Is hard for you to talk about your feelings? Or do you have trouble asking for what you need in your relationships? If so, you’re not alone!
Talking about your feelings can be scary
Sharing your feelings can be a daunting proposition. When you share your feelings, you allow yourself to be vulnerable. And vulnerability can be scary; it leaves you open to the possibility of being hurt—but it can also lead to deep and meaningful connections with others.
There’s no way to completely avoid the risk of being misunderstood, ignored, or judged when you share your feelings. However, using the strategies below can help you communicate effectively so that you’re more likely to be understood and validated.
Why it’s important to talk about your feelings
Getting in touch with your feelings helps you to understand yourself. And sharing your feelings helps others to understand you better.
Being understood and accepted are universal human needs. So, when you share your inner experiences and feelings, you’re more likely to connect in deep and meaningful ways.
You’re also more likely to get your needs met, leading to happier and healthier relationships.
7 Tips for talking about your feelings
#1 Understand your feelings
Before you can express your feelings, you have to know what they are. For most people, it helps to have some quiet time to reflect. Our busy, noisy lives don’t lend themselves to connecting with our feelings.
Taking just five to ten minutes per day to check-in with yourself and notice your feelings, is a great start. I find going for a walk helps me get clarity, but you can experiment with sitting in different places, or simply thinking or writing down your thoughts.
Try to name your feelings, remembering that you can have more than one feeling at once. If you’re not sure how you feel, think about what’s been happening in your life and your feelings related to those events.
After you understand your feelings, you can figure out what you need and how to ask for it.
Here’s an example: Ryan identified that he feels angry in response to his girlfriend working late every night for the last week. When he thought about it some more, he discovered that he’s also feeling neglected and lonely. This clarity helped him decide to share that he’s feeling angry and lonely and ask his girlfriend to spend more time with him.
#2 Be discerning about who you share with
Your feelings are intimate parts of yourself; they shouldn’t be shared with just anyone. Proceed slowly and begin by sharing feelings that feel safer and less vulnerable. If they’re well-received, share a little bit more, and so on.
#3 Respond don’t react
Sometimes we make the mistake of trying to communicate our feelings in the moment. 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.
If Ryan (from the example above) had reacted in the moment, he might have accused his girlfriend of not caring or given her the silent treatment. Neither would have been an effective way to communicate and get his needs met. But if Ryan gives himself time to figure out his feelings and needs, he will be able to communicate effectively and in a way that creates connection rather than destroys it.
If you’re wrestling with uncomfortable feelings and need to have a difficult conversation with someone, I recommend trying these strategies before the conversation:
- process your thoughts in a journal or with a supportive friend
- rehearse what you want to say (out loud and/or in writing)
- do something to de-stress and calm yourself
#4 Find the right time
Often people try to communicate their feelings and needs at the wrong times – when the other person is distracted, busy, drunk, sleepy, or in a bad mood. Be sure to approach the other person when they are available and willing to give you their attention.
Sometimes this means planning ahead and asking for time to be set aside.
In general, try to communicate face to face. Technology is convenient, but it’s still hard to communicate feelings effectively over text or email.
#5 Be direct
Effective communication is clear and direct. Again, it’s easier to be direct when you’ve already figured out what you’re trying to say.
I-statements are a commonly-used way to express your feelings and needs while decreasing defensiveness.
There is a simple formula for an I-statement that goes like this: I am feeling ____________ (angry and alone) because __________ (you’ve been working late this week) and I’d like ___________ (to schedule more time to spend together).
At first, this may feel awkward, but with practice, you may find it’s a clear and non-confrontational way to express your feelings.
#6 Pay attention to body language and tone of voice
Body language and tone of voice are just as important as what you’re saying.
It can be surprisingly hard to gauge your own tone of voice. Has anyone ever told you that you were yelling and you didn’t even notice you’d raised your voice?
When you get caught up in an argument, you start sending the wrong messages.
You want your body language to convey that you’re interested and open to understanding. You can show this with a warm facial expression, eye contact, and your body position (such as arms open and turning toward the other person).
#7 Be a good listener
Of course, communication isn’t just about expressing your feelings and needs. It’s also about listening attentively and trying to understand the other person’s feelings.
You can give verbal cues that you’re listening such as “yes”, “uh-huh”, “OK”, “I see” and nodding to show you’re paying attention.
Asking questions to more fully understand is also a great communication skill.
Another technique that therapists often teach is reflective listening. One person shares and then the other person reflects or paraphrases back what they understood and asks if they missed anything. The first person then clarifies or adds anything that was misunderstood or omitted, and this continues until the first person feels completely understood.
Again, reflective listening may seem unnatural, but it works by ensuring that both parties feel understood, and it will become more natural with practice.
I wish I could promise you successful communication by following these steps, but people are complicated!
First, remember that communication is a skill, and it takes lots of practice. Hang in there and keep trying.
If you try all of these things and you continue to have communication problems, you may want to consider speaking to an individual or couples counselor. Therapists are trained in communication skills and can help you fine-tune yours and resolve relationship conflicts.
Talking about feelings is a part of all close relationships. In healthy relationships, people care about each other’s feelings and strive to meet each other’s needs.
Sharing needs to be reciprocal; it’s not satisfying when only one person is open and communicating.
It’s painful, of course, if you realize that someone you care about isn’t interested in or capable of honest communication and emotional intimacy. If this happens, tune into your feelings about the relationship problems and let them guide you to what is best for you.
©2021 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photos courtesy of Canva.com.
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