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Talking About Your Feelings: Dos and Don'ts
 

Feelings. They sometimes hurt, other times delight, often confuse and usually resist efforts to control them. They emanate from chemicals in your brain and are greatly influenced by your thoughts, your biology and your environment. Perhaps you’ll never quite control your feelings, but you can learn to manage them, for the most part. And one helpful way to do so is to express them. Read more to learn how to:

  • talk about your feelings in a way that benefits you and others
  • avoid common mistakes when expressing your feelings

Why you should express your feelings

Why is it so important to talk about one’s feelings? Is it a sign of weakness to do so? Not at all, according to mental health research. Letting feelings “out” by talking about them with a trusted friend or counselor strengthens you, both physically and emotionally. Dr. Edmund Bourne, author of The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, warns that holding your feelings in might cause you to suffer anxiety, depression, headache, high blood pressure and more. Bourne adds that learning to identify and express feelings can reduce or even eliminate such symptoms.

Some “dos” to consider

Before you talk about your feelings, you must know what they are. Are you feeling sad or frustrated? Lonely or disappointed? If possible, spend some time alone thinking about your feelings, tuning in to your mind and body. Come up with specific words that describe exactly how you feel—write them down if it helps.

When you talk about your feelings, it also might help to:

  • Describe the degree of your feelings—are you furious or mildly irritated?
  • Use “I” messages: “I feel _________ when __________.”
  • Take full responsibility for your feelings, rather than blame others. Even if their behavior bothers you, your feelings are uniquely yours to express and to manage.
  • If possible, choose a “safe” audience—someone who is willing to listen and to do so without interrupting or judging you.
  • Talk to a clergyman, counselor or mental health professional if your feelings overwhelm you and disrupt your life.

Dr. Larry Nadig, a California-based psychologist, maintains that using “I” messages is the most effective way you can express your feelings productively, as well as take responsibility for them. Nadig admits that this technique is awkward to use at first, but gets easier with practice.

A few “don’ts”

As beneficial to you as it is to talk about your feelings, there are some cautions to consider. For example, Dr. Nadig suggests that you avoid using “you” messages intentionally or disguised as “I” messages—“I feel ______ because you always _________.” To enhance your well-being and benefit the most from talking about your feelings, it may also help to avoid the following:

  • talking “at” or blaming the listener
  • forcing an unwilling person to listen to you
  • re-hashing an upsetting event over and over—repeatedly talking about it might rekindle negative feelings that you had vented with the first telling
  • confusing the listener with your body language—such as smiling when you are angry
  • talking only about negative feelings
  • expecting others to feel the same way you do
  • demanding that others share their feelings with you

The purpose of talking about a feeling is to “let it out” in a positive way so that it cannot continue to bother you. You should consider seeking professional help, however, if a particular feeling such as anxiety or depression is frequent and destructive. The toll-free phone number on this site is a good place to start.

Resources

Caring Enough to Confront: How to Understand and Express Your Deepest Feelings Toward Others by David W. Augsburger. Gospel Light Publications, 1980.

Expressing Your Feelings: The Key to an Intimate Relationship by Roger T. Crenshaw, MD. Irvington Publishers, 1981.

Sources: “Expressing Your Feelings Responsibly,” www.nku.edu; Nadig, Larry Alan PhD. “How to Express Difficult Feelings,” www.drnadig.com; “How to Talk About Feelings,” www.healthyplace.com; The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD. New Harbinger Publications Inc., 1995; Munro, Kali (2003) “We Need Our Feelings,” Resources for Healing, www.kalimunro.com/article_needing_feelings.html

 
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