How can we talk about our feelings? How much is too much? How much is not enough?
Whenever we talk to anyone, we make three quick decisions.
1. Whether To SAY What We Feel.
2. Whether To EXPRESS The Feelings.
3. Whether To WORK AT PROBLEM SOLVING.
We usually make these decisions automatically or subconsciously. It can be very helpful to make them consciously instead.
WHETHER TO *SAY* WHAT WE FEEL.
Here are some different ways we state what we feel, and my thoughts about when each is appropriate.
"LEAVE ME ALONE" Statements...
- "I'm OK."
- "Can't complain."
- "Doin' Fine!"
- "Nuttin' special"
Use these when you are with people you don't trust, or whenever you want to refuse to talk about feelings.
Another way to convey this "leave me alone" message is to simply answer "yes" or "no," or to only say a few words which barely answer the question.
"ASK ME AGAIN" Statements...
- "Been better."
- "Fair to middlin'."
- "Kinda good, kinda bad."
Use when you don't know if you want to talk about feelings or not, and when you want the other person to encourage you to say more.
"I DON'T WANT TO KNOW" Statements...
- "I'm just stressed."
- "I'm just out of sorts."
- "Something's wrong but it's OK."
Use when you are afraid to state (or know...) exactly what you feel..
"I KNOW WHAT I'M FEELING BUT I DON'T KNOW WHY" Statements...
- "I'm angry, but I don't know why."
- "Depressed again."
- "My feelings are hurt."
Use when talking to a therapist.
It's a therapist's job to help you figure out why you feel what you feel.
It's not a lover's job or a friend's job.
When non-therapists try to respond to this, there is almost always a disagreement.
WHETHER TO *EXPRESS* WHAT WE FEEL.
A sad person can just look sad and say nothing at all, or cry fully for a long time.
An angry person can just sit and glare, or cuss and scream and throw things.
A happy person can smile quietly or dance jubilantly.
We feel better the more we EXPRESS what we feel. The only important factor is: "How SAFE am I to express it now with this person?"
"READY TO LET MY FEELINGS OUT" Statements...
- "I'm really pissed at Jim, my boss! Nag, nag, nag!
- Artificial deadlines just to harass me! Playing favorites with his girlfriend again....!!!"
Use when you are with someone who will let you "vent" for a few minutes.
WHETHER TO *WORK AT* SOLVING A PROBLEM.
The natural order of things is to FEEL FIRST, THEN THINK, AND THEN DO.
We can FEEL our feelings quite well with anyone safe who cares about us.
We can even do this well enough alone (although it can take longer that way).
We can do some thinking and problem-solving with our friends, but GOOD problem-solving requires that the other person be more "detached" than close friends can be.
So, when friends aren't enough to help you, or you can tell you are trying your friends' patience, do your thinking and problem-solving with a therapist.
READY TO FEEL AND THINK WITH YOU Statements... [Same as the last example, PLUS...]
- "... I was thinking about this and I think it has something to do with how my mom and dad got along....
- She was always using sex to manipulate him..."
Use when you want to vent and think things through to solve a problem. This is NECESSARY in ALL close relationships occasionally - but not appropriate as a REGULAR way of communicating except in therapy.
"READY TO FEEL AND THINK AND ASK CLEARLY FOR WHAT I WANT Statements... [Same as last two, PLUS...]
- "So, I think it's all about my parents and that time when she beat me and he took my side until she seduced him.....
- How do I decide what to do about all of this now?
- What would be the best way to get over this so it doesn't get in my way anymore...?"
Use mainly in therapy. (Very seldom seen anywhere, even in therapy...!)
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
State and express your feelings as fully as you can, preferably with friends but alone if necessary.
When you feel stuck about what to DO about your feelings and about the problems that created them, see a therapist.