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Handling Emotions and Expressing Feelings in Relationship

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I – Definition of feeling:

In psychology, feeling is the perception of events within the body, closely related to emotion. The term feeling is a verbal noun denoting the action of the verb to feel, which derives etymologically from the Middle English verb felen, “to perceive by touch, by palpation.” It soon came to mean, more generally, to perceive through those senses that are not referred to any special organ. As the known special organs of sense were the ones mediating the perception of the external world, the verb to feel came also to mean the perception of events within the body. Psychologists disagree on the use of the term feeling. The preceding definition accords with that of the American psychologist R.S. Woodworth, who defines the problem of feeling and emotion as that of the individual’s “internal state.” Many psychologists, however, still follow the German philosopher Immanuel Kant in equating feeling to states of pleasantness and unpleasantness, known in psychology as affect.

II – The importance of expressing feelings in relationships:

David Johnson, in the book “Reaching Out: Interpersonal Effectiveness and Self-Actualization”, clearly states that “Feelings are potentially highly constructive since it is through experiencing and expressing feelings that close friendships are built and maintained.” This statement just shows how important feelings are to any relationship.

Why are feelings so important in relationships? Because communication is at the heart of relationship and feelings are at the heart of effective communication. When we are able to communicate at the feeling level, we can eliminate much of the misunderstandings that occur in most relationships. Your quality of life can be greatly improved through the experience and expression of feelings. Therefore, if you know how to express your feelings as well as handle them effectively, you can maintain and develop your relationships.

1) Saying what you feel:

Feeling the warmth, support, acceptance, and caring of friendships or other relationships is one of the most exciting aspects of being alive. And feelings are especially wonderful when they are shared with other people. One of the most rewarding aspects of relationships is sharing personal feelings. The more you share your feelings with other people, the happier and more meaningful your life will be. Yet we are not given much training in how to express feelings in such a way that there will be little chance of misunderstanding.

To experience emotions and express them to another person is not only a major source of joy, it is also necessary for your psychological well-being. It is natural to have feelings. The capacity to feel is as much a part of being a person as is the capacity to think and reason. A person without feelings is not a person at all; he or she is a machine. The quest of individuals who really enjoy life is to feel a greater range of emotions and to build relationships in which emotions are aroused and allowed positive expression. Feeling and expressing caring for another person, feeling and expressing love for another person, even feeling and expressing anger toward another person are all potentially highly rewarding and beautiful experiences.

The table below shows some common feelings that you may have in relationships: |abandonment |despair |helplessness |nervousness |sorrow | |anger |discouragement |horror |overjoy |stubbornness | |anxiety |disgust |humiliation |overwhelm |taken of granted | |betrayal |dread |indecisiveness |panic |terror | |bitterness |effort unreceived |insecurity |peeved |unsupported | |blaming |failure |jealousy |pride |unworthy | |conflict |fear |lack of control |rejection |vulnerability | |confusion |forlorn |longing |resentment |wishy washy | |creative insecurity |grief |lost |sadness |worry | |crying |guilt |love unreceived |self-abuse |worthless | |defensiveness |hatred |love self-esteem |shame | | |depression |heartache |lust |shock | |

Feelings are internal physiological reactions to your experiences. It is often difficult to express feelings. Whenever there is a risk of being rejected or laughed at, expressing feelings becomes very difficult. The more personal the feelings, the greater the risk you may feel. It is also sometimes difficult to control your expression of your feelings. You may cry when you don’t want to, get angry when it is best not to, or even laugh at a time it disturbs others. Expressing feelings appropriately often means thinking before you communicate them.

Having feelings is a natural and joyful part of being alive and being human. Feelings provide the cement holding relations together as well as the means for deepening the relationships and making them more personal. The accurate and constructive expression of feelings, furthermore, is one of the most difficult aspects of building and managing your relations with other people.

2) When feelings are not expressed:

We all have feelings about the people we interact with and the experiences we share, but many times we do not communicate these feelings effectively. Problems arise in relationships not because we have feelings but because we are not effective in communicating our feelings in ways that strengthen our relationships. There are several difficulties that arise when feelings are not recognized, accepted, and expressed constructively.

