, “Am I good enough to be doing this?” A person insulting the way you look, can leave you wondering, “Am I ugly?” Harsh criticism can get us in touch with a sense of shame; a sense of not being enough. Anger acts kind of like a superhero here, because it flies in to protect us from even being aware of the shame inside us. Shame sends the brain a signal that there’s something wrong with us and that’s a lot to deal with. But with anger, we understand that there’s something wrong with them, and that’s better.
The process of letting it go
- Self-compassion: When someone points out a mistake in a project you’ve been working on and they do this in a really unpleasant way, you feel hurt and embarrassed. Before you go to, “I’m so stupid, I should have seen that.” Speak to yourself like you would a good friend, “Okay, so I made a mistake, big deal. I’m human. I can learn from this and still appreciate the rest of the good work I did.”
- Other-compassion: Remind yourself that the person who hurt you was not doing a very good job at regulating their emotions. They either don’t know how to soothe themselves, or they weren’t managing to do it in that moment. No, they shouldn’t have spoken to you like that, and yes, they were rude. But being rude back to them isn’t going to make you feel any better about yourself. You could choose to let them know that they hurt your feelings, but do this another day, when they are calm and open to having the conversation. If they’re not calm, you will just be met with more irrational, emotionally-driven blabber.
- Let it go: Sometimes, just acknowledging that the person was having difficulty regulating their emotions is enough for us to let it go. We are all imperfect. We all have moments when we say hurtful things – with our partners, our children, our parents… It doesn’t mean we’re horrible people, we’re just going through stuff, and sometimes it’s really difficult to understand it all. Being in touch with the complexity and imperfection within all of us, allows us to let go of the hurt. And when we let go of the hurt, the anger goes away too.
This process may seem difficult to apply in real life, but you can do it. Put reminders around to be self-compassionate and other-compassionate. Take deep breaths, remembering to blow out your hurt, and you will get there. You hold the key to your inner peace – don’t let someone who can’t find theirs, steal yours from you.