How to tell the truth about your emotions and not hurt the other person: six steps

Captain Marcin Rosinski
Captain Marcin Rosinski, 4 Wing Chaplain. Photo: DND/CAF

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By Padre Captain Marcin Rosinski, Chaplains Corner – The Courier

“I will not say how I feel because I might upset him.” “I will not tell her the truth, because I am afraid I will hurt her.” How can we talk honestly with loved ones about things that are difficult?

Several times a day, people may try to cross our boundaries, say something unpleasant, behave in an unfair way towards us, or try to manipulate us. All this evokes emotions. The question is, what do we do with these emotions?

Freud said “Unspeakable emotions never die, they are buried alive to return later in a much worse form.”

Emotions that are never expressed can hurt us, even if they do not seem important. They can accumulate to manifest themselves as depression, stress or fatigue. They can also destructively affect our relationships, creating distance and an atmosphere of insincerity, hindering real and authentic closeness.

By telling the truth about your feelings, you give the other person a chance to change. If you do not tell them what hurts you, they may never know they are doing something wrong. So, it is a way to protect yourself and others.

One question remains – how do we speak out? After all, we don’t want to explode with anger, or tell someone about our feelings months after the fact, when the emotions have already faded. The point is to skillfully adjust your response, and give the other person information about their behavior in a way that gives them an opportunity for growth. So, how can we build constructive responses?

  1. Name your feelings. Try to be as precise as possible. Avoid complicated descriptions, and look for what best describes what you feel. Is it anger? Sadness? Disappointment?
  2. Speak from yourself and about yourself. Start the sentence with “I feel angry,” and not “you annoy me and make me angry.” “I’m sad,” not “you made me sad.” You may realize that many factors are responsible for how you feel, and the other person is just part of those.

    For example, you may think your boss made you angry, but in fact, your anger started in the morning when you were stuck in traffic, you spilled coffee on your new shirt, and you thought that nothing in your life goes as planned.

  3. Determine what exactly triggered your emotions. You can say: “I feel angry because you did not take out the trash,” “I’m sad when you do not listen to me” or “I’m disappointed because you forgot my birthday.”
  4. Refer to a specific behaviour, not a generalized feature. Avoid generalizations like “you never understand anything.” Rather, say “yesterday when I was talking to you, you did not understand what I meant.” This way you will avoid hurting someone with an unfair statement.
  5. Name your expectations. It is not enough to say: “I get angry when you shout at me.” It is necessary to add what you expect, so the person can change their behaviour. So try “I would like you to express your emotions calmly next time”.
  6. Remember what the construction of good feedback looks like: “I feel … (a place for your feelings), when you … (a place to describe a behaviour of the other person that has aroused emotions). I need / expect … (a place for your expectations towards the other person).”

By communicating this way, you will decrease your chances of hurting anyone, and you will increase the likelihood of the other person hearing you and changing their behaviour!

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