Try This Exercise To Better Express Your Feelings
Let’s be real: The question "How are you?" feels harder to answer than ever. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our go-to enthusiastic "Great!" or "Just fine!" can feel like an impossible line to deliver.
Yet saying exactly how we're feeling can feel impossible, too, even if we all are navigating uncharted waters together.
There's fear of how someone might respond, fear that you might not get the help you need, or fear of being judged or seen differently.
Or: Fear you're overreacting or don't "deserve" to feel the way you do.
But there’s power in expressing how you’re feeling to others—especially in uncertain times like these.
Sharing how you feel is an act of self-care and community care.
The benefits for you: Research shows that naming a difficult feeling can help lessen its intensity.
And for those around you: When we share our feelings with others, we strengthen our sense of community.
We connect with people who may feel the same way and we normalize tough emotions, making ourselves and others feel seen and supported.
But it all comes back to feeling comfortable enough to share how you feel in the first place.
One way to ease into it is through the D.E.A.R. M.A.N. worksheet, which comes from Dialectical behavior therapy.
The acronynm is a helpful tool to communicate how you're feeling and ask for what you need in a clear and effective way.
Whether you try D.E.A.R. M.A.N. with someone else or when journaling on your own, try working through the acronynm—from D to N—the next time you feel a strong emotion:
First, start by describing your experience or how you perceived a situation in a simple and, if possible, objective way.
Maybe that looks like explaining the context around what might be causing your stress or worry. By breaking down the "what" of a situation, you’re setting yourself up to explain the "why" later.
When it comes to expressing your emotions, do so by using "I" statements as much as possible. This implies that you’re taking accountability for your emotions.
Also: Try and be as straightforward as possible. We tend to overestimate how good other people are at intuiting how we're feeling. Use your words to make it clear for them.
A framework that can help: "I feel (insert how you feel here) because..."
Asserting yourself can be hard to do but is so important, especially when it comes to sharing what you need. Try turning your "I" statements into definitive "I" statements that don’t have any "but…" or "maybe…" attached to them.
For example: "I need you to empathize with me right now" or "I need your help to figure out my next step."
By being firm and clear, you’re advocating for yourself in a way that won’t leave someone guessing.
If the person you're talking to responds in a supportive way, reinforce that's what you're looking for.
You might find it helpful to share why this relationship is important to you or thank the person for making you feel seen and heard.
To help, you can ask yourself: Why do I feel the need to share my feelings with this person? What value are they offering me and how can I make them feel appreciated?
It’s easy to get distracted or lose focus when you’re sharing—especially if you’re first starting to express yourself to someone new. That vulnerability is scary!
But by staying mindful and present in this discussion, you’ll be able to stick with what you need to stay without getting distracted.
Sometimes, that might mean mapping out how you want to bring up the topic beforehand so you stay on track. It’s OK to do so!
Your body language speaks volumes, so throughout this exchange, be sure you’re doing your best to feel confident in your words and tone.
If you’re with someone face-to-face, making eye contact can help—as well as sitting straight. This step is closely tied with how you assert yourself.
Ultimately, by sharing your feelings you’re also expressing your needs. You might be asking for help or you might be setting a boundary.
Regardless of your purpose, you might need to negotiate to also meet the needs of the person you’re talking with. That flexibility can be hard to grapple with in the moment, so by preparing yourself for it ahead of time, you can be prepared for that conversation if it is to come.
Think about which of your needs are rigid and which ones you can be flexible on.
Remember: Sharing your needs and experiences with others makes you an advocate for your mental and emotional health—and that’s always worth doing.
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