Feeling Hurt: Like Honey to the Bees

Conflict is a natural product of interpersonal relationships. Rarely do two people involved in a relationship—whether social, professional, or intimate—avoid disagreements. But the way these disagreements affect future behaviors is greatly determined by whether they are hurtful or angry in nature. Hurt feelings and anger can cause someone to feel devalued and less than adequate. Often, hurt and anger occur simultaneously. To better understand how these emotional states influence conflict outcome, Edward P. Lemay Jr. of the Department of Psychology at the University of New Hampshire recently led a study that compared the behavioral outcomes of individuals feeling hurt versus those feeling angry after an interpersonal conflict.

In four separate studies, Lemay evaluated the level of hurt and anger experienced by victims of devaluation. He also examined how their responses compared to perpetrators’ reactions and gauged the ultimate outcomes. He found that people who felt hurt tended to be higher in vulnerability and commitment and worked harder to repair the relationship and gain the acceptance of the perpetrator. This resulted in perpetrators exhibiting higher levels of empathy and guilt and reciprocated efforts of relationship restoration. Conversely, angry victims were less dependent upon the acceptance of their perpetrators and had higher levels of control and destructive responses. Because perpetrators saw less commitment from the victims, they responded with unconstructive and angry behaviors.

The results of this study expose how the delicate nuances of emotional reactivity factor into interpersonal relationships. In sum, people who feel angered by conflict tend to react in negative, maladaptive ways that serve to perpetuate the hostile environment. Their perpetrators are more likely to act similarly, setting the stage for a devolving situation. Lemay points out that hurt works in opposite ways, saying “hurt does not motivate destructive responses.” Instead, hurt is like honey to the bees. Rather than exacerbating a tense situation, hurt serves as an indicator of genuine concern and solicits cooperation by both parties to reconcile the situation in the most constructive way possible.

Lemay, E. P., Jr., Overall, N. C., Clark, M. S. (2012). Experiences and interpersonal consequences of hurt feelings and anger. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030064

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  • Cassandra

    October 9th, 2012 at 3:03 PM

    So isn’t this sort of like advocating that we have to show our weaknesses? I prefer to be seen as strong myself.

  • Laura

    October 9th, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    Anger has never yielded answers and I’m not surprised it only makes things worse in a conflict. However, hurt can be damaging too. I am surprised to see it helps the situation. Is it really ‘hurt’ or just lack of anger that can do this?

  • Steph

    October 9th, 2012 at 5:03 PM

    Looks like the person who is the one being hurt is the one who is always making the most sacrifices. How is this right? Shouldn’t the one who is doing all of the hurting be the one to do a little apologizing and repair work every now and then?

  • Caleb

    October 9th, 2012 at 11:24 PM

    So I have to step back and be hurt and then the relationship improves AFTER the other person has wronged me? Sorry but I will happily stay away from such an arrangement.

  • andrew

    October 10th, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    Unconstructive and angry responses coming from the perpetrators?


    This is the only way that most of them know how to deal with any issues that come their way- anger with behavior and anger through their words.

  • Lana P

    October 10th, 2012 at 2:58 PM

    If someone is only out to hurt you, then think about this for a second: is this really the person that you want or even need to spend the rest of your life with? I need love and compassion in my life, not someone who gets off making me feel terrible then watching me come groveling back for more.

  • James

    October 11th, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    Let me start out by saying that I have always looked for ways to hurt and manipulate others. That was the way that I felt strong, felt like a man. I saw my father do this to my mother the whole time when I was growing up and I guess that is the same pattern that I tried to follow. I saw that when he hurt her, she was so afraid of him leaving that she would practically beg him to stay. Sick, right? So you see how I became so screwed up living with that day in and day out. I have gone through counseling, because I got to the point where I felt like if I couldn’t hurt others then I was going to hurt myself, and that takes some serious reflection about the things that you have done wrong in yoru own life and even the things that I have witnessed that have made me this way. I am not a perfect man, but I am certtainly better than I used to be, and now I just try to do a little better for myself every single day.

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