Growing up, I learned quickly that sharing my feelings, thoughts, and ideas with others was not the best idea. Sharing often resulted in being ignored, questioned, laughed at, or invalidated. I think the worst for me is when I share my feelings and I am told, “You don’t mean that”. No matter how well I know that I cannot control how another person receives my message, this is probably the only time that another person’s response stings in a way that is crippling. Why is this interaction so difficult? During most types of verbal exchanges, it is possible to restate the point, find supporting research, involve another person who brings additional credibility to the argument, or, the old favorite, “agree to disagree”.
When it comes to telling someone how you feel about them, emotional, personal feelings, such as, I love you, I think you are attractive, or I enjoy the time we spend together, based on the feedback that is received, there is no meaningful way to restate, validate, corroborate, or provide supporting data for the original message. There is no research, there is not another person who can restate your feelings in a different way that makes the receiver accept what has been said and there is certainly no meaningful way that you can “agree to disagree”. When the recipient refutes the message with the words, “Oh, you don’t really mean that”, it is easy to become frozen, almost paralyzed.
Likely, days, or even weeks, were spent gathering the courage to deliver the message, but then, the mission is aborted at the last moment due to fear, cloaked in a lot of “what ifs”. When, for a brief moment, courage finally outweighs the fear, in a split second, the response that is received elicits a feeling of momentary paralysis, the inability to take another breath. Is the heart even still beating? There are no words, no response, no “comeback” that will make this moment less painful. Quickly, a facial expression is shown and a reaction is provided that, without question, displays indifference to the response. At this moment, it is critical to ensure the recipient of the message is clear that their response, “Does not matter either way”. Following this exchange, a decision is made to continue with the current plans, fake not feeling well to put distance between the two of you, or you go on with the current plans while repeatedly thinking how stupid it was to open up in this way and vow to never do it again. Time passes, feelings are kept inside, and life is calm. However, we all know that nothing is forever. There will come a time, often sooner than we like to think about, that feelings will arise and we will have a strong urge to share, while struggling with the fear.
How do we ever gain the courage to do it again? Is there ever going to be a reason to do it again? Of course, you will do it again and to not lose yourself to the response of the receiver, you have to find, within yourself, the ability to become vulnerable with grace, which, in part, is the ability to look at the response from the receivers perspective, understanding, the response may not be “about you”. Trust and believe in your feelings and allow your feelings to exist in a place that is secure and that cannot be shattered by the words or reaction of another. This is not easy, it takes practice, and resolve.
Trusting and believing that your feelings are valid and honest means that no matter what anyone says, you do not waiver. In addition, you do not have to validate, support, or justify your feeling in any way. The feelings belong to you, you alone. No one can legitimately tell you that you are wrong. This is no different than walking into a room and stating, “Boy is it hot in here.” Everyone in the room turns to look at you and immediately responds, “No, it is not. We are freezing.” Does this response make you “less hot”? Absolutely not. You are still hot and you proceed with the appropriate means to cool yourself in a way that does not inconvenience or hurt those that are cold. You take care of yourself and leave others to do the same. Trusting and believing in your feelings works exactly the same way. No matter what you feel, you are free to nurture, share, embrace, or even, ignore the feelings. It is completely up to you. When you decide to share and your feelings are not received in the way that you believe they should, the feelings do not become less valid, real, or emotional.
As a matter of fact, sharing your feelings should not be conditional based on the receiver’s response. Sharing does not mean that you give your feelings away for another person to control. By sharing, you allow another person the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of who you are and you are asking them to openly and freely respond to you in any manner they choose. Accepting their response with grace allows you to maintain full control of your feelings.
Consider this. From birth, we are conditioned to respond to a stimulus in a certain way. When we hear an alarm clock, we know it is time to wake up. Growing up, when it was announced that “Aunt Jenny” would be visiting, we knew how to respond based on past experiences. If she was cold and callous, we felt immediate dread and began to form a plan to ensure we kept our distance during her visit. If she was kind, we quickly formed an image of the new toy that she would bring and the excitement started to build even though she would not arrive for many months. As adults, we use these same strategies to get through everyday interactions. We spend so much time preparing to share our emotions and feelings with another person because since childhood, we have been conditioned to expect a certain response when we share or to convince ourselves that we can control the response based on our delivery. Unfortunately too many times, we spend so much time preparing for an expected response that when we receive the “unexpected”response, we freeze. These “unexpected” responses (translation, “not what we want to hear”) condition us to take more time to prepare and to dread sharing, not because of how we feel inside but because we relinquished so much control to the recipient.
As adults, we must own our emotions and deliver our message without any expectations. To do this, we have to understand that the recipient has built responses based on his/her life experiences. The recipient may respond based on how they feel about him/herself and this has little to do with the message that you have delivered. Think of the number of times that someone has given you a compliment. Is it your nature to receive it with grace and acceptance or do you immediately find some way to minimize the compliment. Does the compliment make you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable? For many, including myself, the answer is frequently “yes”. Understanding why the recipient reacts in a certain way will help you manage your own emotions and reactions. Not every response is a personal attack or attempt to make you feel bad or a reason to second guess your decision. Understand that a response may not be intended to negate your feelings. The recipient of the message has had little if any time to prepare for the information that you are sharing. Hold firmly to your feelings if they are genuine. It may take some time but these interactions can help you from a deeper bond with the recipient. Removing expectations from the message gives us full ownership of our emotions. With this ownership, we develop the ability to not expect a certain reaction from another person and we are able to move forward in a positive, healthy manner. We are able to gain a better understanding of self.