Communicating Feelings 101

Let's face it. We are complicated beings capable of many things. Even so, the human mind is still very much a mystery. What we do know is that our emotions, as intangible as they may seem, are real. We feel joy, fear and confusion. Anger and disappointment. And, of course, sadness.

One thing that complicates mental healthcare in comparison to some other forms of healthcare is that we work with the intangible and the abstract. If you ask five people to explain to you what sadness feels like, it is very likely that you will get five answers that don't quite match up. Thats because we have no truly universal standard for emotions. Unlike our cholesterol, we can't submit to a quick blood draw and get back a relatively standard number that can be used as a primary source for a diagnosis. Emotions can't be quantified so nearly on paper.

Feelings are hard to grasp and harder to explain. How many times has someone asked you, or have you asked yourself, what you are feeling and you can't quite put a word to it. Making matters more difficult, you aren't sure if your meaning of the word you choose is the same as it is for the person you are talking to. This can leave us feeling isolated and misunderstood.

So, how do we go about opening up about our feelings in a way that increases our chances of being understood and validated? Here are a few tips that can help.

1) If you have trouble expressing your feelings to most people, try to find a few that you feel safe with and open up about your struggles with feelings communication. See if they can help you figure out if the road block is feeling misunderstood, feeling unsafe or something else.

2) To start, try to stick with more "basic" feelings words and then go from there. Look up a "Feelings Wheel" or "Emotions Wheel" as a place to build from. Once you are able to identify and communicate the core feeling, you may find is easier to zero in on a feeling that may be more in tune with what you are experiencing.

3) Ask the other person for their understanding of what you are trying to communicate and give feedback if it's not quite right.

4) Find a good time and place to talk if possible. The fewer distractions the better.

5) Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. A lot of times, we feel like expressing our feelings can make us seem weak. Remember that we all feel. Experiencing feelings, and expressing them, doesn't make us anything less than human.

6) Be mindful when expressing feelings that may come across to the other person as hurtful. Use "I" statements to focus on your experience. This often helps the recipient be more receptive to what we have to say.

With some practice, we have fine tune our ability to express our emotions in a healthy way. Don't be afraid to ask for feedback from trusted loved ones. Give feedback, too. Remember, we all want to feel validated and understood and knowing how to best communicate our feelings is a positive step in that direction.