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Psychology/Why do people say hurtful things?


HI Katherine,

I love my parents so much, but I am aware that I have hurt them tremendously through my life. Sometimes with problems at school, sometimes getting into the wrong crowd and sometimes because I end up in fights.

However, I have completely changed. I eat healthier, have better fitness and encourage a positive attitude in everyone. I no longer feel angry (unless I'm don't run for a while) and forgive easily now.

My parents sometimes say things that hurt and I don't know what to do. Mum has improved lots, especially now that she is grieving the loss of her brother. I can somewhat excuse mum as she didn't have a formal education as a child due to an accident when she was young.
Today my dad said lots of hurtful things to me - like I'm useless, I never get anything right and blames everything on me. I know my dad loves me but I don't understand why he does this every so often?

I have tried talking to dad but i can get very emotional sometimes. He listens, he understands and he apologises - but sooner or later he is at it again. And I love him; but the hurt distances me from him.

I do have a few communication problems. I've not picked up my mother-tongue too well, but dada does speak English so generally we are ok. Mum only speaks Punjabi so I struggle to express myself to her.

What can I do in this situation to communicate with mum better?
How do I stop the pain and stop me becoming distant from my parents?
How can I get my dad to stop doing this to me?

Please note, no one in the house drinks or takes drugs.
Mum is currently on anti-depressants.
Dad has a heart condition and is recovering from open-heart surgery.

Thanks for your time Katherine,

Saj :-)

Saj - I am not a clinical psychologist - that means I am not a therapist, I am a researcher and teacher. So, I can't give you advice like a therapist.

People say hurtful things because they are angry and frustrated.  Your father may be frustrated and angry about things that happened in the past and he is not recognizing that you have changed. Perhaps he also has frustrations in his own life that make him angry - or he may be very worried about your future and lashes out at you because of that.

You can set limits with him, and say that if he speaks to you in a disrespectful way, you will end the conversation and walk away. Tell him that you will only speak to him in a respectful way as well.

You can find other ways to communicate with your mother - listen to music together, go for a walk - it doesn't all have to be verbal.

Are there other people in your family that can help you with this - someone who is loving and trustworthy - an aunt or uncle, grandmother or grandfather?

If it is available, I would also suggest talking with a counselor or therapist.  

Good luck.


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Katherine ONeill


I can answer academic questions about psychology. I am not a clinician (therapist), I am a research psychologist with expertise in biopsychology, general psychology, cognitive psychology, research methods and psychopharmacology.


I have 25 years experience as a researcher in health behavior, biopsychology and psychopharmacology.

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Ph.D. Experimental Psychology, University of Rhode Island, 1983. Post doctoral fellow dept of psychiatry, New York University Medical Center, 1983-1984. Post doctoral fellow, dept of pharmacology, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, 1984-1985.

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