Have you ever had this experience?

Your friend asks a harmless question, tells an offhand joke, or makes a casual observation and you blow up. What started out as a regular conversation turns into something else-something nuclear. Your shirt feels tight, your pulse quickens. You do everything you can to keep yourself from turning into the Hulk. There are times when you can keep it under control, but there are times when no amount of self-talk can keep you from lashing out. How can something so simple hurt so bad?

It’s a paper cut.

Paper cuts (the literal ones) are simply small, surface-level lacerations that we can get from something as harmless and safe as paper. This turns something as mundane as stacking paper for your printer or browsing through a book into a very unpleasant experience. It wasn’t designed to hurt you, but if paper touches you with enough force and in the right angle, it will hurt.

Every day, there’s a risk of getting a paper cut (both the literal and the figurative kind). And in order for us to deal with it better, we should know a bit more about them. Here are three things I noticed about paper cuts.

1. They can be as painful (if not more) as regular cuts.

Almost a year ago, my sister and I flew off the motorbike we were riding and scraped our knees on the freshly laid and freshly scratched cement road. I had deeper wounds than my sister had, but watching her deal with the pain showed me that it really didn’t matter. She suffered just as I did. There were even times when I felt that she had it worse.

Emotional paper cuts are just like that. A small joke about your weight can hurt as much as someone actually telling you that you’re fat. The pain, the agony, and the damage that comes with papercuts are as real as big cuts. That’s why no matter how hard you try to ignore them, they still hurt. As John Green said, “Pain demands to be felt.”

2. They can reveal an existing wound or vulnerability.

About a week ago, in my clumsiness, I managed to scrape my still-healing knee against a stack of folders beside my bed. To say that it hurt is an understatement. Once the initial jolt of pain faded, I looked at the piece of cardboard that managed to cut me. It wasn’t even sharp. The reason why it managed to hurt me was because the skin on that part of my knee was still thin and sensitive.

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why something as innocent as a question can upset you that much? It doesn’t make sense and you know it. You’re reaction isn’t proportional to whatever triggered it. When this happens, it is highly probable that you were hit in a sensitive part of your psyche. If you’re conscious about your height, anything that anyone says about it (whether it be good or bad) will make you upset. If you’re not confident with your work, someone pointing out a simple typo will enrage you.

That’s why it’s important to stop and think when you get a paper cut. Evaluate yourself. Try to find out why it hurt that much. If it’s something you can change, then that rage is better spent changing things. If it’s something you can’t, then turn that pain into motivation.

3. They can stay hidden and surprise you later.

Last night, we had chicharon (pork rind) and I crushed chilies into my vinegar as I always did. After a few seconds, I felt like my right pointer finger was on fire. I took a closer look at it and that’s when I saw them-tiny slashes and cuts were all over the tip of my finger. I don’t even remember getting them. Had I known that they were there, I would have used a spoon to crush those chilies.

Not all paper cuts hurt right away. Sometimes, when a person says something, you’re okay with it. You laugh along with them or nod in agreement. Sometimes, you even throw a quick quip back at them. But, as soon as you’re alone, you realize that what they said hurt. The joke that was funny just a few minutes ago breaks your heart. And now, you can’t confront the person who hurt you anymore. It seems like you’ve relinquished your right to get hurt by acting like it was nothing.

This is the worst thing about paper cuts, in my opinion. Paper cuts that reveal themselves later tend to linger more than the regular ones.

And that’s my two cents on that.

How about you? Have you ever had an emotional paper cut? What triggered/triggers the Hulk in you? How did/do you deal with it? You can write your answers as a comment below.

In my next post, I’ll give a few suggestions on how to deal with paper cuts. You can read that by clicking here.