by Devora Krasnianski, founder of Adai Ad Institute
The difficulty in identifying and expressing feelings is common. For couples and families, the toll is severe when members are unable to communicate emotions.
It is important to distinguish feelings from thoughts.
A common confusion, generated by the English language, is our use of the word feel without actually expressing a feeling. For example, in the sentence, “I feel I didn’t get a fair chance,” the words “I feel” could be more accurately replaced with “I think”.
Often times, we use the word feel when we are actually expressing an opinion. In general, it is not actual feelings, but rather opinions, are being expressed when the word ‘feel’ is followed by:
1. Words such as that, like, as if:
“I feel that he should know better.”
“I feel like a failure.”
“I feel as if I’m talking to a wall.”
2. The pronouns I, you, he, she, they, it:
“I feel I am constantly on call.”
“I feel it is useless.”
3. Names or pronouns referring to people:
“I feel Sammy has been very irresponsible.”
“I feel my spouse is being manipulative.”
Actually, in the English language, it is not necessary to use the word feel at all when you’re actually expressing a feeling. We can say “I’m feeling relieved” or simply “I’m relieved”.
Distinguish between what we feel and what we think we are.
It’s important to distinguish between the words that express actual feelings and those that describe what we think we are.
1. Description of what we think we are:
“I feel inadequate as a mother.”
In this statement she is assessing her ability as a wife rather than clearly expressing her feelings.
2. Expressions of the actual feelings:
“I feel disappointed in myself as a mother.”
“I feel frustrated with myself as a mother.”
The actual feeling behind the assessment of herself as inadequate could therefore be disappointment or frustration or some other emotion.
Distinguish between words that describe what we think others are doing around us and words that describe actual feelings
Similarly, it is helpful to differentiate between words that describe what we think others are doing around us and words that describe actual feelings.
1. “I feel unimportant to the people in my family”
The word unimportant describes how I think others are evaluating me rather than an actual feeling which in this situation might be I feel sad or I feel discouraged.
2. “I feel misunderstood.”
Here, the word misunderstood indicates an assessment of the other person’s level of understanding me rather than an actual feeling. In this situation, she may be feeling anxious or annoyed or some other emotion.
3. “I feel ignored.”
This is more of an interpretation of the actions of the other than a clear statement of how we’re feeling. No doubt there have been times we thought we were being ignored and our feeling was relief was released because he wanted to be left to ourselves. No doubt there were other times when we felt hurt when we thought we were being ignored because he wanted to be more involved.
It is actually important to share your feelings rather than statements such as “I feel like I’m talking to a wall.” Those are unlikely to bring your feelings and desires to your spouse. The spouse would most likely be hear those words as criticism rather than invitation or request to connect. Furthermore, such statements often lead to self fulfilling prophecies. The spouse just heard him/herself criticized for behaving like a wall; s/he is hurt and discouraged and doesn’t respond, thereby confirming the image of him/herself as a wall.
These small nuances make a huge difference in communication and relationships.
See a full range of emotions here.