We all have (or at least know) that one mean friend who pushes us in ways that none of our other peers can. The person who forces us to face our fears and “tells it like it is.” Sometimes telling a person you love the truth isn’t at all necessary and can lead to hurt feelings. But other times, “tough love” is intentional to get us moving in the right direction.
New research published in Psychological Science shows that some people will often try to push others to feel certain emotions — sadness, anger, disappointment — in order to motivate them into making decisions that will ultimately benefit them. That’s where the “friend” part of this comes into play.
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“We have shown that people can be ‘cruel to be kind’ — that is, they may decide to make someone feel worse if this emotion is beneficial for that other person, even if this does not entail any personal benefit for them,” says psychological scientist Belén López-Pérez, who conducted the research at the University of Plymouth.
It all comes down to compassion and empathy. When we can put ourselves in our friend’s shoes, we can help guide them through certain emotions. According to Psychology Today, we all have a group of brain cells that allows us to share (mirror) another person’s pain, fear, or joy. And because empaths (those who empathize) are thought to have hyper-responsive mirror neurons, they deeply resonate with other people’s feelings. And when we can empathize, we are more likely to help our friend, whether they want it or not.
Says López-Pérez, “We identified several everyday examples where this might be the case— for instance, inducing fear of failure in a loved one who is procrastinating instead of studying for an exam.
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These findings shed light on social dynamics, helping us to understand, for instance, why we sometimes may try to make our loved ones feel bad if we perceive this emotion to be useful to achieve a goal,”
So the next time your outspoken friend says “we need to talk,” listen. They’re probably trying to help, even if you don’t want it.