Relationship Advice: Why Do I Hurt The People I Love?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated March 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

The people closest to you, like family members or a romantic partner, are often the ones you interact with the most and may also be easier to hurt due to attachment. Understanding the evidence-backed reasons people may intentionally or unintentionally hurt their loved ones can help you navigate your relationship patterns and start repairing connections. In addition, you may benefit from learning how therapy can help you gain healthy, productive ways to control and communicate your emotions.

Do you understand why you may hurt those you love?

Attachment styles as a foundation

"Forming intimate relationships is a fundamental human motive. Emotions play a critical role in intimate relationships - they are central to the development and maintenance of these bonds, and these very bonds can influence both individual and interpersonal emotional dynamics across time."—Emotional Dynamics in Intimate Relationships

According to attachment theory, humans develop their method of connecting to people emotionally during childhood, primarily based on how their parents or caregivers attend to their needs.

Psychologist John Bowlby first proposed the theory in the 1940s as an evolutionary explanation of how humans develop emotional attachments to ensure the species' survival. Below are the primary attachment styles and how they might manifest in your relationships. 


If you have a secure attachment style, you may have received reliable, responsive care from your parents or guardians as a child, with emotional warmth and age-appropriate responsibilities and expectations. People with secure attachment styles often have a favorable view of themselves regarding capability, worthiness, and dependability. They often extend this view to others, finding it easier to accept care and offer it in return. 

Dismissive (avoidant)

With a dismissive or avoidant attachment style, you may have been raised by caregivers who failed to express emotions openly or emphasized the need for independence and self-reliance. People with an avoidant attachment style often rely only on themselves and may have trouble trusting others. They often view themselves positively while seeing others in a negative light. 

These individuals may see themselves as capable and worthy of love but have challenges trusting or depending on a partner to love and support them in return. This pattern could lead you to ignore others, break up with people quickly, or take long breaks from socialization.  

Fearful-avoidant (disorganized)

If you have a fearful-avoidant or disorganized attachment style, you may have been raised in an environment where your emotional and physical needs weren't met. Children who experience indifference, fear, harsh criticism, abuse, or neglect often have trouble relating to others as adults. They may have a negative view of themselves and others, so they often have difficulty providing and accepting love and support in a relationship due to negative self-esteem, previous experience, or trust issues. They may go back and forth between wanting connection and running from it. 

Preoccupied (anxious)

People who were raised with inconsistent care as children often develop a preoccupied attachment style. Caregivers or parents may have alternated between distant disapproval and loving warmth during childhood, leaving you uncertain whether your needs would be met. As an adult, you might struggle with abandonment issues or a negative self-view while seeing others as competent and trustworthy. You may go out of your way to seek approval and demonstrate intense adverse reactions over behaviors related to emotional distance and withdrawal.  


Why do I hurt the people I love?

When you form emotional attachments to others, you both may be more vulnerable to emotional harm. Harm can be intentional or unintentional and may not always be severe. However, regardless of the reason you've hurt someone’s feelings, there may be steps you can take to repair your relationship. Below are a few reasons people might hurt those they love. 

You fear emotional intimacy

Many people have alexithymia, another word for fear of emotional intimacy. Alexithymia is characterized by difficulty with attachment security and mood variables and can negatively impact relationship satisfaction. A strong emotional connection between partners may be essential for an open, loving relationship. 

People with emotional intimacy issues often have trouble communicating with their partners, expressing their feelings and needs, and reliably supporting others. This difficulty can extend to other relationships, leading them to hold back their feelings from those close to them. The people in their lives may think they are indifferent or disinterested. 

The following are a few tips for building healthy emotional intimacy with others: 

  • Make yourself emotionally available to your partner and loved ones. 
  • Say daily affirmations and praises with your partner. 
  • Ensure you and your partner achieve sexual satisfaction in your relationship. 
  • Break away from your established daily routine.
  • Listen actively without judgment. 
  • Express gratitude. 
  • Reach out for professional help and guidance. 

You want to avoid codependency

Feeling smothered or suffocated in a relationship may be due to a fear of codependency, a behavioral and emotional condition affecting your ability to form and maintain healthy, mutually satisfying relationships. Co-dependent relationships often involve emotionally destructive or abusive patterns, and you may lash out at your partner to avoid giving them the power to hurt you. 

You are impulsive and don't consider the consequences

Many people are impulsive and don't take the time to consider the consequences of their words and actions. While that can be a symptom of certain mental health conditions, it could also indicate that you feel safe and loved. However, not considering your words' consequences may cause your loved ones emotional harm. If you notice a pattern and want to accept responsibility and make a meaningful change, try to take a few minutes and deep breaths before responding during a conversation.  

You have low self-esteem 

People with low self-esteem may place low value on their emotional needs and reactions, so they could be unaware of how their words and actions might hurt others. Part of well-rounded, adaptable well-being is ensuring your needs are met and learning how to recognize and support the emotions of your loved ones. 

You have an agenda

In some cases, you might find that the harm you cause others is intentional. If you manipulate someone else to achieve a specific result, you may treat them negatively so they will respond how you want them to. Putting a partner down or mistreating them can create a power imbalance in the relationship and may be abusive or unhealthy. If you're acting this way toward someone else, consider contacting a mental health professional for guidance. Behaviors can often be changed. 

You enjoy inflicting pain on others

In some cases, people might hurt others or cause their partner pain because they enjoy doing so. However, harming someone you love may indicate a more profound psychological concern. In these cases, try to take a step back from the relationship and seek professional support from a licensed therapist to understand why you feel the need to inflict harm.

You feel safe and expect them to listen

When you feel safe and loved in a relationship, you may lash out at your partner, feeling that they'll listen to you or won't leave you if they're hurt. However, hurting your partner because you don't think they'll leave you may be unhealthy. Instead, you might benefit from considering how the person you're talking to might feel if you don't consider your words. 

You seek attention, love, or affection

Some people hurt their loved ones or intentionally cause stress and conflict because they crave love, attention, or affection and believe the other person will respond emotionally, indicating love. Instead of inciting specific reactions in others, consider taking responsibility and telling people how you feel and what you need to feel happy and safe. 

Additional reasons you might hurt loved ones

Below are a few additional reasons why you might harm loved ones emotionally: 

  • You are jealous of your partner's achievements.
  • You feel taken for granted in the relationship.
  • You are projecting guilt, self-loathing, or shame.
  • You have trouble seeing their perspective.
  • You have an avoidant attachment style.
  • You indulge in self-destructive behavior or self-sabotage.
  • You are testing relationship boundaries.
Do you understand why you may hurt those you love?

How therapy can help you stop hurting the people you love

If you notice a pattern of frequently lashing out and hurting the people you love, consider working with a licensed therapist online through a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples or marriage counseling. With an online therapist, you can gain relationship skills from home while taking control of your mental health. In addition, your therapist may be able to send you messages throughout the week and provide you with worksheets unique to your situation. If you're in an intimate relationship and use a couples therapy platform, you can also attend therapy with your partner.  

According to the mental health experts at the American Psychological Association, online therapy can be as effective as face-to-face treatment, and it may be more effective for those new to counseling. Many clients have found that the added physical distance of virtual treatment makes it easier to divulge personal details with their therapist. 


Many people lash out at those closest to them. There are a few psychological reasons you may hurt someone you love, and therapy may help you develop healthy ways to communicate your feelings and emotional needs. Consider contacting a counselor for further guidance as you navigate healthy attachment, and know that changing your attachment style is possible.

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