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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Pantazi

8 Reasons Why We Hurt The Ones We Love The Most

Updated: Sep 29, 2019

“Love hurts” is such a popular belief, while simultaneously love is the absolute emotion of connectedness and union. Everyone wants to be loved, but can we actually handle love? Can it even exist without pain?

If someone we love gets hurt or feels upset, our natural response is to comfort them and provide them with the essential care they need to make sure everything is alright again. But what about when we are the ones that are susceptible for their pain...?

Somehow it is in the closest and most intimate relationships with lovers, family members and close friends that the most pain is inflicted on both sides.

Our topic today is the big question: why do we hurt the ones we love the most?

This is a fact, and a frequent research objective. It is actually confirmed by research that we are more likely to be aggressive to the ones we know better and love the most.

Direct aggression is mostly exerted towards significant others and siblings, while close friends are most likely to be targets of nondirect aggression, either indirect (i.e. hurting someone through something or someone else, such as spreading rumors, destroying property, gossiping etc) or passive (i.e. ignoring, withdrawal, stonewalling, silent treatment etc).

Regardless of whether it is direct or indirect aggression, the fact is that we all hurt the ones we love the most, be it intentionally or unintentionally. Let's see 8 common reasons why this happens.

8 Possible Reasons Why We Hurt The Ones We Love The Most

1. Self-punishment and Self-Sabotage

We hurt others in order to hurt ourselves.

When we hurt one who is close to us, ultimately we hurt ourselves- because guilt, regret and shame can torment us long after the hurt is done.

But why would we do this?

This tendency is founded on core beliefs of inadequacy. When you believe you are actually unworthy of love, undeserving to be happy, unlovable, or that you are bound to ruin anything that is good for you, it is likely you will end up acting in ways to confirm these core beliefs- that you can’t really be happy or don’t deserve love.

This process is not conscious, but it can be once you realize that this is the deep reason you are acting like this.

So you hurt the other in order to sabotage yourself and your happiness, or because you need to punish yourself. In such a case, you are likely self-destructive in more areas of your life and not just your relationships.

If you think your hurting acts towards loved ones is actually self-sabotage or self-punishment, consider:

  • What do you deserve punishment for?

  • How will you be redeemed?

  • What do you need in order to feel worthy of love and happiness? What would help you heal?

  • What does your loved one see in you, to prove to you that you are worthy of their love and attention? Why are they still around

  • Ideally, what could you do in order to promote your happiness instead of sabotaging it? Make a list, and explore whether you can remind yourself to choose one of those and employ it, next time you are just about to harm your loved one with your words or actions.

2. Gaining control as Protection or Reciprocation

Especially in intimate relationships, we may hurt the other before they hurt us first, so that we have the upper hand in control.

This is an attempt to protect yourself before you are at the mercy of the Other.

Indeed, all forms of betrayal and hurting others have a common fundamental motivation: to gain a momentary feeling of empowerment from the adrenaline rush of violating deeper values, like respecting the boundaries and caring about the emotional well-being of loved ones.

Alternatively, we may hurt the other because they hurt us first, so that we can regain our sense of control by reciprocating the hurt and get “even” through retaliation.

Obviously if any of the above become an established dynamic in your relationship, soon enough the whole relationship will be toxic ; such patterns are the backbones of abuse. It is therefore important to stop this before it overwhelms you both.

If you recognize this in yourself:

  • Think about why you have the need to control your partner in the first place

  • What are you protecting yourself from?

  • What signs has your partner given you so far to make it essential to be in defense mode?

  • What can be the consequences of this behaviour?

  • How can you find common ground in order to solve your differences peacefully and without inflicting harm on each other

3. The Trust and Safety Paradox

The more intimacy, love and trust is developed between two partners, the more freedom you feel to just be yourself and not censor your words and actions.

Instead, you may feel inclined to behave and speak openly and authentically to your partner.

You feel safe enough to be yourself fully.

The same applies for any close relationship, but may be more intense between family members and romantic partners. Friends may be a bit more conscious about inhibitions and limits in the way they speak and act to each other, though the more trust and closeness in a friendship, inevitably the more authentic the expression too.

Isn’t that the essence of love and trust after all, the ability to be yourself and know that you will be accepted for who you are, anyway?

However, this lack of inhibitions and boundaries makes it easier to unintentionally hurt the other person. Maybe an innocent, spontaneous comment can be perceived as hurtful or offensive, or a joke sounds a bit too sharp or inconsiderate to your partner.

Or you feel so safe with your partner that you allow yourself to break down in tears in front of them, and subsequently need their comfort and assistance in order to recover- but you don't realize this can have a negative impact on them too.

At the beginning stages of intimate relationships (during the honeymoon phase), we usually present our best possible Self to our partner; just the shiny Parts. We tend to closely monitor our behaviour in order to be regarded as perfect and wonderful as possible, and avoid acting in any way that could jeopardize the new-found connection we are invested to further develop.

Yet this is just a Persona, since we all have darker or weaker Parts that we carefully hide until it feels safer to show them too.

