“I Can’t Believe You Said That!” When Words Hurt

shutterstock_332011016When things get heated, our “fight or flight” response kicks in, but sometimes our reaction is to take the “fight” response a bit too literally. When someone speaks rudely to us, or yells at us, we yell back and attempt to “out argue” the other person. While this may be our instinct reaction, it’s not the most effective way to deal with these situations.

Theology of the Body reminds us of the power of words by pointing us back to Genesis and how God created the world. Specifically, God spoke the world into being. Words have creative power, and God shares that power with us in the hopes that we will use it to build each other up and be co-creators with Him as we work to cooperate with His grace and encourage each other to be the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we were created to be. But we can also use those words to destroy each other and we often do.

Here are three More2Life Hacks on how to respond when words hurt:

1. Be Confident And Be Clear–No one ever deserves to be spoken to disrespectfully or hurtfully. Even if the other person accuses you of doing something that they found hurtful or offensive, no matter what you may or may not have said or done, you don’t deserve to be spoken to cruelly or disrespectfully. Be clear about this and be confident in your right to insist that, while you are willing to listen to anything the other person wants to say, you cannot listen to anything that is said in a cruel or hurtful manner. Being clear about this doesn’t only benefit you, it benefits the other person and your ability to address whatever the problem might allegedly be.  If there is a problem that needs to be discussed, it deserves to be discussed respectfully and effectively. Be confident and clear about the need to insist that “respect is the price of admission” to any conversation a person may want to have with you.

2. Use Do-Over’s–If you feel attacked in a conversation, resist the temptation to just lash out or shut the conversation down completely. Instead, assume that, given the chance, the other person will be able to say what they are trying to say respectfully. Give them that chance by asking for a do-over. Say something like, “I’m feeling really attacked right now. I want to hear what you’re trying to say, but I need you to be less aggressive about it. Tell me again what you’re trying to say.” Often, when we hold up a mirror like this, the other person will appreciate the opportunity to see how they are coming across and adjust their behavior. Do-overs allow you to reset the conversation and move forward in a more respectful and productive way.

3. Don’t Feed the Troll–If someone is saying cruel or disrespectful things to you, don’t defend yourself. Don’t try to talk them out of it. Don’t argue back. Any attempt to argue someone out of their unkind view of you will inevitably backfire as the conversation will begin going in circles with new accusations being hurled and as the previous defenses are overcome. The best thing to do in this situation? Don’t feed the troll. As before, stop the conversation and give the person as chance to do a do-over. If that fails, simply say, “I’m really sorry you feel that way. I hope you can get past it. If there’s something you’d like to talk through when you’re feeling a little less angry I’m happy to hear whatever you have to say, but I can’t talk about this with you this way.” Then be done. If you have to say anything, simply repeat that formula, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope you can get past it. I’d love to talk to you when you’re in a different place, but I can’t do it like this.” Trolls don’t like to eat broken records. If that’s all you serve them, they’ll look for other places to feed.

For more information on how to effectively respond when words hurt, check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! and tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network, SiriusXM 139.

Ash Wednesday: When Mercy Rains Down

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

It’s raining here, today. Hard.

When I first woke up this morning and my eyes blinked open, I heard the rain pounding on my roof and the winds slapping against my window. My first thought was, “So gloomy.  What perfect Lenten weather.”

My second thought was, “With how hard it’s raining, those ashes won’t stay on my forehead very long.  What a shame.”

But my groggy, gloomy, lenten mood was immediately punctuated by yet another thought that could only have been the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear. “No.  How perfect.   We bring our shame to God and cover ourselves in ashes.  And immediately the winds of grace and the rains of mercy wash the stain away.”

Today’s rain isn’t depressing.  It isn’t gloomy.  God isn’t weeping tears of sadness.  He is crying tears of joy that wash away our sins and celebrate his children coming home.

This Lent, celebrate the fact that we are not defined by our sinfulness, but by the depth of his love and mercy.  For more ways to connect how much God wants to satisfy the deepest longings of your heart, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart.

