Monday, 1 October 2012

Q14: Should I say how I feel?

We often hear that it's important  to say  how we feel. Yet if we feel uncomfortable talking about our feelings, then - like any feeling - it's worth listening to. There may be valid reasons to pause, or to hold back altogether.

No 'should' in the inner world
Should we say how we feel? Of course, there is no real 'should' in the interactive world. We may choose to express our feelings to someone, or decide against it. It's always down to us - and no doubt a lot depends on what sort of feelings they are: confused, upset, angry, happy, even ecstatic! A useful measure is: what sort of connection will it create with the person I tell them to?

Feelings are so much part of the fabric of who we are that we need to feel comfortable to talk about them (or at least, to make sure that we feel comfortable not to be comfortable!) If we overlook our wider, or deeper, responses we may well end up feeling worse. We might end up jarred, jangled or exposed if we don't receive the responses we hoped for, or if others object to what we say.

Feelings are there!
Feelings are so complex and multifaceted, perhaps it's a miracle that we ever manage to say how we feel at all. Yet there is still one compelling and overwhelming reason why we would express our feelings: It's because they are there!

When our feelings are truly present they communicate anyway, even if we don't express them explicitly. They seep through our tone of voice, our body-language, the words we use. They are alive and alight, whether we want it or not. So perhaps the question is not, 'Should I say how I feel?'but rather, 'How should I say how I feel?'

There is a strength in being transparent. Our honesty means other people know where we stand - and they are less likely to second guess us by reading in what they think we feel. As long as we feel comfortable expressing our feelings, we can be authentic and sincere. What we say rings true for people - because it is true.

Risk-assessment checklist 
Here are some questions which might help us decide whether we feel comfortable saying how we feel - and to sense whether others will feel comfortable to hear us:

  •  Are we still feeling any blame, especially towards for the person we are talking to?
If so, we may need still more time focusing within. We can sense into our deeper feelings and discover the good reasons for feeling as we do; our unmet needs or unfulfilled values, perhaps for consideration, care or respect.

  • Do the 'feelings' we express contain a generalisation, analysis, interpretation or judgement? Or anything that would make it difficult for another person to hear and respond? - e.g. "I feel ignored!" "I feel let down!" "I feel you're being unsupportive!"
If so, we can take time for our feelings to settle and form. We may find ways to remove any judgement or criticism from our feelings - to own what we mean as fully as we can.

  • Is there anything we are expecting back from the other person?
If so, are we clear what this is? Can we include it, and let them know? Or would they find it difficult or impossible to give us back what we really want?

  • Do our 'feeling' words contain an action that we expect another person to take? e.g. "I'd feel happy if you did the washing up!"
This may appear as pressure for another person. Can we find a more collaborative way to express what we want to say?

  • Feelings often indicate a problem or difficulty, as in: "I'm so frustrated..."; "I find [this] stressful / upsetting / hopeless..." Can we also find and express a forward-moving, life-enhancing energy inside what we feel?
Words for 'difficult' feelings often carry the message that there is something we do NOT want or like. Yet they also hold wisdom about what we DO want. So what is the forward-moving direction of our feelings? Our needs and values often hold wisdom about what we need to feel better. This is the positive message of our feelings - and is often easier for other people to hear, e.g. "I'm so frustrated, because what matters to me here is..."; "I find [this] stressful, because ... is important to me"; "I'm upset because I'm needing ..."

  • Are we unsure what we feel, or have no words to describe it?
All communication starts with a non-conceptual, felt understanding of a situation, maybe just a vague sense of something unpleasant weighing us down; or an easy feeling in the pit of our belly; or a precise sense that there's something we want to say. Feelings take their own time to form; we move gradually (if ever) towards conceptual and verbal clarity. It can help if we tune in to what we feel (sense, think, want, long for.) at a gentle pace.

  • Are we uncomfortable with our feelings, but want to express them anyway?
If so, it may be worth acknowledging this. We can be clear about being unclear! If people know we're confused or unsure, they take it into account as they listen. They may appreciate our honesty; perhaps they'll help us as we try our best.

  • Do we still feel uncomfortable expressing our feelings?
If so, perhaps our vulnerable sides need to be heard more fully by US! This may not be the right time to say how we feel. Or, this may not be the right time for the other person to hear us. Double-check if this is the right time, and the right person to tell.

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