The Live Well Blog

Healing in a World of Hurt

Josh Downs, LCSW

Our Basic Human Needs

As a therapist, I find that my children teach me a lot about my clients. I don’t mean to say that my clients are childish, only that they have the same basic emotional needs as my children. To me, that says that human needs don’t change drastically over our lifespan. This is encouraging because it tells me that instead of complicating our ideas about what we want and need out of our relationships, we can keep things simple by looking to children.

One of the lessons I’ve learned from my children is that humans need their hurt to be acknowledged by the people that matter the most to them. My daughter is known to fall down on occasion. She’ll sit where she fell, typically with tears or a moan, and ask me to kiss the ouchie and give her a hug. Thankfully, it’s usually a superficial or non-existent wound. A majority of the time, she’ll stop crying and go back to playing once my wife or I have responded to her.

I’m not a physician, but I know there are no medicinal properties in kissing a wound. I also know that for the most part, my daughter is feeling some sort of pain or discomfort—and she’s not “just being a baby.” I know she’ll be fine and up on her feet in less than a minute. But in that moment, her hurt is very real to her and that’s all she can think about.

So if her pain is real to her and my kiss and hug have no medicinal value, the healing must be coming from our interaction.

We’re kidding ourselves if we believe that adults have outgrown the need for empathy and acknowledgment when we experience emotional “ouchies” in life. Our pain is real and it often worsens the more alone we feel in our experience. We feel alone when our pain is dismissed. This may be deliberate, as when someone is feeling defensive because they’ve caused the pain. Or it may be unintentional, as when someone is trying to get us to look on the bright side or compare the pain to someone who has it worse. It can also happen when someone is trying to apologize for hurting you, but whose apology seems to be more about how horrible they feel.

The Antidote to Feeling Alone

The antidote to feeling alone in our hurt consists of at least two parts:

The first part is outlining our pain in the clearest way possible. When I consider the role my daughter plays in her healing, I see that she’s very specific with me about where she’s hurting. She points to it, I see it, and then I treat it. She knows if she screams at me or runs the other way in embarrassment that I can’t help. Too often we allow our hurt and pain to be packaged in anger or withdrawal, and it keeps us from getting acknowledgement from others, especially if they’re the ones who have hurt us. Although this reaction is understandable and legitimate, it will eventually have to give way to vulnerably talking about the hurt.

The second part of the antidote is up to the other person in the interaction. With my dear daughter, her healing comes from seeing that I see when she’s in pain, that I care about her being in pain, and that I won’t leave her alone. When she feels like someone she loves has entered into her universe of pain to be with her in it, she’s more likely to believe that she’ll be fine – and she gets back up.

I do my part.
She does her part.
A connection is made.

In the words of Brene Brown, “Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”

Originally posted on, republished with permission.

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