Reconnect to your Core
a practical guide on how to feel good and be happy


How to communicate your feelings

Among the non-integrous there’s a misconception that feelings are an excuse to be unkind to others and this has given our feelings a bad reputation, writes Hemon. But basically every feeling just wants one thing, and that is to relate to others.

A person that lacks integrity uses his, say anger, as an excuse to vent it out, discharge, yell, blame, place accusations, throw a temper tantrum, scream, distance, go passive, and generally act in a nasty and immature way. But this behavior has nothing to do with communicating your anger, even though this is what the non-integrous wants you to believe. As you’re now aware of, the feeling itself is very different than the defense mechanisms used in order to avoid personal contact and communication of that feeling.

The feeling itself is just the bodily activation with the accompanying impulses, and you may communicate that feeling in an integrous way which can be done in a calm, mature, and responsible fashion. Josette ten Have-de Labije recommends the following 5-step procedure as a tool you may use in order to communicate your feeling integrously. These 5 steps are:

 

1) Describing the trigger (i.e. the specific behavior of the other person).

2) Declaring the feeling (i.e. one or more of the five basic feelings) that you feel.

3) Describing how you perceive the other person (i.e. which is the reason you feel this feeling).

4) Stating how you previously have behaved when you felt this towards the other person (i.e. your previous defensive strategies).

5) Stating how you now will act and how you view yourself.

 

Let’s use as an example Julie and how she may communicate her feelings towards her father using this approach:

«Dad, when I told you last friday about my work schedule and you responded by giving me advice (Step 1 - describing the trigger/behavior) I got angry towards you (Step 2 - declaring your feeling), because I perceive you as condescending and disrespectful (Step 3 - describing how you perceive the other person). Previously when you’ve given me unsolicited advice I have passively listened to it and ignored how this makes me feel (Step 4 - stating how you previously have behaved), but I view myself as a confident and strong woman that don’t need to be told what to do everytime I tell you how I’m doing, therefore if I notice that I get angry when you give me unsolicited advice in the future I will let you know clearly how I feel about that whether you’ll like it or not (Step 5 - stating how you now will behave and how you perceive yourself).».

This type of communication may be done either for as short as 10 seconds, or you may decide to elaborate on certain aspects of each of the five steps and talk for as long as you decide. That depends on the context of the situation and your willingness to share your feelings with that person. It’s not given that we should want to share our feelings with people that don’t reciprocate by sharing their feelings, and that decision has to do with protecting ourselves also. But being aware of these five steps is the practical application of the Triangle of Conflict (Chapter 4) which makes you more aware of the intrapsychic processes inside you.

However, the essence of this type of communication is that you’re speaking from your observations and your own emotional experience, rather than blaming, accusing, rationalizing, pretending, or going passive in response to the other person. This lets emotional closeness into your communication with others, since your own emotional experience is not something that the other person can argue against as it is just how you subjectively feel things that is the central topic. The statement: «I’m angry at you and perceive you as condescending», is an expression of your subjective experience which the other person can’t argue against (although he may try to dismiss it or ignore it which then might trigger new feelings).

When you accuse or blame another person, the other may now argue with your statement. The statement: «You condescend me.» - is a statement that is up for debate, since you’re stating what the other person is intending rather than focusing on your own subjective experience. The other person might then counter with: «I didn’t mean to be condescending», but then the focus of the conversation is on the other person’s intention, rather than on your feelings. That’s why it’s important to stay specific when describing the trigger. It is a fact that when Julie told her father about her work schedule that the first thing he said was: «Well, then you should just do this and this…». The exact specific trigger is what triggers a feeling and is something that needs to be included in emotional communication.

Rather than rationalizing, withdrawing, going passive, ignoring your feelings, and letting feelings become suppressed, you let people know how you’re feeling as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. And why shouldn’t your communication be this way? The only reason to avoid such communication is because you lack the courage to do so and that you perceive the feelings of others to be more important than your own. When you suppress your feelings your spirit detects that you’re lying to yourself, which results in lower energy (the consciousness-paradigm), and your unconscious feelings develops into anxiety and defenses because they’re not being felt (the ISTDP-paradigm).

Sure, Julie could say: «I couldn’t tell my father that, what if he becomes upset/defensive/angry/sad/ignores me etc». Well, if he does that you now have the opportunity to address that further, as in:

«Dad, when I tell you how I feel regarding your unsolicited advice and you then ignore me (Step 1), it makes me angry (Step 2) because I perceive you as uninterested in relating to me on an equal level (Step 3). Previously when you’ve ignored my feelings I have accepted this as normal and have even done so towards myself (Step 4), but I view myself as a woman whose feelings deserve to be treated with respect, so if I notice this kind of behavior from you again which triggers anger in me I will let you know how I feel whether you like it or not (Step 5).».

The decision to own up to how you’re feeling and using this in your communication with others needs to be made. This because the most common behavioral pattern of those that struggle with symptoms and anxiety is that they’re not honest with themselves and others about how they’re feeling, instead they keep their feelings suppressed inside.

