Sometimes you may vent with a friend to get something off your chest however, if you want to really change the way your relationships move forward and help YOU become a better version of yourself, this article shares a simple how-to formula to get over the basic fears all humans have when sharing their feelings in relationships.
This post is not a permission to blab and just say what’s on your mind. A lot of people are doing that on social media and off-line to your face, these days – and we’re not seeing a lot of benefit from that.
When we consider how much random emotion is being expressed in the world, you may start to wonder if emotion has been so hidden by our cultural socialisation for such a long time – and now we are just starting to take the lid off of it – so that it now gets expressed in random situations and in ways that doesn’t have any regulation or a stop button.
It’s also not just negative emotions that we struggle to express.
How many of you may find it difficult to say how you feel about someone you love?
Or find it squeamish to give a compliment to someone just because you feel authentically inspired by them.
Somehow, in the socialisation of young children we have made the expression of emotions conditional; ok sometimes, ok not other times. And in terms of positive emotions we also have become really tainted and boring about celebrating them.
What once was natural for us as children to express glee, joy and laughter becomes awkward and uncalled for when we are an adult or a teenager.
So it got me thinking about why, when and how do we transition from easily expressing joy or sadness to struggling with that.
It’s natural that we want to be accepted and liked, but why choose to prefer someone else’s opinion and liking of you over what makes you happy?
For each of us there is the point or an age or event or a series of accumulated events where a growing child stops enjoying who they are and become more worried about how they are perceived and received by others. The tipping point, where you focus more on who you think you should be – to be acceptable – is unique for every individual.
Why we want someone to accept us is very much about survival. The more someone likes you, the more likely you will be accepted as part of the tribe that looks after you.
However, if you can’t be honest with your feelings, subconsciously you feel the cost. And the cost is: you can’t be your authentic self. But you’re prepared to lose your authenticity or explain your needs or your point of view in order to “keep” the perceived status quo, not rock the boat and go along with the tribe – and your perception of what the tribe believes.
If you grew up in a traditional family structure, you know what that means: you have to turn up for family dinners, you don’t talk about certain topics with certain family members, you never talk about that really hot topic because it’s taboo. In personal relationships, some of the have to’s include: I must reply to texts immediately, I have to like what my loved one does or who they hang with etc.
What I’ve learnt working with people is that a person will invest more energy in hiding their authentic self and feelings than risking speaking up for many diverse fears such as:
someone they care about feeling left out or not important
being perceived as impinging on someone else’s needs
fear of upsetting someone with a touchy topic (politics, trauma, bad experience in past)
being seen as weak, not self-sufficient and not competent
not being like “everyone else” (the tribe)
fear of pushing back because you may create conflict
fear of being seen as contrary to the group
fear of being too independent or seen as selfish, putting your needs before others
fear of asking too much.
People create great stories about why others may not be able to handle their feelings. And this is always influenced by the culture’s interpretations of what’s appropriate.
On the personal level, we put a lot of energy into sustaining the cultural story about what is appropriate in our own heads, rather than actually talking with people to share what is authentically going on for us.
Part of the struggle in modern society, is that cultural norms are changing and while we wish to measure our expression of feelings by the past cultural norms – they have shifted to a degree where we are no longer sure of how to be “respectful” of others while also being authentic and expressing our individual needs. In the past, people’s roles were pretty clear, but now there’s so much more freedom about how you can behave. That makes people a little crazy because they actually don’t know what to do with all the new found freedom. And then sometimes revert back to past cultural norms where you “should” do what the tribe said.
So if you are looking to be authentic and respectful in expressing your feelings here is a basic formula.
This is best done face-to-face. If you’re not good at face to face – you can try this through text, however your body will feel more relaxed if you are face to face.
- Start your conversation with the intent to connect with the person and have the best outcome for both of you.
- Begin your expression by foregrounding something you appreciate about the person like “hey I really think about you when I hear that song x” recall a memory you have together, recall something that connects the two of you in a good way or something fun that they will connect with.
- Ask yourself, what am I afraid of happening if I tell them how I feel or what I want? Consider telling the person “look I am concerned about x, but I want to share something with you”. Don’t hide your fear, but don’t make it a sob story. Tell them simply what you’re concern is and then go straight to sharing. Don’t use the word fear, use a word like “I’m concerned” or make it even more vague like “I was thinking x”.
- Tell them what you want in the simplest shortest way possible (without a story) and then be quiet. Wait for them to respond, check out their face, breathing, body language. The longer you wait – they will talk. And you will be far better off staying quite – because that gives them the signal that you want them to speak.
- If they don’t speak after a long time, prompt them – what do you think? or what are you feeling?
Each relationship will have its own quirks.
So not everyone is going to be civil, sit down and listen. And you may need to tweak the words to suit that person’s language style.
However, what I’ve learnt from step 1 – just focussing on the intent of the best outcome for the relationship has made people who normally wouldn’t chat – soften and also be natural and responsive.
From Step 2, foregrounding something you like about the connection has also had huge results. It has made people soften, opened up conversations to flow in way that was completely unexpected, got the other person to start telling stories they never shared and resulted in family outings that never would have happened…and so on.
So for the tough cases, focus on Steps 1 and 2…and wait til the moment arises for you to air the rest. Sometimes, you may not have to, sometimes steps 1 and 2 have allowed something to shift in the ‘attitude’ between the two people where things fall into a better rhythm so your perceived fear – is actually not real – and you see that you just needed to connect with the person.
We often forget that focusing on what’s good about a relationship actually makes the relationship happen at all.
What you once were so easily able to jump and celebrate when you were a kid – is also what makes a relationship easy to jump up and down about as an adult.
People respond the best when we connect them to what makes us feel good about them.