Alternative Facts? 3 Ways to Solve Conflict When You Can’t Even Agree on What Happened



This past weekend saw  a lot of discussion about “alternative facts.” Whatever you think of the crowd-size kerfuffle between the Trump Admin and the press, the phrase, “alternative facts” points to a problem I often encounter in counseling; namely, how can you help two people solve a problem when they can’t even agree on what really happened?  Is the other person lying?  Are they stupid?  Exactly what is wrong with them anyway that they see things in such a radically different way than you do?

Interestingly, there is a huge body of research showing that people regularly perceive “alternative facts” when witnessing the same event. For instance, this article from Scientific American relates the very common problem with the unreliability of eye-witness testimony in court and how, even when people are not intending to commit perjury, witnesses can have very different and even contradicting memories of the very same experience.

So what can we do when we see things so differently from our spouse, kids, or co-workers that we can’t even agree on what happened, who started it,  who said what, and/or who did what to whom much less what to do about it?  Here are three tips Lisa and I discussed on More2Life Radio that can help you overcome the complications “alternative facts” can cause in your disputes with the people you care about.


  1.  Don’t Expect to Agree On History–It can be frustrating, even scary when you and someone you care about can’t even agree on what happened.  Be not afraid.  Even the closest friends, families,  and couples rarely agree on who said and did what.  Even in these times, you CAN both agree that you didn’t like the way things happened and you CAN come to an agreement on how to handle things differently the next time something like this comes up.  Don’t get caught up in arguments about history.  Listen to each other’s version of events respectfully, but then say, “Well, obviously we see things really differently and that’s ok, but what can we do to handle this better the next time it comes up?”  Focusing on solutions instead of history allows you to respect your differences while remaining hopeful that your future can be more agreeable than your past or present. 
  2.  Disagreeing isn’t Lying--Too often when parents and kids or even couples express different versions of the same events they can accuse each other of lying. Of course, if the other person regularly hides things from you, tells half-truths or makes things up, then seek professional help immediately, but if they are generally a truthful, transparent person and that’s why it is so upsetting that they seem to have such different views about what happened, don’t accuse them of lying.  It isn’t a lie to see things differently.  Again, as with our first tip, focus on what you can agree on, namely, the fact that neither of you like the way things played out and that both of you want to handle the situation better the next time.  Instead of putting the other person on trial and trying to prove that your version of events should be entered into the official permanent record, concentrate on establishing some ground rules and expectations to handle the next time better 
  3. Listen Emotionally MORE Than Factually--Even when you’re trying to identify solutions for the next time something like this happens, sometimes it can be really tempting to get hung up on the fact that the other person sees things SO radically differently.  It can be especially hard when they seem to be drawing unkind conclusions about you and your motivations.  Try not to get caught up in defending yourself from these unkind “alternative facts.”  Instead, listen to the emotions behind the accusations.  For instance, you can say, “I certainly didn’t mean to come off that way, and that was the furthest thing from my mind, but I understand that you felt X (attacked, hurt, disrespected, humiliated, etc.) and I’m really sorry that’s how it seemed.  What can I do NEXT TIME to make sure I don’t come off that way to you?”  By using this formula, you don’t have to agree with the other person’s perceptions, but you can still manage to be sensitive to them and do a better job of managing their perceptions in the future.

Pope St. John Paul the Great’s Theology of the Body (TOB) reminds us that each person is unique and unrepeatable.  While that sounds great on paper, practically speaking, it means that we all see things very differently.  Yes, there is such a thing as objective truth, but it can be hard to get there sometimes because our different experiences and different perspectives cause us to emphasize different aspect of an experience to the point where two people can go through the same thing and describe almost two completely different events.  Despite this, TOB reminds us of the importance of working through or getting past those differences to create a “community of love” where, despite your differences you can still work for each others good and create connection.

If you’d like more information on how you can stop “alternative facts” from creating conflict on your relationships, check out When Divorce Is NOT An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love.


