“You Hurt My Feelings”: Lesson in Truth and Support

In the new indie film You Hurt My Feelings by Nicole Holofcener, one of the main characters is Don  (Tobias Menzies), a therapist who offers his various clients listening and support but not enough honest feedback and/or advice. He’s married to Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a writer and teacher who regularly provides well-meaning—but not necessarily earned—support to her adult students and loved ones. As a couple they’re seemingly close; they’re also enmeshed.

Think, if you will, about how Don’s and Beth’s styles might have affected each other as well as their son over the years. Actually, just see the film.

Jake Coyle, Associated Press: “Do any of us really want straightforward feedback or do we just want emotional support? That’s the rich vein that Holofcener, a master of nagging neuroses, mines so expertly in You Hurt My Feelings — a film that I very much adored. I swear.”

Have you ever felt that your therapist is giving you space to talk but little else? Does your spouse or friend or anyone else you care about boost your ego when you’re feeling insecure—without ever telling you some of the hard truths?

It is possible, by the way, to be both honest and supportive at the same time—even if you won’t want to practice this 100 percent of the time. After all, little white lies exist for a reason. “Deciding what is an ‘okay’ lie and what is a ‘dangerous lie’ requires consideration of your motivation and the potential fall-out if the truth were found out,” states Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, Psychology Today.

Generally speaking, honesty is truly the best policy. And, as Dr. Jonice Webb advises on her website, “Truth with compassion is a way to express your truth while reducing its hurtfulness as much as possible.” The following are three steps she recommends in order to achieve this:

1. Clarify your message within yourself before saying anything to the other person

2. Think about the personality and nature of your recipient. How emotionally fragile is he? How will he best hear this message?

3. Identify the best time, place, and words to communicate your message

Interestingly, Webb is the author of Running On Empty, about childhood emotional neglect. One of the long-term effects of such neglect, as with abuse, can be a damaged ability to establish healthy emotional intimacy. Beth, for instance, in You Hurt My Feelings was the victim of verbal abuse by her father. Her mother gives her backhanded compliments that sting.

Although we are not similarly aware of Don’s background, in his foreground we know he has chosen a profession in which it’s important to have a strong understanding of healthy intimacy. This film shows us that—like all therapists—he has some continued learning to do.

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