1. Suppressing and denying your feelings can create relationship problems. If you suppress your feelings, it can result in increased conflicts and barriers that cause deterioration in the relationship. For example, the husband came home late without explanation, irritating the wife angry. As the irritation is suppressed, anger and conflict between them may result. 2. Suppressing and denying your feelings can interfere with the constructive diagnosis and resolution of relationship problems. Maintaining a relationship requires an open expression of feelings so that difficulties or conflicts can be dealt with constructively. 3. Denying your feelings can result in selective perception. When feelings are unresolved, your perceptions of events and information may be affected. Unresolved feelings tend to increase blind spots and selective perception. For example, if you are denying your anger, you may perceive all hostile actions but be completely blind to friendly overtures. 4. Suppressing your feelings can bias your judgments. It is common for people to refuse to accept a good idea because someone they dislike suggested it, or to accept a poor idea because someone they like is for it.

If you are aware of your feelings and manage them constructively, you will be far more unbiased and objective in your judgments. 5. Implying a demand while expressing your feelings can create a power struggle. Many times feelings are expressed in ways that demand changes in the receiver’s behavior. If someone says to you, “You make me angry when you do that,” she is indirectly saying, “Stop doing it.” Or if a friend says, “I like you, you are a good friend,” he may be indirectly demanding that you like him. When feelings imply demands, a power struggle may result over whether or not the demands are going to be met. 6. Other people often ask you to suppress or deny your feelings. A person may say, “Don’t feel that way” whenever you express a feeling. If you say, “I feel depressed,” he will say, “Cheer up!” If you say, “I’m angry,” she will say, “Simmer down.” If you say, “I feet great,” she will say, “The roof will cave in any moment now.” All these replies communicate: “Don’t feel that way. Quick, change your feeling!”

III – How to express feelings in relationships:

There are two ways of communicating feelings: verbally and nonverbally. If you want to communicate clearly, your verbal and your nonverbal expression of feelings must agree or be congruent. Many of the communication difficulties experienced in relationships arise from giving contradictory messages to others by indicating one kind of feeling with words, another with actions, and still another with nonverbal expressions. Carefully thinking and choosing the most effective way to express feelings, therefore, are very important.

1) Expressing feelings verbally:

Most experts agree that open communication contributes to good relationships. However, one of the most awkward things about sharing strong feelings with another person is getting started.

When you want to express your feelings, you first need to get the attention of the other person involved. You have to pick a time and place when the other person really wants to hear your feelings. Then you need an effective way of getting your message across. These factors are especially important when the other person contributed to the way you feel.

For openers, you could say something like:
– I’d like to talk with you about… Is this a good time?
– I’ve got a problem – could I share it with you?
– Something’s bothering me. May I talk with you about it?
– I need your help on…
– I’m really feeling (hurt, scared, angry, sad, worried, excited…)

a) You-messages versus I-messages:


Some ways to express feelings are not helpful because they deliberately threaten people. One of the most common of these ineffective approaches is called the you-message that attacks and blames another person for your feelings. For instance: – You make me so mad!

– It’s your fault I’m depressed.
– You hurt my feelings.
– You’re stressing me out.
Such messages set the state for counterattack. A person on the receiving a you-message often gets defensive – he/she does not really hear your feelings.


The better choice for you is using I-message. This is a style that gets your point across without attacking the other person.

I-messages are responsibility-taking messages. They do not attack, blame, ridicule or criticize – they simply share how you feel: – I feel hurt when you talk to me that way. It seems as if you don’t care. – When I’m pushed, I feel stressed. I can’t meet your time schedule and I think you expect me to.

I-messages have to do with letting another know he/she is affecting you, whether you feel good or feel as if he/she is stepping on your toes. The person’s behavior may be violating your rights or contributing to your emotional state.