More2Life Hack: 3 Tips for Authentic Forgiveness


Today on More2Life, we explored what authentic forgives does (and doesn’t) require.  Here are three tips to help you make forgiving others less complicated.

1. There is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.  

St. Augustine said that we’ve forgiven someone when we’ve surrendered our natural desire for revenge.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean pretending it never happened or letting the person go scot free.  It means surrendering your desire to hurt the other person or have them hurt for having hurt you.

Reconciliation, on the other hand, (again, according to Augustine) is the “tranquility that results from right order.”  In other words, in order to reconcile with someone, they have to be willing to work with you to heal the wounds, right the wrongs, or solve the problems caused by their actions.  Because not everyone is willing to do that, it is possible to forgive someone but still not be reconciled to them.

2. There are 3 Parts to an effective apology

If a person is truly sorry (as opposed to just going through the motions) their apology will reflect the fact that they feel how much they hurt you, own the responsibility for what they’ve done (instead of blaming you or making excuses), and want to make restitution.   If you are struggling to forgive someone, there is a good chance one of these three ingredients is missing. Full reconciliation will require you to insist that the missing elements be addressed.

3.  Reconciliation requires you to be able to trust they won’t do it again.

To completely reconcile with someone, you need to be able to trust that–barring some genuinely unusual circumstances–they won’t commit the same offense again.  Research shows that a trustworthy person has proven that they have 4 qualities.  The ability to do what they say they are going to do.  The integrity that either enables them to avoid giving offense in the first place and/or easily and quickly accept correction when they commit an offense in spite of themselves.  The benevolence that shows that they are committed to working for your good even when it is inconvenient for them to do so. And the consistency that proves to you that they can be counted on to demonstrate these qualities across many different areas of your life and relationship.  Someone who does not display these qualities cannot be trusted to be safe and so you cannot completely reconcile with them until they have developed their skills in these areas.

In short, forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.  But reconciliation is a project that requires the active cooperation of the wound-er and the wounded.  Knowing the difference can make all the difference.

For more tips on achieving authentic forgiveness and reconciliation, check out God Help Me, These People Are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace with Difficult People or tune in to More2Life radio each weekday at 10am E/9am C on a Catholic radio station near you or SiriusXM Channel 130.

Trust Me (?)




Trust is in the news a lot these days as candidates from both parties present their ideas and ask us to trust them to lead nation.  But the campaign raises an interesting question.  How do we ever know whom we can really trust?  It can be especially difficult to know whether to trust someone on a personal level–particularly  if they have hurt you in the past.

Some people respond to this dilemma by trusting people too much and too quickly,  backing off only after they’ve been wounded.   Others do the opposite, withholding trust until someone has jumped through enough hoops to prove themselves.    Obviously, neither approach works well.  Christians, in particular, have to balance our moral right to defend our dignity and integrity with the moral obligation to reach out to others and create loving communion with the people in our lives. Having a healthy perspective on trust allows us to find the response that serves both important needs.

The most important thing to remember is that trust is not an all or nothing proposition.  It is possible to trust a person in some areas or with some responsibilities but not in other areas.  But how do you know what those areas are and to what degree you can trust a person in any context?  It comes down to four factors.


4 Trust Factors:  Ability, Integrity, Benevolence.

Psychologists believe that trustworthy people exhibit four qualities; ability, integrity, benevolence and consistency.

Ability–refers to a person’s capacity for doing what they say they are going to do.  To what degree does a person only promise what they are actually capable of doing?  Does that person actually follow through on promises or do they say all the right things in the moment only to fail to show up later?   The answer to questions like these demonstrates how much a person has the ability to be trusted.  By contrast, untrustworthy people can be charming and well-meaning, but they are unreliable  in that they overpromise or lack follow-though.


