Questions For The Resilient – Where have I received paper cuts?

Last week we spoke about how we might unbeknown be giving paper-cuts. This week we engage the other side – what do we do when we are receiving paper cuts. When we respond appropriately we not only help ourselves but those who are creating the agitation and in the process invest in the future US.

Last week we our question was, “where am I inflicting a paper cut?” Here, we engaged the conversation from the angle of being the person inflicting a paper cut. If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend you do before reading on as this follows the topic. Today, we’re discussing it from the angle of being the one on the receiving end of the paper cut.
Just to recap, when we’re saying ‘paper cut’, we’re referring to acts or behaviours (this can include non-actionable hurts) that cut just beneath the surface, creating a little sting of offence for another. 

Here's some examples:

A colleague not participating in something that you expected them to
a constant joke that keeps being made over and over again
Being left out of social events you expected to be a part of
not receiving the same amount of effort that you put in, from the other person.

These easily unnoticed acts create a slightly hurtful, slightly sensitive, slightly agitating experience for the one receiving it. But usually it’s something we should all get over and but itself it surely can’t be taken too serious. But, when applied again and again, these small things can begin to cut deeply just as a repeated cut might. 

Where might I be catching the incivility bug?

Why is it important to notice paper cuts?

We’re social beings. Our levels of resilience and overall wellness are closely related to the health of our networks around us. Because of this, we want to try and avoid being the victim and the persecutor of paper cuts. They damage connections, if left alone for long it can fester and even destroy relationships.

Sometimes, we haven’t been the ones to cause the deep hurts. We just brushed against the hurt that was already there, making it sore again.

If this is then left alone, what kind of wound will it become? It seems to move in this formula:

Small act –> done in consistency/pattern –> creates assumptions, (maybe incorrect assumptions) = Eventually leads to a reaction, which is probably over the top by that time. Nobody wins.

This could result in walking away and cutting ties with somebody dear to you, or an over the top reaction of aggression, where overwhelmed emotion results in us “throwing our toys out the cot”.

Hopefully, all of us can bounce back (an important aspect of resilience) after receiving a paper cut once, twice, three times. But there comes a time where you may start feeling the hurt and it simply cannot be ignored. By this time, even the smallness of the act now begins to take on larger proportions and can lead to most dangerous assumptions: “they are doing this to me” and “what’s wrong with me.”

Where have I received paper cuts?

How can we heal a festering paper cut?

This is an important part of the conversation: when it starts to hurt, it does matter. We must speak up for ourselves and express the hurt we’re feeling to the other person. They may even be completely oblivious to the matter.

So, remember these steps when you identify some paper cuts: 

A side step to an important thought here:
Sometimes we are witnesses of a paper cut being applied to another. When we’re a witness, we have the advantage of being less attached to the situation. Therefore we can powerfully influence it, provided we are able to see this role as purely creating awareness rather than necessarily rescuing the situation. So this could sound like:


  • Have you ever considered how Sue feels when you……
  • Don’t you think you should let that joke about Bob go? It’s expired…
Remember friends; all of us have unfortunately been the giver and receiver of paper cuts. They do happen, and yes, sometimes we just have to let them go and not take ourselves so seriously. Just remember, when it starts to hurt a little deeper, to acknowledge that it does matter – and taking care of our connections with others matters too. 

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