When it comes to sharing feelings, sharing isn’t always caring.
Sometimes sharing our feelings turns into angry outrages because we don’t know how to communicate effectively. Talking is hard, and it probably always will be when it comes to sharing our sensitive side.
However, communicating our feelings is important to human connection and overall happiness. It’s integral to feeling heard, understood and accepted. As always, it’s easier said than done. Feelings are already complicated. And sharing them? That’s exposing yourself to judgment. There’s nothing worse than sharing sensitive information and feeling betrayed by the response.
“According to Brene Brown, one of the leading experts on vulnerability, only when we expose ourselves to risking ourselves/our hearts, can we experience true connection not only with others but also with ourselves, which allows us to live a wholehearted life,” says Kaela Scott, a family and relationship therapist. “I read that as vulnerability being terribly scary at times and also incredibly necessary.”
Learning to communicate your feelings properly forces you to be honest with yourself and those around you, eventually creating stronger, more authentic relationships. While sometimes terrifying, it’s a fundamental part of living life authentically to be true to yourself.
So how do we master the skill of communicating productively?
Identify and Accept
The first step is to identify and accept your feelings. Surprisingly, identifying your feelings is another one of those easier-said-than-done things. It’s easy to say you feel “good” or “bad,” but those descriptions are extremely vague. They don’t offer enough insight into what you’re feeling. Instead of using ambiguous words, try to expand your emotional vocabulary in order to figure out exactly how you feel. Instead try using words such as confused, afraid or inadequate. The more descriptive you can be, the easier it will be to figure out the root of the problem.
Once you’ve figured out exactly what you’re feeling, accept your feelings. Don’t fight them. Ignoring your feelings is like slowly filling up a cup over time until it eventually overflows. You need to release every once in a while, otherwise you end up bottling up and exploding in a destructive and hurtful way.
Process Your Feelings Independently
After you’ve identified and accepted your feelings, take the time to work through them independently. Dissect them. Understand where they’re coming from, why they’re there, and how you can potentially amend them. How is someone else going to understand your feelings if you don’t? If you don’t work through your feelings beforehand, it could lead to major miscommunications, confusing conversations, and some nasty words you don’t mean.
“Sometimes we make the mistake of trying to communicate our feelings in the moment,” says licensed psychotherapist Sharon Martin. “This tends to result in blurting things out before we’ve processed them or had a chance to calm down. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask to take a break from a heated conversation or wait until you’ve had time to prepare before beginning a conversation.”
Sometimes, you need to take a step back and reevaluate so your emotions don’t get the best of you. It’s important to do this practice independently, or with a friend who won’t insert their own biased solutions, but rather who will help guide you to your own answer. So grab your journal, meditate, go for a walk, or call a friend you trust. After you understand your feelings, you’ll be able to come up with a plan of action for a potentially difficult conversation.
Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” ~ Brian Tracy
Communicate How You Feel/What You Need
When you’re communicating your feelings, it’s best to be clear and direct without aggressively attacking. Use “I feel” statements. The idea is to try to convey your feelings in a way that doesn’t pass judgement; otherwise, the other could feel criticized to the point they need to get defensive. It’s important to respect their feelings, too.
Consider these two situations.
Linda: “You never make time for me anymore.”
Suzan: “I feel lonely and angry because you don’t set aside time to be with me. Could we please plan a date night once a week?”
Linda is likely to receive some defensive statements because she immediately accused with judgement, whereas Suzan is likely to get a more considerate response because she wasn’t aggressive. Instead, she stated her feelings, why she felt them and offered a solution.
It may seem awkward at first, but after some practice it will be well worth it. Make sure to pick the right time to have a hard conversation and pay attention to your tone and body language. We often don’t realize how much they can impact a conversation.
After you’ve communicated how you feel and why you feel it, offer some solutions. After Suzan explained her feelings she asked for a solution through planning a date night. The point of sharing your feelings is to promote productivity to fix any problems. If you go into a conversation with blame, criticism and contempt, it likely won’t end well. Make sure you go into the conversation with an open mind.
Strive for Effective Communication
In the end your feelings should always be validated and respected, even if there was no purposeful harm. Strive for a productive conversation; there shouldn’t be any intent to “get back” at the other person or make them feel horrible. It should be about explaining your feelings and offering solutions, because at the end of the day you’re trying to fix a problem — you’re not trying to create more.
Effective communication takes practice. No one is good at it overnight, so don’t expect to solve all of your relationship problems from one conversation. Rather, keep in mind the better you are at communicating, the more your relationship will grow.
Sharing is caring through respectful and honest conversations. Have those conversations.