Integrity–means that a person has a sufficiently well-developed value system that they tend not to give offense in the first place, tend to self-correct when they do others, or are at least willing to generously hear and respond proactively when they are told they have been offensive.  A person with impaired integrity doesn’t tend to care that he has given offense and becomes automatically defensive if told he has been hurtful in some way.  Such a person  gives apologies grudgingly and rarely displays the humility necessary to learn from missteps.  People who behave this way can’t be trusted because they don’t have a well-developed moral sense.  They tend to do what they think can get away with or manage to explain away and only repent under pressure–and then, only half-heartedly.  People with integrity, on the other hand, see the offenses they commit against others as a mark against their own character, and because they are committed to living out a particular set of values, they work hard to faithful to those principles no matter what.


Benevolence–refers to the degree to which the person you want to trust has shown you that he or she is willing to work for your good, especially when it has required some sacrifice or inconvenience on his or her part.   A person who is willing to put themselves out for your sake is more worth of your trust than someone who isn’t.  People who lack benevolence could be friendly and charming on the outside, but when you need something, their selfish tendencies come out along with their catalog of excuses.


Consistency–even the most irresponsible person manages to follow through occasionally.  Even the abusive person manages to say, “sorry” or do something nice once in a while.  It is our ability to count on a person to demonstrate ability, integrity and benevolence consistently that makes them truly trustworthy.  Inconsistently demonstrating the qualities of a trustworthy person is the same as not demonstrating them at all.



Evaluating a person’s ability, integrity,  benevolence and consistency vs. their unreliability, defensiveness, selfishness and inconsistency enables you to have a clearer sense of how much you can trust someone, in what contexts, and to what degree.  It can also give you a guide for dealing with those you have a hard time trusting by helping you highlight why and what might be done to resolve those obstacles to trust.


To learn more about whom to trust and how to heal broken trust, check out God Help Me, These People are Driving Me Nuts!  Making Peace with Difficult People (Crossroads).


Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books and the host of More2Life Radio.  To learn more about Catholic counseling and other resources, visit CatholicCounselors.com

Hard to Say, “I’m Sorry” 3 Keys to an Effective Apology



Saying “sorry” and meaning it is about repairing relationship, not making ourselves feel better.  Check out my latest column for Our Sunday Visitor

Lent is a time of reparation — a season of sorrow for sins committed and expressions of a sincere desire to reform our lives. But what does it mean to be sorry? What are the components of real remorse?

Whether we are expressing sorrow to God, a spouse, family member or friend, it can be hard to say, “I’m sorry.” It can be even harder to say it well. Sometimes, when people say that they are sorry to us, we can feel like there is something missing. Often, it’s because there is. But what? As we express our sorrow to God this Lent for the ways that our lives do not reflect his plan for us, it can be important to make sure our “I’m sorry’s” have all the components of sincere remorse. Researchers note that good apologies involve three ingredients: empathy, restitution and objective criteria.

Apologies missing any one of these component often feel lacking, or incomplete and that nagging feeling can make it hard to experience real reconciliation. Here’s why these three components are such an important part of a complete apology.  (Continue Reading).

Releasing Resentment: 5 Steps to Overcoming Bitterness and Increasing your Peace

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

No one wants to be bitter.  It sneaks up on us.  Bitterness is unforgiveness fermented.    The more we hold onto past hurts the more we become drunk on our pain and the experience can rob us of the joy we can find in anything.


Bitterness occurs when we feel someone has taken something from us that we are powerless to get back.  We hold on to the hurt in an attempt to remind ourselves and others of the injustice we’ve experienced in the hopes that someone will save us and restore what we’ve lost.  Unfortunately, bitterness only makes our sense of the injustice grow.  It does nothing to heal the wound caused by the injustice.  In fact, it causes the wound to become infected with anger.


Bitterness:  Wrath’s Little Sister

Bitterness is wrath’s little sister.  Where anger can be just and moral if it propels us to seek solutions for the wrongs we have experienced or witness, wrath is a deadly sin because it becomes anger that feeds on itself and adds to wreckage caused by the original wound.  Bitterness does this too, but instead of burning down the house with everything we value still inside, bitterness is quieter, slowly poisoning our life until we lose it one joy at a time.