Feeling safe means trusting that the other will accept us even if we dare to be ourselves fully.

Feeling safe enough to show all of You is of course something positive, and the reflection of true intimacy- but also quite tricky. It is easy to lose control and overstep the boundaries of the other.

If you find yourself in this position:

  • It may be noteworthy to have an open discussion with the other person involved in order too better conceptualize each other’s boundaries, as well as ways to ensure that any harm is minimized

  • Working towards positive outcomes strengthens your connection and makes you both feel like a team, which is an amazing foundation for your relationship.

4. Attachment Style

Quite a lot that happens in our intimate relationships is determined by our attachment style, that can be changed with a lot of inner work and positive relational experiences.

We learn to love in familiar ways.

Mostly unconsciously, we strive to reenact our childhood experiences of what love is and how is it expressed.

We look to recreate in our intimate relationships the feelings we knew so well in childhood, as these were taught to us by our primary caregivers (and later on probably often repeated by romantic partners too).

Perhaps you learned from an early age that close relationships are intertwined with pain and hurt, so you have developed a sensitive inner radar to whenever things get too close; this can be an indication of danger to which you respond in the way it used to happen when you were little.


  • How did you observe love to be expressed when you were little?

  • Was hurting the other something you remember seeing, and in which ways?

  • How was recovery attempted after hurt?

If you are curious about your Attachment Style, you can take this test here!

5. Asserting Independence

Intimacy is definitely scary. It means emotionally approaching another individual too closely, even merging with them in a way.

It can happen that you may unwillingly hurt the other when the emotional distance between you seems a bit too close for your liking.

This is an unconscious way to assert your own space and independence by pushing the other person away.

It can be very hurtful to the other to feel pushed away, and there are healthier and more straightforward ways to assert your independence and express that you feel you need more space, without hurting your partner.

If you do this:

  • It is important to learn to communicate your thoughts and feelings about the Other, the relationship and intimacy in general more effectively, before any serious damage is done.

6. Boundary Testing

This is another reason why we may be acting towards our partner in hurtful ways, that can be both conscious and unconscious:

We aim to test the boundaries and see how far we can go before they draw the line.

Children employ such boundary-testing behaviour to their caregivers, but it not something we ever really give up throughout our whole lives.

Our behaviour is shaped not only by our own thoughts and feelings, but by the boundaries others set to us.

Often the person who pushes the boundaries of their partner desperately yearns for some clear and firm boundaries.

Boundaries increase our sense of safety, bring structure and also show us that the other person cares enough about the relationship in order to be able to express their limits, since this ultimately promotes its quality, too.

If you realize you actually push the boundaries of the other:

  • Have you considered what it is that you would like to accomplish?

  • What is your end purpose in this?

  • Are there other ways for you to express your need for interaction and boundary setting, without hurting the other?

7. Idealization and High Expectations

This reason refers to the person getting hurt and not the one who causes the harm, but it’s definitely useful to keep in mind.

Maybe you don’t even want to hurt your partner, but they get hurt anyway.

The closer we get to someone emotionally, the more roles we attribute to them in our mind, the higher expectations we have of them, and the more they ultimately mean to us.

In a way, we idealize them- we think quite highly of them, thus any small sign that may not be in accordance with this idealized image we have of them, may be perceived more sensitively and hurt us.

If you are at the receiving end of hurt because of regarding the other too highly, remember to practice not taking things too personally!

8. More Time Together and Displacement

This last reason may sound a bit funny, but it is true:

You may hurt the one you love the most simply because they are the ones that are mostly around.

Our emotions, thoughts and behaviours are in constant interplay. If we have a negative mood, we are therefore more likely to act in ways that match our emotional state or get triggered by innocuous and harmless stimuli.

If there is someone else who is usually there, we are likely to project our feelings to them by acting them out.

Moreover, the phenomenon of displacement is something that happens quite often among people that spend a lot of time together.

Displacement means projecting feelings connected to one person or situation, onto another person.

Think of the guy that had a long and frustrating day at work and then goes home and yells to his partner; this guy displaces his anger and frustration to someone else.

Perhaps we displace negative emotions to the ones we spend a lot of time with because we feel mostly safe with them, but it is most definitely not a healthy tendency to be proud of.

If you find yourself in this position:

  • You can use mindfulness in order to become conscious of the actual reasons behind negative emotions, thereby minimizing the risk of having an outburst on someone who just so happens to be there most of the time.

  • Another idea is to explain to your partner that you feel rather cranky/irritated/argumentative/moody so that you look ahead and prevent some negative incident between you.

In Conclusion...

Hurting the ones that are closer to us is something that happens naturally for many different reasons.

Becoming more mindful and conscious of the ways that you may hurt the ones you love the most, and the subsequent reasons behind your behaviour, may bring tremendous positive outcomes to your relationships.

Awareness is the first and absolutely necessary step towards positive change.

Ideally, a great focus could be to understand yourself to such an extent, that allows for minimizing both intentional and unintentional hurt to the ones that are closest to your life and heart.

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