Psychotherapists often advise their clients to share their feelings with the important people in their life. Is this good advice?
Yes and no -- depending on your intent. The question to explore is, "Why do you want to share your feelings?"
Think about this for a moment: What would you be hoping for if you said, with a blaming or whiny tone:
- "I just want you to know that I feel very hurt by what you said to me."
- "I'm very angry about what you just did."
- "I feel insecure when you spend so much time with your friends."
- "I feel unimportant to you when you are always watching TV."
It is likely that the person at the other end of this "sharing of feelings" would feel attacked and blamed for your feelings. He or she might get defensive, since the underlying message is, "You did something wrong and you need to change or at least apologize. It is your fault I'm feeling this way, and it is your responsibility to fix it for me."
This could lead to an argument, or to the other person withdrawing, which is probably the last thing you would want.
The problem is that your intent is to control rather than to learn.
Here is what it looks like when your intent is to learn -- said with an open and curious tone:
- "I feel very hurt by what you said to me, and I don't understand why you said it. I would like to understand. Can we talk about it?"
- "I'm very angry about what you just did, but there must be a good reason that you did it. Would you talk with me about this?"
- "I feel insecure when you spend so much time with your friends. I know this is my issue to deal with, and it would help me if you let me in on why this is so important to you."
- "I feel unimportant to you when you are always watching TV. I need some help with this feeling of unimportance, as it's not a new feeling for me. I always felt this way as a child, so I know that it's not your fault. It would help me to not take it personally if I understand why watching TV seems more important to you than spending time with me."
Underlying your intent to control or to learn is your belief about what creates your feelings of anger, hurt, insecurity and unimportance. If you believe that these feelings are always caused by others, then you will likely continue to share your feelings as a form of blame. However, it is not always accurate that these feelings are caused by others. Let's see why with an example:
Your partner keeps coming home late from work and sometimes doesn't call you to let you know.
- If you tell yourself that your partner doesn't care about you, you will likely feel hurt and unimportant.
- If you tell yourself that your partner is an inconsiderate jerk, you will likely feel angry.
- If you tell yourself that the reason your partner is working late and not calling is that he or she is having an affair, you will likely feel very hurt, angry, insecure and unimportant.
- If you tell yourself that the reason your partner works late is that you are a boring person, you will likely feel inadequate and insecure.
- If you tell yourself your partner is overworked due to trying so hard to support the family, you might feel compassion.
- If you tell yourself your partner is having a hard time standing up for himself or herself at work and is therefore allowing others to use him or her, you might feel sad for your partner.
Hopefully, you can see that what you tell yourself about the situation has much to do with how you end up feeling.
Obviously, if your partner really doesn't care about you or is having an affair, then you would feel deeply heartbroken and likely outraged. Or, if your partner is having to work too hard or is being taken advantage of, you might feel lonely. But these deeper painful feelings of life are very different than the hurt, anger and insecurity that result from the false beliefs you might be telling yourself. Besides, if your partner really doesn't care about you or is having an affair, blaming him or her for your feelings is not the best way of handling it. These situations call for much communication, re-evaluation of your relationship and learning about what is best for you.
Next time you want to share your feelings with your partner, first ask yourself whether your intent is to control or to learn. Trying to control by sharing your feelings will generally lead to distance and disconnection, while sharing your feelings with an intent to learn can deepen your connection and intimacy with each other.
Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, receive Free Help, and take our 12-Week eCourse, "The Intimate Relationship Toolbox" - the first two weeks are free!
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