“I hate you so much!” “You disgust me!”
Sound familiar? An intense feeling of anger or a hasty and juvenile response to some external stimuli poorly disguised as an equally unproductive remark-an insult. Wouldn’t it be easier to just sit down and engage in a calm conversation?
As I get older, I am continuously learning to express my feelings more clearly to others. I am still trying to say what I feel in the manner with which I feel- not watered-down or softened. It is not productive for myself or anyone else really, by remaining quiet, and holding back. Why should I? Feelings just are. They can change, but if I don’t speak up, then I am wasting my time and everyone else’s too. I’m not being honest.
One can be honest with others and not be offensive, right? It’s not what you say, but how we say it! What if feelings are hurt? I can’t deny my own truths for the sake of others. It’s not natural or honest. When it comes from a calm space, trying to be polite or avoid unnecessary conflict is possible. I can tell my truths, express my emotions, state my needs and opinions. It’s about perspective, speaking for myself and making no assumptions.
When asking others, close friends, family, or a co-worker, “What’s wrong?”, time and time again, the response is,“Nothing.” How many times have you said that when something was indeed ‘off’? But, for some reason, many of us find it hard to express our emotions or our needs assertively.
We are taught that assertiveness is unattractive, especially for women, who can risk the perception of being a ‘nag’. There is a fear of being judged, being perceived as too pushy, self-centered, or demanding. Worse yet, we don’t wish to be perceived as being insensitive or too sensitive.
Pain unheard becomes anger unspoken becomes violence released becomes rage.
If we don’t express ourselves honestly and assertively, we risk engaging in passive-aggressive behaviors which can sabotage healthy relationships. Fortunately, there is a way to express yourself without fear of being too vulnerable. Healthy and strong relationships are emotionally safe and supportive, at the core. Resilience will tend to characterize the relationship as a whole, and each person, individually, within these relationships.
According to Mike Bundrant, the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage, there are a few mindful tips on how to communicate needs and feelings in healthy ways.
How to Express Your Emotions and Needs
- Become aware of your true feelings; we often skip over the really uncomfortable ones of pain, fear and insecurity, and jump into anger as an avoidance tactic. When you feel yourself getting angry, ask yourself what the originating feeling is. If you have difficulty naming your feelings, take a look at a list of emotions to get you started.
- If you have veered into anger, wait until you have calmed down before discussing with your partner. You’re much more likely to say things you don’t mean when in the grips of anger. Count to 10, take a series of deep breaths, go for a walk around the block – whatever it takes.
- Start small, perhaps letting your partner know the next time you feel sad or worried. When he or she asks you what’s wrong, instead of answering with a defensive “I’m fine” or laughing it off with a joke, try “Actually, something is wrong. I feel lonely today for some reason.”
- Always speak from your own perspective instead of accusing or pointing the finger. This is a key component of Non-Violent Communication. For example, instead of “You’re so insensitive. You really acted like a jerk today”, try “I feel very hurt right now. Can we talk about the comments you made today in front of our friends?”.
- Once you have shared your feelings, follow it up by talking about what you need from your partner or the relationship, if anything. For example, perhaps you’re feeling disconnected and lonely, and you’d like more time together. Don’t demand or whine, just state your need: “I feel like I need a little more alone time with you. Could we schedule in a date night once a week?”, instead of “We never spend time together anymore because you’re always working!”
- Address emotional issues and needs as soon as is practically possible. You may not want to launch a heavy emotional discussion right before your partner leaves for work, but waiting and allowing feelings to fester will only make things harder to bring up, and this is how hidden and building resentments blow up into arguments and shouting matches.
- Not all emotions need to be shared and discussed; at times, simply sitting with a feeling and looking at a situation from a calm perspective is enough to resolve it. Journalling, meditation, and body work such as yoga or tai chi are all very helpful in this regard.