Away from content towards context

The main idea is to give people honest feedback of your feelings without attacking them. Julie could also say: «Dad, I don’t know if you’re condescending me, but I feel like crap when you’re talking to me and I thought I’d bring that up». That might be a more normal way of communicating feelings compared to the 5-step procedure above, but the main idea is still the same. There’s a fine line between sharing feelings and making other people wrong, but this distinction becomes more obvious with practice.

The default position is to give people your trust and to be kind and respectful towards them. Usually we don’t need to bring out the big guns and to give people «the speech» every time we have a feeling towards them. Love, strength, and a little bit of finesse takes care of 99 % of relationship problems that we have. There is also something called over-sharing, when one becomes so obsessed with «sharing feelings» that it can backfire also. This happens when we share feelings in order to win and be right rather than focus on sharing as a way of relating. As with everything else in life, communicating feelings needs to be done with balance, maturity, and timing.

Even though you decide to give people your trust, it would be wise not to expect other people to trust you in return. Therefore we need to bring up this as part of our emotional communication. Julie could say to her dad: «You’re right, I have been taking on too much work lately, but I’m a grown woman and I need you to trust me to make the right decisions for myself, because every time you give me advice that I’ve not asked for I feel angry and then I don’t want to spend time with you.». Then every time her father gives her unsolicited advice, she can focus on the issue of her father’s trust in her (the context), and not the work schedule (the content). Then the focus will be: «Dad, as I told you last time, I need you to give me your trust if you want us to have an adult relationship. I get angry at you whenever you don’t trust me.».

This difference between content and context is a key paradigm distinction. Integrous context-based communication will be the main focus for the rest of the chapter and many of the ideas are inspired by Stephane Hemon’s ideas and material.

Many people that struggle in their relationships have the common «problem» that they’re solely focusing on the content of the situation, rather than focusing on the context of the dynamic between people. Context profoundly influences how we experience a situation, what meaning we give a situation, the significance, value, and importance of the situation, and is therefore of greater emotional importance than the content of the conversation or situation.

If you keep losing your cool by reacting emotionally without knowing why, then that is usually a sign that you value content more than context and that you focus more on other people’s reality than you focus on your own reality. According to Hemon a content-oriented person has a hard time shifting into a context-based view of the world, because to the content-oriented person, content is all that is verifiable and observable, and therefore the only real and dependable thing. Many content-oriented people are therefore paranoid about the context, and therefore have to rely upon rules and social norms instead of trusting their own intuition and discernment.

Context-oriented people are more easygoing, peaceful and humorous about whatever it is that is making content-oriented people act out emotionally with righteous indignation and defensiveness. Content-oriented people are very serious about everything, and are defensive and paranoid in social situations. They want formulas, techniques, rules, and regulations, and this is the reason why they’re overly serious and are getting «stuck» in social situations. In a sense they’re not trusting their own moment to moment perception that their feelings are providing them.

When one lacks awareness of context one needs to make up rules to follow. That’s why one often hear content-oriented people say that they «need to be in control» or that they can’t change plans once they’ve «made up their mind». Context-oriented people states their intention, while content-oriented people lets you guess why they’re doing what they’re doing, and they make you confused regarding what they’re saying really means.

Just a simple question such as: «Hi, how are you doing?» illustrates this point. The question itself when taken literally means that a person wants to know how your current life-situation is or how your day has been. However, the context might be completely different. The reasons why that person is asking you this might be because he is worried about you, that he cares about you, that he is giving you shit, that he is flirting, that he is condescending you, or that he is brushing you off with a standard phrase etc.

When Julie tells her dad that she wants him to give her his trust and he answers: «Of course I trust you, I’m just trying to help you.», the content is that he’s telling her about his intention behind his advice. However, the context is that he disagrees with Julie’s subjective perception of the world, which implies that he perceives himself to be above Julie. «Of course I trust you», communicates to Julie that her perception of him is mistaken, therefore he’s communicating to her that her view of him is wrong and that his is the right one (i.e. You say I don’t trust you, but I say I do trust you, therefore I’m right and you’re wrong). In that moment he lacks humility and willingness to accept that others could view him differently than he views himself. The phrase: «I’m just trying to help you.», communicates to Julie that he knows what is best for Julie. He, the father, is going to save, change, or rescue Julie from her own «stupid little mind». The communication is that Julie should listen more to her father than listen to her own eyes, ear, feelings, and intelligence, because after all, in his opinion Julie can’t trust her own perception. That’s pretty condescending.

A content-oriented Julie would take it at face value that her father is trying «to help», and might focus her reply to him on the various aspects of «helping», and whether she wants «help» or not. However, that doesn’t address the context of the situation, which concerns her father’s assumption that he is above this dumb Julie and wants to play her savior for his own narcissistic needs, because he thinks that Julie can’t trust her own eyes and ears. A context-oriented Julie might then reply to the lines of: «You know, I already think that I’m ok. I don’t need anyone to tell me that I’m not. It hurts my feelings when you have to act like we’re not two equals.».

This article is an excerpt from Chapter 14 in Reconnect to your Core.

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