You think you’re expressing your feelings, but it’s not working. Here’s what you might be doing wrong.

In his book Non-Violent Communication author Marshall Rosenberg speaks to the heavy cost of unexpressed feelings.

Can you relate to this?

Think back to a time when you had a strong feeling, and yet struggled to express it. Perhaps the time or circumstances didn’t seem right, or maybe you didn’t believe you had the right words to bring clarity to your emotions. Or perhaps you made an effort, and the other person misunderstood. Perhaps they became defensive, and your communication escalated to an argument.

Human beings are social creatures, and most of us have a deep need to feel like we are heard and understood by (at least) those who are close to us.

Have you ever thought that you were expressing your feelings to someone yet were disappointed in the results of those efforts?

Perhaps the person you were communicating with responded with anger or defensiveness.

The difference between feelings and evaluations

What I realized in reading this particular chapter of the book is that often we believe that we are expressing feelings and yet what we’re actually doing is mixing up feeling with evaluation.

This happens in part because it has become a common language pattern to use the word feel to describe things which are not actually feelings.

For example, any statement beginning with I feel like you are is most certainly not an actual feeling. We might say I feel that you are judging me or even I feel judged and both of these are evaluations of another person or a situation.

A more accurate representation would be I feel sad or perhaps I feel afraid.

I have been guilty of doing this more times that I can count.

I have said things (both to other people and to myself) like:

I feel taken for granted.

I feel misunderstood.

I feel condescended to.

All of these statements were made with the belief (at the time) that I was expressing feelings, yet in looking back at them, they contained seeds of evaluation or judgment of the person to whom I expressed them.

Is it any wonder that they could be met with resistance, defensiveness or argument?

What I could have said instead are things like:

I feel tired.

I feel lonely.

I feel hurt.

I feel pain.

These statements are not only more accurate, they are also far less threatening to another person because in making them, I’m not blaming anyone. I’m simply being open. And the person with whom I’m communicating is much more likely to respond with compassion to a statement of actual feeling than to the previous versions.

To further clarify, Rosenberg uses an example of the statement I feel ignored.

He explains that saying I feel ignored is “…more of an interpretation of the actions of others than a clear statement of how we are feeling.”

The reason this is true is that there might very well be a time when it seems like others are ignoring us and we feel relieved, because our desire was to be left alone. (Right??)

And yet another time, we might not want to be left alone, and therefore our sense of being ignored by others leads to feeling hurt or lonely. In these cases, relief, hurt & lonely are the core feelings.

We need a deeper vocabulary of feeling words

In the book, Rosenberg provides lists of feeling words (you can find some here) in order to help us increase our ability to clearly articulate and describe our emotions.

His is not the first book that I have seen with lists of feeling words, and yet this was the first time in which I truly realized the value of such lists. Because it helped me to realize that I have been doing this thing – I have been starting sentences with “I feel” and truly believing that what followed was the expression of a feeling, when in fact it contained a judgement.

And I wondered why the response I got from the other person was not to my liking!

Doing something new and different can feel unnatural and perhaps even uncomfortable. For many of us, using specific feeling words might fall into this category. Yet we know that practice helps us to build a habit, and when something becomes a habit it ultimately feels natural.

What if we had a list of feeling words and made a practice of using those for increased clarity in our conversations?

What would that do for our communication, and ultimately our relationships with those around us?

What do you think? Connect with me on Facebook to share your thoughts!

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