35 <– The number of years it took me to understand the importance of sharing my feelings and doing it the right way.
Growing up, I didn’t really like sharing my feelings. It made me feel icky, embarrassed, and weak. Although, I was not alone. I didn’t exactly grow up in a household that was overly lovey-dovey, or quick to talk about how they felt about…well…anything, really. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of LOVE in my family, just not a lot of EXPRESSING it.
And when it came to relationships…FORGET ABOUT IT! Expressing what I needed (or wanted) from my partner was so difficult for me. I suppose it came from fear – what if I said something he didn’t agree with, or made fun of how I felt? And I think to some extent, that is exactly what happened occasionally…so then I just shut down. Well…at least I shut down for awhile. I ended up bottling it all in and then I’d let it explode like a big, bold, angry firecracker on the 4th of July.
…Gawd…I am so glad I am not that person anymore…
But you know what? I had to make a conscious effort to understand that I didn’t like the person I was…that I didn’t like holding in my feelings…that I didn’t like having an explosive personality…that it is okay to say what I need…that it is okay to cry…
It wasn’t until my mom was dying that I learned the art of communication, of expressing my thoughts and feelings. I suppose I could have shut down like I always had in life, but instead I decided to do something different – I did an “about face” and not only started talking about how I felt, but I shared my story with the world. Once I saw the impact it had on others, I was ADDICTED. I was addicted to spewing my thoughts. I was addicted to sharing my world. I was addicted to being vulnerable…
More than that…it felt right. As hard as it was to sit with my dad late nights after returning home from the hospital all day, we sat and talked. But this time, it wasn’t just about business, or daily tasks, it was deeper. We talked about how we FELT. We cried. We had difficult conversations about the future. And we cried some more…and then I would go to bed and keep crying. And for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel icky. I didn’t feel embarrassed. And I didn’t feel weak.
Things have changed since then. My friendships are more meaningful. I am more present and try to have more meaningful conversations with friends. My relationship is simply amazing. Now, I could never even imagine exploding with bottled up feelings. I can have “adult conversations,” share my thoughts, my wants, my needs, and the love feels so reciprocated, it becomes such a breath of fresh air. And I am a stronger, better person because of it.
In Positive Pyschology, we call this Non-Violent Communication (NVC). NVC is a way to establish a relationship with others based on honesty and empathy.
Here are the 4 steps you should take if you want to improve yourself, your relationships, and your communication.
1. Make Observations
Communicate what you observe using facts only. You are only communicating the behavior – this is not the time for you to insert your opinions or diagnose the problem. For example:
“When you don’t call or text me…”
“You neglect me” (This is a judgement. You are interpreting the no call/text as neglecting, which may or may not be the case.)
“Mom can no longer feed herself.”
“Mom refuses to eat.”
2. Name Your Feelings
Communicate how you feel (insert emotion here) in relation to what you observed. Remember you own your feelings. They are how you experience the world. You can experience the exact same thing as someone else but have different feelings than the next person.
Also, a common confusion (mainly generated by the English language) is that the word “feeling” can mean expressing beliefs or thoughts. Feelings are always related to your body – not an opinion, or an expression of how you think others are behaving towards you. For example:
“I feel sad.”
“I feel you are hurting me.”
“I feel lonely.”
“I feel abandoned.” (This involves another person. You think the other person is abandoning you.)
3. Express Your Needs
The need you express is always about yourself, not about the other person. The feeling you expressed in the previous step tells us that a need is either being met (satisfied), or not being met (unsatisfied). A negative emotion means a need is not being met, while a positive emotion means a need is being met. For example:
“I need you to hold my hand.”
“I need a more attentive boyfriend.”
“I need to hug Mom and tell her I love her.”
“I need mom to tell me how much she loves me.”
4. Make a Request
Finally, you must state what you need in that moment to have your needs met. Be sure to keep it positive, be specific, and formulate as a request – not a demand. For example:
“Please hold me.”
“Please don’t ignore me.” (Negative)
“Would you be willing to talk with me about your illness?”
“I need you to talk to me about your illness.” (Demand)
If I am being honest, I would say the hardest one for me is No. 3: Express Your Needs. I got really good at No. 1 & No. 2. But then I would stop there. In order to have an effective conversation, you cannot neglect the next step. I learned how to implement No. 4 from my boyfriend. He has the sweetest way of making requests, and when you do it right, the impact is always positive.
So, when using the NVC model, you may find this sentence structure to be helpful:
“When I hear _____, I feel _____, because I need _____; would you be willing to_____?”