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Vulnerability goes against our grain. When we feel hurt or embarrassment, the last thing we want is the other to see this. But if you can find the courage to speak of your own experience and feeling, rather than declaring things about what your partner is doing wrong, they are much more likely to respond with empathy and care, which is what we’re all longing for. - Julia Flood
Benefits Of Saying “Ouch”
by Julia Flood, LCSW
“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that
we’re not good enough.”
Picture someone stepping on your toe. You wince and might
say “ouch”, and the guilty party will most likely turn around and apologize
profusely. How strange would it be if they didn’t, or even explained to you how
it wasn’t their fault, it wasn’t meant that way, and you shouldn’t be offended.
Now you probably don’t get hurt physically every day, but
what about the myriad ways in which you get hurt emotionally in any given week?
A skeptical look, a snide comment, a raised eyebrow, a rude email, or an
irritated tone of voice can be enough to ruin the moment, make you feel
embarrassed, criticized, or insecure about your relationship with that person.
In a split second your mood changes and your guard goes up, and before you know
it, you’re shooting something back that reciprocates the message you perceived:
“What is that supposed to
mean?”, “What’s up with you?”, or, “It’s not like you
ever...” and off the two of you spin into a full-blown fight.
Did you know your brain has an entire department set aside
for the sole purpose of protecting your feelings from attacks by others? We
usually achieve this by either shutting down or by attacking back, but both of
these defenses get triggered by the more vulnerable feelings of hurt, fear,
disconnection, and shame.
Emotions researcher Brene Brown defines shame as “the
intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and
therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” She says the most common areas to
feel shame about are related to appearance, family, parenting, money, work,
health, addiction, sex, aging, and religion. In other words, it’s really easy
us for us to get triggered into feeling bad about ourselves, and thus react
defensively, in turn triggering the other person’s hurt, fear, disconnection,
Vulnerability goes against our grain. When we feel hurt or
embarrassment, the last thing we want is the other to see this. But if you can
find the courage to speak of your own experience and feeling, rather than
declaring things about what your partner is doing wrong, they are much more
likely to respond with empathy and care, which is what we’re all longing for.
This can be hard to do in the heat of the moment, but the
first step to this is slowing yourself down next time you get angry or
irritated, and feel the urge to retaliate. Next, notice what bothered you, and
then choose your words carefully as you disclose what hurt you to your loved
one. Try saying what you would when someone steps on your toe: As soon as you
realize you’re hurting, simply begin by saying “ouch.”
“Ouch. What you just said hurt my
“Ouch. That is difficult to hear.”
“Ouch. When you squint your eyes like
that, I feel...”
“Ouch. What I was actually hoping to
These “ouch statements” are simple and easy to remember
(which is good since our thinking brain actually doesn’t work very well when
we’re upset), and they can be said authentically and with emphasis. At the same
time they are classic “I-statements” that don’t accuse the other and trigger
the spiral of shame, but instead work to evoke empathy and understanding, and,
just like with the stepped-on toe, give your partner the chance to repair the
rift in real-time.
Julia Flood, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist practicing in San Francisco's Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood. She has been working in the mental health field since 1996 and specializes in couples therapy/marriage counseling, helping partners in crisis to break out of the vicious cycle of hurting and being hurt. You can find out more about Julia on her website: www.newstarttherapy.com, or by calling (415) 820-3210 to arrange an initial phone consultation. She is bilingual in English and German.
Labels: Couples Communication, Julia Flood, saying ouch, Vulnerability