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Do you Rationalize or Contextualize your Hurtful Behaviors? Only one fosters Connection.

Updated: Jun 22

two men talking about a hurt

The toughest conversations are when your behavior has inadvertently hurt someone you care about. And I've had a few of them.

The fact that you and your partner can even activate each others core wounds and 'hurt' each other, by its nature means that you matter to each other. Core wounds are the emotional 'hurts' that happened when our nervous system was first developing, and that no one consistently helped us to understand, or recover from. 

But having them also doesn't give you a free pass to speak or act on your wounds  in whatever way you want. Even saying something like, "I'm screaming at you, or I acted this way because I have a fear of abandonment" - it may sound like an act of awareness at first glance. But saying it in this blaming manner, and as your first response is really just using your wounds as a rationale for the behavior. I know it wasn't your intent to cause pain. But I can tell you from firsthand experience, that going straight to rationalization or explanation early in a conversation is connection killer!

I understand that when our hurtful behavior is questioned, it's easy to get stuck in a 'shame-bath' about the thing we said or did. And the feeling of being misunderstood or mischaracterized can be intense. I get it. AND... I've also found that there's a more connection-oriented way to go about it. It's both a manner of speaking and the timing of when you say it. This is the difference between rationalization and contextualization. And the latter is more effective because it comes after you've owned it and shown empathy.

Rationalization vs Contextualization

Let's say your partner or loved one does something and one of your core wounds gets triggered. So you feel 'hurt', or 'scared' or 'angry'. And if meaningful conversations were non-existent in your childhood, when your behavior is questioned now... you probably do what you learned to do back then to keep yourself calm: shut down, retreat, dig in or any number of other behaviors that are no longer helpful to your adult relationships. So when the hurtful behavior comes up for discussion. Here's some examples to illustrate different ways we can respond:


Rationalized response:

"I shut down because I have abandonment/trauma issues about getting my needs met!" or maybe.. "I pull away because you ignore my input anyway, so what's the use?" Not only do these responses do little for connection, but the timing of the information is ineffective as well. Summary:

If you explain using blame before owning, empathy, acknowledgement and encouragement, this is Rationalization and contributes to Disconnection

Personally, I've had a far more success with connection by doing my best to stick to this sequence: Own, Empathize and then offer Context. And it can sound something like this:


Contextualized Response: 

"Yah, I sort of shut down, huh. (own it). That was probably pretty frustrating for you (empathy)" THEN.. "I'm just now figuring out that because of my upbringing, I'm really sensitive to __________. I'm working on it, and will continue to do so. But that's why I sense I shut down" (context based on self-reflection) 

See/feel the difference? It's about timing or sequence...and phrasing it without blame. 


If you explain with self-reflection after owning, empathy, acknowledgement and encouragement, this is Contextualization and contributes to Connection.

Putting it into Practice

So remember when you're discussing a hurtful behavior:

  • Own,

  • Empathize then...

  • Explain (via self-reflection)

(and of course apologize!)


The sequence of what you say or do, as well as your ability to underscore what you're saying with genuine, heart-felt voice tone and facial expression can make a big difference in successful connection. Each party will get a chance to speak. And each party may be experiencing pain. So in that case, it's about letting one person's grievance take lead.

How do you decide that? Well, that's a great subject to discuss with your partner. For us, the person who initiated the discussion is typically the initial 'speaker', and the other the 'listener'. But it's not set in stone. And it may switch. Learning to converse relationally is not always a straightforward or 'perfect' experience. (we both can attest to that), So as you practice, remember to show your partner some grace if they're making an effort, no matter how small it may seem to you. One or both of you may 'botch it up' from time to time and have to restart. That's okay. With practice, the 'uncomfortable' will become far more comfortable.


If you'd like to learn more about how your emotional state is impacted by our early life experiences and how we can develop it now as adults, we talk about that in detail using layman language and relatable stories in our foundational class Whole-Brain Relationships - Leveraging brain and body science to create Calm, Confidence and Connection that LASTS.


And if you're someone who's drawn towards simplicity, curious about being fully human and haven't joined the Connection Depot community yet... please know that you are always welcome!

The Human Infusion Project is a grassroots, not-for-profit personal development platform that draws from the combined fields of modern brain science, applied psychology and spiritual philosophy. Our mission aims to augment and supplement the work of professional practitioners in simplified, practical ways, and to give clients an affordable home program they can use in between sessions. 100% of all online class profit funds the Wellness Assistance Grant. If financial constraints limit your participation, please contact me and we'll work something out.

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