One of the greatest threats to your emotional health is hurtful words from people you care about.  It’s one thing for a stranger to hurt your feelings by dismissing your art; it’s quite another to hear from a parent that it’s no good. Nobody wants to be compared; but when it’s your own kids comparing your cooking to the gourmet meals in their schoolmate’s home, you can’t help but fight back the tears. And the silence from people whose opinion matters to us can be more devastating than a thousand curse words.

You can’t just sit back and accept something that drains you of self-esteem. So how do you tell loved ones they’re being hurtful?

Consider the following tips:

Start with a subtle hint. When correcting loved ones, there’s the risk of offending or hurting them back. This is especially true when the other person has no idea they’re being hurtful; for instance a parent who thinks that he or she is merely offering constructive criticism. Perhaps it’s best to employ a ladder of escalation, and begin with a subtle hint. Start by making a light joke of it; see if they can pick out what’s between verses. “Mom, if you keep it up, I might start feeling bad.” If such jokes are out of your character, then loved ones may see that something is not right and make the appropriate response.

Communicate your hurt assertively. But what if a subtle hint isn’t strong enough to get the message across? Then perhaps it’s time to just come out and say it. Find a quiet and private place conducive for heart to heart conversation, and share with your loved one (1) what exact behavior you find hurtful, (2) how the behavior hurts you and (3) what you would rather have instead. For instance, you can say: “You know Dan, when you keep on working on your car even when I’m talking to you, I feel like I’m not important to you at all. I’d rather that you give me your full attention when we’re speaking to one another.” Simple, no blaming and direct to the point.

Be open to your faults as well. Open communication should be part of a family’s culture, not a onetime event. Once you have communicated your feelings of hurt, invite your loved one to tell you if there are things that you do that they would like corrected as well. For all you know, your loved one is also harboring a lot of resentment over the years, and could use some air-clearing exercise. Encouraging loved ones to communicate with you about their hurts can also be an opportunity for you to model how to positively respond to heartfelt disclosures.

Lastly, be patient with the results. There are occasions, when even assertive communication will not result in change. If this is the case, practice patience. Have hope. Sometimes it might take awhile before messages to sink in, especially when the other person can’t appreciate your point of view. The best part is: you already have the satisfaction of having communicated your feelings — you can now stop letting the behavior affect you. The ball is in your loved one’s court, so to speak, so have hope that they’ll soon respond positively.