Craig Miller: Author, Speaker, Therapist
Saying What You Feel
By Craig Miller
Do you become upset or nervous and struggle with the right words to say? Do you become easily hurt, frustrated, or angry with an outburst of emotion? We all have natural reactions to daily life, but often do not know how to identify and properly express our feelings. This information will provide a method for expressing those feelings.
During difficult or uncomfortable situations what happens to those feelings that are generated within us? If we don’t let the feelings out, they actually become trapped inside. With each emotional event we accumulate more feelings. Cramming strong feelings into the unconscious mind is called “repression.” The repressed feelings can show up through various symptoms like the “pressure cooker effect.” For example, the more pressure created from holding in feelings, the more likely the body will react in unusual ways to relieve the pressure. Some people react like a boiling pot of water – letting feelings accumulate until some little incident cracks the lid and blows off, such as yelling or anger outbursts. When feelings are held in over a period of time, some people react like a pot of boiling water with a lid that shakes – becoming anxious, nervous, with periods of interrupted sleeping, poor concentration, crying spells, or depression. These symptoms are a way that our body tells us there is too much stored inside and the body cannot hold any more. Still others may hold the lid so tight they shut off their emotions with each hurtful event.
Being able to express ourselves is part of our biological makeup; like tears for expressing joy or sadness and adrenaline to keep us running when we’re scared. Expressing emotion should be an ability shared by everyone. Even the wisdom of the Bible informs us that we are allowed the expressions of anger, tears, fear, jealousy, sorrow, joy, but it also reminds us that we must have control over what we do. In very simple terms, we come into the world created with emotions as a natural function to release energy and communicate with others. If we do not use these sources of expression in our daily life, we will not experience the joy of life to its fullest potential.
I knew a man who had situations at work, which caused frustration and anger, but he rarely expressed his thoughts because he was afraid something “bad” would happen. At home, whenever his wife became upset with him, he would either keep quiet or just walk away. This would usually anger the wife even more and result in further problems. The man commented that he frequently was irritable, tense, anxious, had headaches, and difficulty concentrating. This became a way of life for him. The man grew up in a family where feelings and emotions were seldom expressed or talked about. If he did express his feelings, he was sent to his room.
A woman told how she would socially withdraw and emotionally shut down whenever she was in an argument with others. After prolonged conflict she would have unexplained periods of irritability, anxiety, crying spells, sleeping problems, and depression. As a child she would often find herself standing between her parents during their frequent arguments. This experience was remembered as very upsetting, with intense and anxious moments. As a child she always kept her feelings inside and did not allow herself to express what she thought, since it was feared they would only add to the reason for the parents’ ever impending separation. As an adult, the woman continued the symptoms not fully understanding why she felt as she did.
What these people, and thousands of others, have in common is that they are not expressing what they feel. In fact, many people grow up in families where feelings are not discussed or expressed. Much of what we learn as children comes from the role modeling of those people taking care of us. We tend to repeat those learned behaviors in adulthood. How we were allowed to express ourselves as children forms the pattern of behavior for our responses as adults. For example, if you were told to go to your room when you started to cry, you were given the impression your tears were wrong. Consequently, you will have difficulty sharing your tears as an adult.
The key to breaking learned behavior is to learn new ways to respond. One way to develop appropriate patterns of expression is to release what we feel either at the time the event happens or sometime soon after. This will reduce the repression of feelings and, in turn, reduce the need for emotional outbursts and general feelings of being overwhelmed or out of control. Releasing emotions should be a natural form of expression. It can also be the most challenging for people who have difficulty identifying what they feel! If you want to release the emotions you feel inside you must give yourself permission to constructively release these God-given feelings.
Here are four simple steps to learning HOW TO SAY WHAT YOU FEEL. You can ask yourself these questions or have someone ask you. When you or someone else observes something is wrong, or you just had a conflict with someone, ask these simple questions (NOTE: You may want to use the word “thinking” (instead of “feeling”) with an unemotional person.):
1. WHAT IS GOING ON INSIDE?
Have someone ask you or ask yourself: What is going on inside?
2. WHAT DO I FEEL (THINK) INSIDE?
Identify the particular feeling(s) that is going on inside, i.e., hurt, frustration, anger, fear, etc.
Next, allow yourself to release these feelings by saying or writing down “I feel” statements, i.e., “I feel hurt”, “I feel angry”, etc.
3. WHY DO I FEEL (THINK) THIS WAY INSIDE?
Have someone ask you this question or ask yourself why you feel this way. Think back over the past one to twenty-four hours to determine what circumstances may have caused these feelings.
4. WHAT WILL I DO ABOUT THESE FEELINGS (THOUGHTS)?
What can you say or do that will help you change how you feel about the incident? It may be as simple as having someone listen or go as far as confronting the problem responsible for your feelings.
Changing a lifetime of how we behaved and how we have expressed ourselves can be difficult, but not impossible. Often, we develop behaviors and responses to situations as a method of defense or survival. Over the years those methods stay with us as they become our “comfort zone” to the stressful situations. To help us break those patterns of behavior, it is advisable to have a spouse, family member, and/or trusted friend be an accountability partner. As you give these people permission to ask these four questions, you must be honest with your answers. If you are alone, answer these questions by writing in a journal, or saying them out loud.
In order for the release of feelings to properly take place, YOU MUST PHYSICALLY RELEASE THE FEELINGS by verbalizing or writing the answers to the four questions. As you begin to release the feelings inside you will break free from old patterns and begin to feel the peace as God originally intended.
Information from the book: When Feelings Don’t Come Easy©2001, Craig A. Miller, CSW, ACSW