So many emotions, not enough words.
We’ve all been there, especially when emotions are high and thoughts are clouded, when the words coming out are not clear descriptions of what is actually going on inside. Most of us, unless we were raised by incredibly emotionally intelligent people, were not taught how to effectively communicate our feelings growing up. If a person never develops this important skill, they can often feel misunderstood, frustrated and even hurt by benign social interactions throughout their life, never realizing the deficit and power to change lies within themselves.
Learning how to constructively communicate your feelings will have a tremendous positive impact on all of your relationships, whether personal or professional. Below are some tips to keep in mind when attempting to express your emotions in a constructive way.
No matter how trivial it might seem, your feelings are valuable and worth sharing
In today’s society, particularly among men, feelings are not encouraged or accepted outwardly, but burying or “handling” them is. This behavioral conditioning starts at a very young age and can rear its nasty head at really inconvenient times and in even scary ways later in life.
Feelings and emotions are real and can be excruciatingly heavy. They can cloud judgement and impact behavior, but they can also soften hearts and save lives.
Accept that feelings are a natural part of being human. Believe that your feelings are valid—because they are! Your feelings are not wrong or right, good or bad. Your feelings are just your feelings and they are normal to have. In fact, it is most important to speak up when there is concern that feelings aren’t normal.
Practice opening up more little by little to the people you love and trust and pay attention to how you feel afterwards. Odds are you’ll find that like a buildup of steam pressure, feelings are better let out than held in. As an added bonus, sharing emotions with others is a simple and effective way to build connectedness.
Become an expert at emotion identification
This one sounds easier than it actually is. We all know and are familiar with the primary emotions we’re taught as toddlers like happy, mad, and sad. But what about the more complex feelings like shame and guilt?
For example, oftentimes, when we are feeling embarrassed we become defensive and think and act like we are angry. Without the ability to utilize our higher cognition to really break down and analyze the events and triggers that led to this awful feeling washing over us, we may miss that we are actually feeling ashamed or mortified by something we said or did. This can cause us to misinterpret events and miss an opportunity for understanding and growth.
Oftentimes, we even confuse a thought for a feeling and learning how to differentiate between the two is essential. If you need some assistance with learning how to identify your feelings, first start by familiarizing yourself with what emotions there are to even choose from. Linked is a list to help get you started, click here.
Work through big emotions alone first
Your emotions are a result of your unique personality and experiences, and it is imperative that you take ownership of your feelings. No one else can make you feel a type of way as your reactions to events or circumstances are entirely in your control.
You cannot expect anyone else to know and understand you completely, and it is also unfair and even harmful to assume that someone can or should be able to read your mind. When you do bring forth your feelings, you want to be sure you’re talking about the correct one and you might have to do a little soul searching to properly identify what’s going on inside.
Imagine you get home and are immediately greeted by a sink full of dirty dishes. You feel an immediate flare of what you interpret to be anger to rise up internally. Before you rush to your family yelling about how rude and thoughtless they are, take a moment to decipher your feelings. Do you really think your partner and children didn’t do the dishes because they intended to hurt you? Are you even really angry? Or are you feeling unsupported with household chores because now you have to do the dishes and cook dinner? If you vocalize that you are feeling overwhelmed rather than angry, your family is more likely to react with support and empathy rather than defensiveness.
Your happiness lies not in the hands of others, but is entirely of your own creation. You can choose to be angry and let minor (or major) things impact your day or week, or you can learn how to take full responsibility and ownership of your feelings. Once you realize that other people are not setting out on their day with direct intentions to hurt you, you’ll be more forgiving and kind to others and, most importantly, yourself.
Frame your emotions from your own perspective
The Golden Rule for communicating your feelings in the most effective manner is to avoid blame by avoiding “you” statements. When you say things like “You never do the dishes,” you are placing blame on another and walls will immediately go up. This confrontation style will most likely end in a fight rather than an open and productive conversation.
If you want your feelings to not only be heard, but more importantly, understood, try utilizing “I feel/when/because” statements. Utilizing “I feel” instead of “I think” will also force yourself to separate your thoughts from your feelings.
For example, try saying, “I feel overwhelmed when I come home and there are dishes in the sink because I just had a long day of work and also have to cook dinner.” This clear expressing of a valid feeling places no blame and invites understanding and support.
Be brave and offer what you need
If you want to take the “I feel/when/because” framework one step further, volunteer what you need to happen in order to not feel the icky way that you do. Many people are solution-oriented and our knee-jerk reaction is to “fix” a person’s negative feelings.
To continue with the dishes example, try saying something along the lines of, “I feel overwhelmed when I come home and there are dishes in the sink because I just had a long day of work and also have to cook dinner. I would really appreciate having more support with the household chores.”
If you give a direct and clear resolution to the situation at hand, whomever you are addressing will likely jump at the opportunity to resolve it quickly and smoothly and everyone will be happy.
On a closing note, always remember to check your tone. How you say something can be just as important as what you are saying. If you raise your voice to someone you are going to come across as angry and your listeners are most likely going to either get their fighting mitts ready or shut down completely.
Expressing emotions is hard because being vulnerable can be downright scary, but sharing how you are feeling can be done in a positive way and needs to be done more frequently. So next time you feel something bubbling up inside, take a deep breath, remember these steps, and know that you have got this.
Featured image artist unknown.