“You’ve been hurt before… hurt people, they hurt people.” These lyrics by the Irish rock band, The Script, seem so relatable. Is it true that people hurt their loved ones because someone hurt them before? Well, yes and no.
The psychology behind hurting people that you love is quite complicated. You may do it intentionally or unintentionally. Everyone expects to be treated well by their loved ones, but this is not always the reality.
Reasons we hurt the ones we love
It’s practically impossible to go through life without hurting people we love. We may do this for their own good, for example, when we need to be firm with a child to teach them socially accepted behavior. We may also hurt another person when we need to do what is right for us, for example, when leaving a romantic relationship. Often, we do it because we are just scared of losing them.
Research revealed that we are more likely to be aggressive to the people we know better and love the most. So why do we treat our loved ones so badly? The truth is love hurts and here are 9 reasons why those closest to you suffer the most.
You cannot walk in someone else’s shoes
Some people have low empathy for others, and they end up hurting people’s feelings. They just can’t see other people’s perspectives, so they are not aware that they hurt their loved ones with their actions or words. If you are in a relationship with someone who lacks empathy, you may often feel frustrated, disappointed, or even betrayed. But the good news is that such people do it unintentionally, so it really comes down to a lack of understanding.
Empathy is a learned skill, and it is shaped by our own environment and life experiences. So if your partner is willing to change how they relate with others, this problem can be resolved with proper communication.
Gain control as protection
Perhaps people hurt you when they were in control in the past. So, you decide never to relinquish control in any future relationship. It is a defense tactic you have adopted after several painful experiences.
In some cases, what you have is fear of being vulnerable. You never want to be at the mercy of people. Because you had your way at all times, you refuse to respect others’ boundaries. You may use direct and indirect means to maintain control in the relationship.
Criticism, name-calling, and putting your partner down are some of the hurtful things you may do. Guilt-tripping, manipulation, and emotional blackmail are indirect means of gaining control. You may do some of these things without thinking much about them, especially if you have been conditioned to accept such treatment from loved ones.
You have an avoidant attachment style
The nature of intimate relationships is often determined by peoples’ attachment styles. Perhaps as a child, you learned to love in a specific way when close relationships are intertwined with pain and hurt. Not getting affection as a child or experiencing hurt and abuse makes you more likely to develop an avoidant attachment style.
To cope with the hurt caused by lack of affection, children find ways to suppress their needs. As adults, they may be interested in romantic relationships but prefer to suppress their emotions. They come off as dismissive and often label their partners as “needy”, “childish”, or “dramatic” for asking for affection. When left unchecked, such behaviors become toxic.
This is a classic example of a hurt person hurting others. You may be isolating yourself from your partner because that is what you have been conditioned to do from childhood. Your annoyance at your partner’s need for affection will hurt even though it is not malicious.
Hurting the ones you love happens when you tend to ruin things even when they are going well. There are many reasons for self-sabotage, including unresolved childhood trauma and fears. If you link intimacy to negative experiences in your past, you tend to portray a push and pull behavior. That is, the closer people get to you, the more you pull away.
You might have commitment issues, be extremely critical of your loved one, or even blame them for all your relationship issues. For example, your partner may point out an issue in your relationship that needs fixing. In response, you tell him that there is nothing wrong and that he is overreacting.
In some cases, you may criticize everything your loved one does. Even those things you once loved about them become annoying. Some people assume that this is normal after the honeymoon phase ends. In reality, you are self-sabotaging and hurting your partner in the process.
The trust and safety paradox
People who hurt others sometimes do it because they have gotten comfortable enough to be their true selves. This is the trust and safety paradox; trusting people more means being your true self around them. Sometimes, your true self is not the nicest version of you.
This is not to say that you were consciously hiding your true self from the people you love. Rather, it takes a certain level of trust to be completely free around people. Whereas you would not hurt strangers, it is easy for you to lash out as your partner or sibling.
You are testing the relationship boundaries
“I hurt people because they let me.” While this statement seems problematic, it is true. Your inner child still behaves the same way; testing boundaries to see how much you get away with. When people let you get away with doing or saying hurtful things, you may not see any reason to change.
Do you often ask, “Why do people hurt others?” It is probably because you do not reinforce your boundaries. You might be attracting people who feel that you are not assertive and take advantage of your low self-esteem.
You fear intimacy
Getting into a relationship is easy but some people struggle with letting themselves be deeply known by others. You might think yourself so flawed that you never want anyone to know that side of you. You might deflect attention from yourself to avoid getting close to others. While you do this to protect yourself, others may be hurt by your actions.
You might hurt other people because you feel “suffocated” by their affection and attention. You might enjoy spending time with them but still need to isolate yourself occasionally. In some relationships, your partner might depend on you for emotional and physical needs, which can be quite overwhelming. To get your independence back, you might do and say hurtful things. To assert your own space, you are pushing the other person away.
Being in a relationship does not mean giving up all your preferences. Wanting independence is not a bad thing; we all need alone time every so often. With proper communication, your partner can understand your needs and give you space without feeling hurt.
You are impulsive
Did you know that hurting others’ feelings can easily become a habit? You might speak or act impulsively to offend others. Sometimes, you do it because people let you get away with it. Other times, you do it to get their attention. In rare cases, the impulse is uncontrollable and you have no idea what effect your actions have on people.
What to do if you hurt people because of these reasons?
Are you hurting others because of any of the 9 reasons mentioned above? Know that admitting your mistakes is commendable. Hurting people that we love doesn’t allow us to establish authentic connections and may ruin our relationships, but there are some things you can do to avoid it.
Working with a counselor is a great way of uncovering the underlying issues that make you hurt people. It will help you identify your triggers and develop healthy coping mechanisms. By improving yourself, you can become a better parent, sibling, and/or partner.
Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has worked in healthcare since 2017. She primarily treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, and grief, as well as identity, relationship and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience has focused on individual and group counseling, emergency counseling and outreach.Read more