Here are some things you can do to begin to overcome bitterness.


1.  Forgive

Forgiveness does not mean pretending everything is “OK.”  It doesn’t mean forgetting the hurt either.  According to St. Augustine, forgiveness is simply the act of surrendering our desire for revenge; that is, our desire to hurt someone for having hurt us.   Forgiveness is the gift we give ourselves that enables us to stop picking at the scab and start making a plan for healing.  My book,  Broken Gods: Hope Healing and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart can help you identify the steps you need to heal the hurt, and find authentic peace.


2. Make a plan

Forgiveness allows you to free up the energy you need to begin healing the wound. If the person who hurt you is willing to work with you, begin mapping out exactly what changes or effort you would need to see from that person to let you know that it is safe to reconcile.  If you are on your own, focus your energy on making a plan for how will you strive to regain as much of what was lost/taken from you as possible.  The more you strive to find alternative ways to recoup your losses, the less bitter you will feel even if the hurt persists.   It can be tempting to give into feelings that “there’s nothing I can do”   but resist the temptation.  In fact, if you feel this way and can’t think of solutions, talk to a professional to check your math before deciding that you just need to grieve your loss.  If, after consultation, you find that there really is nothing you can do to reclaim what was lost or taken from you, focus your energy on developing new goals that will help you reconstruct a compelling future.  The book, The Life God Wants You to Have:  Discovering the Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail can be a tremendous help for figuring out what God is calling you to work toward in the next chapter of your life.


3.  Stop Dwelling and Retelling

When we are hurt, we have a tendency to turn the painful events over and over in our head or tell anyone who will listen about our pain–even over and over again.  It is fine to talk to people we think can help us heal the hurt, facilitate reconciliation or help us rebuild our lives, but other than that, we should do what we can to stop dwelling on the story of our injury ourselves and stop speaking of it so freely to others.  When we are tempted to “dwell or retell” the best course of action is to refocus on what we can do–TODAY–to take at least some small step toward refining or actualizing the plan we’ve developed in Step 2.  The more you are focused on solutions, the less you will experience the sense of powerlessness that comes from ruminating on the hurt.


4.  Seek Grace

It can be next to impossible to heal some wounds without God’s grace.  Bitterness causes us to shun God’s grace in favor of obsessing over the wound.  If you are holding on to bitterness I encourage you to take it to confession.  Please don’t be insulted by the suggestion.  I know that you are the victim and you have a right to your pain.  Still, holding on to anything except God’s love, mercy and healing grace separates from God and the life he wants us to have. Confession can open your heart to receive the healing that God wants to give you.   It can help you surrender the pain and powerlessness and begin to discover new options.  Stop hoarding your hurt.  Make your desire for healing official by taking your tendency to dwell in the powerlessness to the confessional and seek the grace to leave it there.


5.  Seek Professional Help

If the bitterness won’t let go even after you’ve tried all of the above, it’s time to seek professional help.  Working with a professional can help you see possibilities that your pain has blinded you to and give you new tools to heal the wounds that are holding you back.   If you have a faithful professional in your area that you have worked with before, it may be time to reconnect.  If not, I would invite you to contact us through the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about our telephone counseling practice.  Healing is possible with the right resources.


Hebrews 12:5 says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”  You don’t have to be bitter or consumed by feelings of powerlessness and sadness.  Take action today to cooperate with the grace God is giving you to break free of the bonds of bitterness.  You can discover that with God’s help, there is so much more to life than pain.

When “I’m Sorry” Isn’t Enough. 3 Keys to Healing Your Hurting Heart

Image via shutterstock. Used with permission

Image via shutterstock. Used with permission

We’ve all had times when it was hard to forgive someone for having hurt us or when our attempts to gain someone else’s forgiveness have fallen flat.