I-messages are easily used with some formulas:

1. When… (state the behavior that you find bothersome) Ex: “When we make plans to spend time together and you change your mind at the last minute…” 2. I feel… (state how you feel about the consequences the person’s behavior has for you) Ex: “I feel disappointed…”

3. Because… (state the consequences of the person’s behavior for you) Ex: “…because I was looking forward to our time together.” When you send an I-message, you are being respectful to the other person as well as yourself. You communicate an intention to stimulate cooperation, not rebellion or compliance. b) Other ways to express feelings verbally:

When you are unaware or unaccepting of your feelings, or when you lack skills in expressing them, your feelings may be communicated indirectly through:

1. Labels: “You are rude, hostile, and self-centered” >< “When you interrupt me I get angry.”

2. Commands: “Shut up!” >< “I’m annoyed at what you just said.”

3. Questions: “Are you always this crazy?” >< “You are acting strangely, and
I feel worried.”

4. Accusations: “You do not care about me!” >< “When you do not pay attention to me I feel left out.”

5. Sarcasm: “I’m glad you are early!” >< “You are late; it has delayed our work, and that irritates me.”

6. Approval: “You are wonderful!” >< “I like you.”

7. Disapproval: “You are terrible!” >< “I do not like you.”

8. Name Calling: “You are a creep!” >< “You are embarrassing me.”

Such indirect ways of expressing feelings are common. But they are ineffective because they do not give a clear message to the receiver. Here are four ways you can describe a feeling.

1. Identify or name it:

– I feel angry.

– I like you.

2. Use sensory descriptions that capture how you feel:

– I feel stepped on.

– I feel like I’m on cloud nine.

3. Report what kind of action the feeling urges you to do:

– I feel like hugging you.

– I feel like slapping your face.

4. Use figures of speech as descriptions of feelings:

– I feel like a stepped-on toad.

– I feel like a pebble on the beach.

In general, you describe your feelings by identifying them. A description of a feeling must include: 1. A personal statement – refer to “I,” “me,” “my,” or “mine.” 2. A feeling name, simile, action urge, or figure of speech.

2) Expressing feelings nonverbally:

Nonverbal expressions of feelings account for about 65 percent of all social meanings given to our communication messages. Nonverbal expressions include the way you dress, your posture, body tension, facial expressions, degree of eye contact, hand and body movements, tone of voice, the amount of physical space between you and the other person, variations of speech, and any kind of touch. Nonverbal expressions may be confusing or unclear. For example, a blush may indicate embarrassment, pleasure, or even hostility. Our nonverbal perception of a person’s feelings must be checked with what he/she is really feeling. A person may be saying one thing, while his body says another. For example, the teacher says, “I always have plenty of time for my students,” while glancing at the clock and putting papers into a briefcase. The listener gets a “mixed” message under these kinds of circumstances, and the nonverbal message usually speaks louder than the verbal message.

IV – How to handle feelings in relationships:

Expressing feelings is a good way to build and maintain relationships. However, you may also get troubles in those relationships when you cannot handle your feelings efficiently. In other words, when you lose control and cannot adjust your feelings, your relationships with others may be threatened, even split up or broken. Handling feelings in relationships, therefore, is much-needed. These following are some effective ways to handle feelings:

1) Identify and acknowledge the feeling. Name the feeling. Restate the feeling.

Ex: “There’s a lot of worry (frustration, fear, etc.) right now.”

2) Validate the feeling. It is one of the most useful approaches.

Ex: “It makes a lot of sense that you feel confused (sad, worried, etc.) right now.”

3) Don’t reassure too quickly. Reassurance has its time but usually comes much later in discussions.

4) Stop giving more information or details. Be open to being with the feeling.

5) Resist saying: “Just calm down.” or “Don’t worry.”

6) Respond to the source of the feeling, not to the display.

Ex: Say: “Hearing this new information about your son seems to be upsetting.” Don’t say: “You don’t need to get so upset. Your outburst is not helping the situation.”

7) If you are uncertain or feel cautions about discussing feelings, begin with a disclaimer:

– I’m wondering if you might be feeling…?

– I could be wrong, but it seems like you might be feeling….

8) View feelings as normal aspects to forming relationships.

9) Remember that feelings can be our “best friends.” They are indications to pay attention. It is important to reframe the feelings and see the positive intent behind the feelings.


1. http://www.energyhealingpartner.com/wpcontent/uploads/2011/08/Definition-of-Emotions.pdf

2. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/203754/feeling

3. http://www.athealth.com/consumer/disorders/expressfeelings.html

4. http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/fcs/pdfs/fcs2764.pdf

5. http://comn2311.thetalkpage.com/additional_readings/ExpressingFeelingsverbally.htm

6. http://www.literacyaccessonline.org/ttaconline/Resources/SS2010/EffectiveWaystoHandleFeelings%20soft%20border.pdf

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