How to Melt Hard Feelings

Chapter 111 of the book Self-Help Stuff That Works

by Adam Khan:

THE HUMAN MIND IS NOT a blank slate at birth. Some general programs have been "hardwired." For example, when you're hungry and you smell your favorite food, your mouth waters. Any person on the planet has the same reaction, but to different foods. For you it may be apple pie; for a person in another culture, it may be curried cockroaches.

The trigger for the reaction is not built in, only the reaction. The same is true for the built-in reaction that causes hard feelings.

I'm talking about the impulse to defend something you own, feel a part of, or identify with. Most people feel a part of their family, so if your child or spouse was being attacked, you would defend them. If you saw someone breaking into your car, you might try to defend your car because you own it.

This built-in reaction played an important role during our evolution. The problem with that reaction now is that we've evolved to use symbols, so the same built-in reaction is triggered to defend our ideas, our beliefs, and our self-images. We can now identify with an idea of who we are, and when someone attacks that, it triggers a defensive reaction.

That's the source of hard feelings. Mildred says something to Harry that implies he isn't very strong. Part of Harry's idea of himself is that he is a man and part of his idea of manliness is that men are strong. So Mildred, perhaps without meaning to, has attacked something Harry has identified with, and whether Harry likes it or not, he will feel emotions appropriate to defending his home against intruders! In defense, he may attack something Mildred identifies with, and they now have hard feelings between them.

How can this kind of thing be avoided?

One thing that doesn't work is to say, "You're just being defensive." Most people's self-image includes, "I'm not a defensive person." So when you tell someone she's being defensive, you've just aroused that built-in reaction again!


A good rule of thumb is: Don't tell someone you aren't attacking, demonstrate you aren't attacking. Let people save face, give them the benefit of the doubt, point out your places of agreement, show respect for the other person's opinions, etc.

Do these sound familiar? Of course. They are common-sense ways of dealing with people, and you've probably used most of them many times. They are time-tested methods of handling those built-in defensive reactions in other people.

The problem is that you have the built-in mechanism in yourself. If you innocently step on someone's precious pride and he attacks you in an effort to defend himself, what happens? Before you can say "Boo," your built-in mechanism has been triggered. From that point it's pretty easy to slip into a downward spiral of hard feelings.

Here's the way out: When you notice yourself feeling defensive, start talking to yourself about the ideas in this chapter. Say to yourself, "I feel defensive, but the feeling is only from my ideas " nothing is threatening my family or my car or my body." Then take the actions of listening to and sympathizing with the other person's point of view. You can act undefensive even when you feel defensive, just as you can restrain yourself from hitting someone when you're mad. And when you do, you stop the downward spiral from going any further. You can do the intelligent thing even when you don't feel like it. And your intelligent actions will melt hard feelings like a spring thaw.

Act undefensive when you feel defensive.

Is it necessary to criticize people? Is there a way to avoid the pain involved?
Take the Sting Out

Would you like to improve your ability to connect with people? Would you like to be a more complete listener? Check this out.
To Zip or Not to Zip

If you are a manager or a parent, here's how to prevent people from misunderstanding you. Here's how to make sure things get done the way you want.
Is That Clear?

Most the people in the world are strangers to you. Here's how to increase your feeling of connectedness to those strangers.
We're Family

How to be here now. This is mindfulness from the East applied to reality in the West.

Expressing anger has a good reputation. Too bad. Anger is one of the most destructive emotions we experience, and its expression is dangerous to our relationships.

next: How to Get What You Want From Others

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 9). How to Melt Hard Feelings, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Last Updated: March 31, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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