As a human being, you are wired to have feelings. Expressing those feelings can have long lasting consequences to your relationships. Speaking out has the power to both deepen connection and improve meaningful communication, but can also create hurt, resentment and anger. Knowing how to express your feelings considerately is therefore essential for you to feel close to people, and vice versa.
While no-one intentionally says or does anything to hurt someone else’s feelings, you are not in control of anyone else’s experience. It is for this reason you can never be sure of how they will feel or react. Truth is, the only way you can be 100% sure is if you choose not to say anything at all.
Learning how to share your own feelings without hurting others is a life-long lesson for everyone. Whether you’re sharing your emotions with a partner, a parent, a friend or a colleague, understanding a few emotional boundaries will go a long way in allowing you the release, while not hurting anyone in the process.
Don’t lash out without first understanding what is behind your feelings
It’s possible that your own feelings of anxiety, or anger, may have nothing to do with the other person you’re talking to. Lashing out without understanding this will almost always been seen as negative, creating a feeling of defensiveness.
Do this instead: Give yourself some space to understand your own feelings and what could be driving them. Once you’ve done this it’s important to determine if communicating with someone is really important. You may find that it is not actually necessary to talk about it at all.
Don’t assume you’ll be met with a negative response
When you imagine something going badly, you prepare for it to go badly. It’s normal to want to try and avoid conflict, but the problem is that avoiding expressing yourself often means those feelings get bottled up until you can’t hold them in any longer. Stored up emotions that are left to brew for too long often come out in an explosion that feels like an attack on the other person.
Do this instead: imagine a calmer situation and express your feelings in a relaxed way. When you don’t expect a conversation to go badly and can anticipate a positive outcome, your approach and energy will be very different (and a lot less confrontational).
Use “I feel” statements, but don’t justify them
Expressing emotions can make you feel vulnerable. As a result, you’re naturally inclined to want to justify your feeling, often by blaming the other person in some way. For example, “I feel upset because of what you did”. But blaming the other person will make them feel defensive and stop them from hearting what you have to say.
Do this instead: State HOW you feel, not why. I feel annoyed. I feel frustrated. I feel sad. This is quite hard, and can make you feel a bit exposed, but it immediately opens up a line of communication. The natural response from the person you’re talking to will be “Why?”. This makes an honest conversation much easier to have.
Express what you do want before what you don’t want
Most negative feelings are generated because of something you don’t like or don’t want. “I feel angry because I don’t like being dismissed: I want to be heard.” Or, “I feel hurt because I don’t like that you are always busy: I want you to spend more time with me.” This is something that again puts the other person on the defensive.
Do this instead: Skip directly to what you DO want. “I love you and would like us to spend more time together”. This way you empower the other person to identify what they can do to make the situation better—and you increase the likelihood that your needs and wants will be heard.
Changing the way you express your emotions can be hard, but the benefit of having your own needs met, while at the same time increasing the connection in your relationships is well worth the effort.