Skilled thoughtful communication is the foundation for satisfying relationships. We teach effective, assertive communication skills along with conflict resolution and negotiation to individuals, couples and families.
Often, it is socially unacceptable to directly express certain emotions. We are too afraid of offending others, too afraid of appearing unhappy or unhealthy, and too afraid of social disapproval. Sadly, we live in a world where appearances matter more than reality. This seems to be especially true in the upper classes of society where conformity and etiquette are so important.
Let’s look at some examples of how we corrupt the language of feelings.
Indicators of Ineffective Communications
As beneficial to you as it is to talk about your feelings, there are some cautions to consider. To enhance your well-being and benefit the most from talking about your feelings, it also helps to avoid the following:
• Talking “at” or blaming the listener
• Forcing an unwilling person to listen to you
• Re-hashing an upsetting event over and over—repeatedly talking about it might rekindle negative feelings that you had vented with the first telling
• Confusing the listener with your body language—such as smiling when you are angry
• Talking only about negative feelings
• Expecting others to feel the same way you do
• Using “you” messages disguised as “I” messages, like “I feel you……”
There are many ways to mask our real feelings. Sometimes, we intentionally or unintentionally substitute one feeling for another. For example, if we say “I hope it doesn’t rain,” we might actually be feeling afraid that it will!
None of us can totally hide our true feelings, but many of us do try to disguise our voices to go along with the act. People who are especially superficial even adopt the cosmetic voices found on television in order to further conform to societal expectations, and further mask their true feelings.
Apple pie and our mothers. Doesn’t it seem there should be a different word for the way we feel about our parents as opposed to food?
Hate is another word which is tremendously overused. If someone hates traffic, hates spinach, and hates lawyers, how can they express their feelings about child abuse?
People who need to exaggerate have had their feelings neglected for so long, they have resorted to dramatization to be noticed and cared about. Unfortunately, when they send out false signals, they alienate people and risk becoming like the boy who cried wolf. As the story goes, because he sent out too many false alarms, he was ignored when he truly needed help.
Consider these exclamations, none of which are typically true in a literal sense: (no exclamation examples have been provided. Do you want to provide some here?)
Such people typically are too proud, too stubborn, too scared or feel too unworthy to share their feelings. They desperately need to be connected with others, but they will not allow others to get close to them. They effectively push people away by withholding their true feelings.
Because we are not skilled at directly expressing our feelings, we often use indirect communication of our emotions, such as using examples, figures of speech, and non-verbal communication. Let’s look at a few of these forms of indirect communication.
We typically use lots of expressions which put ourselves down. These negative labels certainly don’t help us feel any better about ourselves. In fact, by mentally branding us, they make it more likely that we will repeat the exact kinds of actions which caused our feelings.
Dr. Paul Standal recalls a conversation where he asked someone how she felt about something and she said, “I feel like (a behavior).” Here, we are expressing our feelings in the form of a behavior. Again, these are unclear and indirect. They may be graphic and entertaining, but they are usually exaggerations and distortions which don’t help us focus on our true feelings.
People who use this technique may be acting out their lives as they think others would rather than acting as unique individuals. Or they simply imagine themselves taking action rather than actually using their emotions to motivate them to take appropriate action.
Studies show that up to 90 percent of our communication is non-verbal. When we communicate non-verbally, our bodies are literally expressing themselves. When Shakespeare said the eyes are the windows to the soul, he was implying the eyes are the best non-verbal indicator of our emotional and intellectual state of mind.
For example, we think of those who will not look us in the eyes as untrustworthy, dishonest, afraid or insecure. We think of those who have alert, expressive eyes as intelligent, energetic, and emotional. Our eyes have the power to judge, to attract, and to frighten. Through our eyes we can show: interest, boredom, disbelief, surprise, terror, disgust, approval, and disapproval. Many parents can bring their children to tears, for example, without saying a word.
Our faces often express what we are not saying verbally. Our lips may tremble when we are afraid. Our forehead wrinkles when we are concerned or confused. And, when people tap their fingers or feet, they are usually feeling impatient.
Research shows that those with high EQ are better at reading these non-verbal cues. This gives them valuable information, particularly from people who are not expressing themselves verbally, or whose body language is inconsistent with their words.
After we learn to find the right word for our feeling and its intensity, the next step is explaining why we feel what we feel. At this point, our analytical brain is called into action. We actually make things much easier on ourselves and others when our language is clear, direct, and precise. When our words and our non-verbal communication are consistent, we gain respect because we come across as having integrity. Clear, honest communication is not only helpful in personal relationships, but essential to a society. We are simply all better off when we all follow the old rule:
Say what you mean and mean what you say.
1. When we start to hide our feelings, lie about them, or tell people only what we think they want to hear, we impede communication and distort reality.
2. We express the same emotions indirectly, either through our actions or our body language.
3. Masking our real feelings. Sometimes we just plain lie about them. For example, when someone says they are fine, though they are obviously irritated, worried, or stressed.
4. Inconsistency. Often, our tone of voice or our body language contradicts the words we are saying.
5. Overuse. One of the ways we corrupt language is to over-use a word. Consider the word “love.”
6. Exaggeration. When we exaggerate our feelings we are lying in order to get attention.
• I feel mortified.
• I feel devastated.
• I feel crushed.
• I feel decimated.
• I felt run over by a truck.
7. Minimization. Many people minimize their feelings, particularly when they are upset, worried or depressed. They use expressions such as:
• I’m fine.
• I’ll be alright.
• I’m okay; don’t worry about me.
• There is nothing wrong.
• I said I was fine.
The literal result is that we often feel like labels, thoughts, and behaviors, as we can see below:
1. I feel like…:
• …an idiot
• …a baby
• …a failure
2. I feel like (a thought). In these examples we are actually conveying more of a thought than a feeling.
• I feel like you are crazy.
• I feel like it was wrong.
• I feel like he is going to win.
• I feel like you shouldn’t have done that.
3. I feel like (an action/act). People who use such expressions feel like a behavior, an action, an act. Thus, they are not in touch with their feelings.
• …strangling him
• …shooting him
• …wringing his neck
• …telling her off
• …teaching him a lesson
• …filing for divorce
• …dumping him
• …giving up
• …jumping off of a cliff
“Let’s change the subject,” “That is off limits,” “I don’t want to get into all of that.”
Such a lack of emotional literacy and emotional honesty makes it difficult to have a relationship, even a friendship or a work relationship.
The ability to identify and name feelings is a form of power, and like all power it can be used to hurt or help. Naming a feeling can be used as a form of counter-attack, or it can be used as a form of understanding and agreement. It all depends on how the technique is used.
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