It’s one of the most challenging issues we face in our interactions with others:
You’re talking with someone and they say something that cuts you to the core. It feels like they’ve got no idea, or maybe they just don’t care, about how their words have impacted you.
You’ve tried explaining why what they said was hurtful, but it’s like trying to describe color to the colorblind. They just don’t get it.
Often, it’s not even outrageous or intentionally mean.
But it hits you when they casually drop these phrases into conversation, completely oblivious to the emotional blow they’ve dealt. And you start thinking, do they even understand empathy?
Here’s your guide to recognizing the 10 hurtful phrases often used by those who struggle with empathy, all without them even realizing it.
1) “You’re overreacting”
We’ve all heard this one before. It’s the knee-jerk phrase that gets thrown out when someone doesn’t want to address your feelings, or worse, can’t understand them.
This is a classic remark by someone who lacks empathy. You’re expressing your emotions, your hurt, and instead of acknowledging it, they dismiss it as an overreaction.
It’s like they’re saying your feelings don’t have validity or worth.
What they don’t realize is that this phrase can add fuel to the fire. It makes you feel unheard, unvalued, and can even make you second-guess your own emotions.
When someone who lacks empathy says “You’re overreacting”, they might not mean to hurt you. But that’s exactly what they end up doing – causing hurt without even realizing it.
2) “It’s not that big of a deal”
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this phrase. It’s another stinger, much like “you’re overreacting”, but with its own unique sting.
When I’m upset about something, and someone tells me it’s not a big deal, it feels like they’re minimizing my feelings. They’re telling me that my emotional response isn’t justified because the situation doesn’t warrant it.
What they don’t realize is that what might not be a big deal to them could be a huge deal to me. Our experiences and perspectives are different, after all, and these differences shape how we react to situations.
So when someone says “It’s not that big of a deal”, it can be deeply hurtful. They may not mean any harm, but the lack of empathy in their words can be really damaging.
3) “Can’t you take a joke?”
This one is a tricky one. It’s often used when someone has made a joke at your expense, and you didn’t find it amusing. Instead of apologizing, they say, “Can’t you take a joke?”
It’s interesting to note that humor, particularly humor that is at someone else’s expense, can often be used as a form of aggression.
So when someone says “Can’t you take a joke?” it can feel like a double whammy.
First, there’s the hurt from the joke itself. Then, there’s the added insult of being told that you’re the one with the problem for not finding it funny.
What they fail to see is that their ‘joke’ might not have been funny to you at all. It might have been hurtful or offensive. They might think they’re just being funny, but their lack of empathy can turn their humor into something far less amusing.
4) “You’re just too sensitive”
This is another phrase that’s often used by people who lack empathy. It’s a way of shifting blame from their actions to your reactions.
When someone says “You’re just too sensitive”, they’re essentially saying that the problem isn’t what they’ve done or said, but your response to it. It’s a way of absolving themselves of any responsibility for their actions.
But everyone has a right to their feelings. What might be a small thing to one person can be deeply hurtful to another.
They might not realize how much their words can hurt, but that doesn’t make the impact any less real.
5) “You always take things the wrong way”
This phrase is another classic deflection tactic used by people who lack empathy. It’s a way of denying any harm or hurt they may have caused with their words or actions.
When I hear “You always take things the wrong way”, it feels like they’re saying that my feelings and reactions are incorrect. My interpretation of their words or behavior is wrong, and therefore, any hurt or upset I’m feeling is my own fault.
But communication is a two-way street. It’s not just about what is said or done, but also how it’s received.
6) “You need to toughen up”
Here’s a phrase that hits close to home: “You need to toughen up.”
When I was younger, I was often told this. The idea was that if I were tougher, life’s challenges wouldn’t affect me as much.
But you know what? That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Everyone has a different emotional capacity. Telling someone to “toughen up” implies that their emotions are a sign of weakness, which is far from accurate.
Emotions make us human, they don’t make us weak. In fact, it takes courage to express feelings openly and honestly.
So rather than suggesting someone should ‘toughen up’, let’s respect and acknowledge their feelings. It can lead to deeper connections and mutual understanding.
7) “Why are you always so negative?”
This phrase is a particularly hurtful one because it not only dismisses your feelings, but also labels you as a negative person.
When someone says “Why are you always so negative?” it feels like they’re implying that you’re always looking for problems, that you’re constantly seeing the worst in situations.
In reality, you might just be expressing valid feelings or concerns. You might be upset or worried about something, and voicing these feelings isn’t being negative, it’s being human.
For someone who lacks empathy, understanding this can be difficult.
They might see your expressions of emotion as negativity rather than legitimate feelings. They might not mean to hurt you with their words, but the dismissal and labeling can be deeply hurtful nonetheless.
10) “You just need to get over it”
This one, in my opinion, is possibly one of the most hurtful phrases someone lacking empathy can say.
When you’re going through a tough time, or dealing with painful emotions, hearing someone tell you to “just get over it” can feel like a punch in the gut. It completely dismisses your feelings and experiences, essentially saying that your pain is unimportant and should simply be brushed aside.
But emotions aren’t something you can just switch off at will. Healing takes time, and everyone moves at their own pace.
If these phrases resonate with you, you’re likely dealing with someone who struggles with empathy. It’s a tough realization, but it’s an important step in understanding your interactions and feelings.
But remember this: their lack of empathy is not a reflection of your worth.
Your feelings are valid. Your experiences matter.
Start by recognizing these phrases when they’re used. Understand that they stem from a lack of empathy, not from any flaw in you.
And practice self-compassion. It’s not easy dealing with someone who lacks empathy, so be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings, to express your thoughts, and to protect your emotional well-being.
These changes won’t happen overnight, but with time and patience, you’ll find yourself better equipped to navigate these challenging interactions.
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