How to Express Feelings…and How Not to
Expressing feelings is often a difficult challenge for people. Are your feelings a friend that you can nurture, or are they a foe that you tend to avoid?
Working as an Alcohol and Drug counselor for over 20 years I have had the honor of working with many individuals. Most of these beautiful people struggled with expressing their feelings. I myself have wrestled with how to express my feelings in a healthy manner. When I am not mindful of the how – I tend to get myself in hot water and have relationship breakdowns.
Importance of Expressing Feelings
We all want healthy relationships. In order to establish a healthy relationship we need to first understand the importance of expressing our feelings to others. Too often we hide behind the extreme mask of “everything is ok” or we are just plain quiet and shut down. The other extreme is not healthy either — the only feeling we are expressing is anger and hostility and are just plain loud.
When we are able to express our feelings honestly it facilitates open and honest communication. This can promote a closer relationship and more trust as well as safety for each person.
Often we don’t express our true feelings out of fear. We are afraid of offending or hurting the other person. This is usually based out of not knowing how to properly express our feelings.
We can learn how to express our feelings in ways that informs others, rather than attacking them or putting them down.
Expressing Feelings is Not
In order to express our feelings in a healthy manner, we need to remember that expressing feelings is not:
- saying what you think
- a statement of facts
- an attack or put down
- saying how you think others expect you to feel
- blaming others for how you feel
Keys To Remember
- Your feelings belong to you. It is your responsibility to work through them.
- Feelings can be provoked by others, but it is not their fault nor do they have to fix them.
- Our feelings don’t always tell us the truth.
- Feelings can stem from the result of misunderstandings, history with the person, our imaginations and our own fears
How to Express Feelings
- Use “I” statements. Refrain from using “it”, “we”, “most people”. This promotes closer relationships and indicates that you own your own feelings.
- Avoid saying “you”. This promotes anger and defensiveness and draws people apart.
- Be honest, specific, concise and appropriate.
- Be descriptive rather than judgmental when describing the situation that provoked the feeling.
Example: “I feel annoyed when you leave dirty clothes on the bedroom floor”.
Not: “You’re a messy person”.
- Use “I feel …………”, not “I feel that you ………..”. This again will put people on the defensive.
Specific Guidelines For Expressing Feelings
- Choose the right time and place.
- Use appropriate eye contact. This shows interest, caring, and comfort. You appear more certain and confident.
- Say “I feel ………….. “. It must be a feeling word, not a thought.
- Look the way you feel, to increase the congruence of the message and increase the others ability to recognize and identify the feeling. Be mindful of your body posture, facial expression, voice tone, and volume. Respect the other persons space and be mindful of your distance from them.
- Describe what brings this feeling on (situation, or specific behaviors).
- Be specific in order to increase understanding.
Examples of Statements and the Probable Implicit “I” Message
The Difference Between “I” and “You”
“I” —– I feel unimportant when you make big decisions without consulting me first
“You” —– You always make decisions without considering me and my feelings.
“I” —– I feel rejected when I ask you to do something and you don’t remember.
“You” —– You didn’t listen to me when I told you what I wanted.
** By saying “you” it is likely to cause the other person to respond in defensiveness. They may try to defend themselves against criticism by saying, “I did listen. You are just never satisfied!”.
When you report your feelings, this leaves the other person free to consider them.
When You Don’t Know How To Say It
A way to ease into talking about upsetting emotions is to state how you feel about what you are going to say before you actually say it.
“I have something I’d like to tell you, but I’m afraid that it might make you angry”
“I’m anxious that you will misunderstand what I am trying to say.”
“I’m confused about how I feel and I hope you won’t be critical if I muddle through it with you out loud.”
** Explaining this in advance lets the other person be aware of your concerns and it allows them to monitor their own feelings. If she does become angry, she is more likely to stop to evaluate this reaction rather than, just fly off the handle.
In addition, if you are afraid of her response and don’t tell her so, you may be bracing yourself to deliver your message defensively.
I “Feel” Exercise
Match the I “feel” statements to the situation
1. A good friend of yours who is usually cheerful and full of life, has appeared sad and really not having much energy.
2. You have been expecting a phone call from a friend all afternoon, but the phone call never came until evening.
3. Your husband has just made a dinner date with another couple for tonight. You are not prepared for this and will have to rush to be ready on time.
4. Your boss has asked your advice on a personal problem and would like to discuss it with you.
5. Your child has just won a contest in school that he is very pleased about.
6. This is the third time your son/daughter has come home late.
7. A close friend of yours that you spend a lot of time with, has just told you that she will be moving out-of-town in a month.
8. You and your husband/wife are at home, comfortably sitting on the couch and watching a good movie on television.
9. Your mother has called you for the third time today and you don’t want to talk to her.
10. You are having some friends over to celebrate your birthday, and your best friend isn’t coming, as she will be out-of-town.
11. You have just had a very pleasant afternoon talking with a friend you haven’t seen for a long time.
“I” Feel Statements
A) I really feel good about out time together today .
B) I love to have quiet, relaxing time with you.
C) I feel frustrated that you made plans without asking me.
D) I feel upset that you didn’t call me this afternoon.
E) I’m feeling sad and disappointed that you won’t be here on my birthday.
F) I’m really proud of the way you handled that.
G) I’m really annoyed that you are late again.
H) I’m concerned about you because you appear down.
I) I feel uncomfortable discussing such a personal problem with you here at work.
J) I’m feeling sad that you will be leaving, as I have felt close to you as a friend.
K) I’m confused about your calling again, as I’ve already told you there’s nothing more to discuss.
1. H 2. D 3. C 4. I 5. F 6. G 7. J
8. B 9. K 10. E 11. A
With some practice and some patience you can learn to express your feelings in a healthy manner. Expressing your feelings in this way is another way that you can value yourself. This will lead to healthier and more authenticity in your relationships.
Do you struggle with expressing your feelings? What prevents you from taking the risk and sharing with someone your true emotions?
Let me know in the comments as I would love to hear from you.