Heart Health

Sometimes,  “I’m sorry” isn’t enough because owe have an unforgiving heart. We want to hold on to the pain because it makes us feel self-righteous and superior to the person who hurt us and it gives us a weapon to use against the offender.  “Oh, yeah?  NOW you want to be nice to me? HA! Well, we’ll see about that!”

But what about those times when our hearts really do want to forgive but, despite our best and most sincere efforts to let go of the pain, we continue to be haunted by the hurt?  Should we feel guilty for somehow “refusing” to forgive? Or could something else be going on?

The Divine Longing for Justice

As I argue in Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, sometimes our inability to let go of the anger and hurt that follows an offense isn’t a lack of forgiveness, but a sign of our Divine Longing for Justice.  Our divine longing  for justice was hard-wired into us at the beginning of creation.  It is one of the seven longings that points us to God and, after the Fall, continues to nag at us from deep within so that we can restore the order that we destroyed by sin.

The Divine Longing for Justice helps us attend to the healing of wounds and offenses that we, in our weakness, might just prefer to ignore, but that the Holy Spirit wants us to address so that godly order might be restored and authentic healing can take place.

Satisfying The Divine Longing for Justice

When “I’m sorry” isn’t enough, despite our best efforts to let go of our hurt,  it is usually because one of the three components of an effective apology–of true remorse–is absent.    Researchers tell us that there are three keys to an effective apology.  We don’t need all three components every time someone offends us, but the more serious the offense, the more we will probably need all three keys to unlock the door to total reconciliation and healing.

3 Keys to Healing the Hurting Heart

The three keys are; empathy, objective remorse, restitution.

Empathy–refers to the offender’s willingness to demonstrate that they truly understand how deeply they have hurt us.  An apology consisting of ” “Fine, I’m sorry, are you happy now?”  isn’t an apology at all.  When someone hurts you, not only do you deserve to hear, “I can’t believe I did that to you.  I am so sorry for having hurt you like that.” but unless the offender can make such an expression of empathy, you can be sure that they really don’t understand the seriousness of what they did, which means it will probably happen again.  In these situations, your Divine Longing for Justice will continue to nag you as a way of saying, “The situation isn’t safe.  Don’t let down your guard yet!”

Objective Remorse–refers to the offender’s understanding that you had an objective right to expect more from them.  That is, you aren’t hurt because “you can’t take a joke,” or because “you are so sensitive,” or because “you are so demanding.”  Rather, you are hurt because you had a right to expect more from the person, that anyone would have expected more from them, and they let you down.  “I am so sorry. A husband should never treat a wife the way I  treated you.  You are absolutely right and I promise I won’t do it again.”  Without objective remorse, your Divine Longing for Justice won’t allow you to let go of your fear and pain because it recognized that the person isn’t truly sorry, but rather is blaming you for the audacity of actually expecting them to behave appropriately!

Restitution–is the offender’s willingness to make things right.  Sometimes restitution is material in that they will repair or replace they thing they broke or took from you.  More often, restitution requires a willingness to sit down with you and outline their plan for handling similar situations differently in the future.  Other times it will require them to admit that they don’t have what it takes to promise they won’t do it again, and agree to get the help they need–professionally or otherwise–to learn the skills that are lacking.  Either way, without some plan of restitution, your Divine Longing for Justice will not allow you to let go of the pain, because the wound is still raw and without restitution, it could become infected and lead to bitterness and deeper resentment over time.

Letting Go

The desire to let go of our pain after an offense and move on is noble and godly, but when the pain lingers despite our best efforts to forgive, we need to pause and ask God, “What are you telling me still needs to occur for true reconciliation to take place?”  and look at which of the 3 keys to reconciliation is missing.  God doesn’t want to heal us by half measures.  He desires true, authentic, and total healing for both us and our relationships and he gives us the Divine Longing for Justice to see that this healing and wholeness and take place.

If you need more help finding reconciliation after an offense, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, or contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about how our Catholic telecounseling practice can help you find true healing after the hurt.