2 Simple Sentences to Express Your Feelings (and get results)

When our feelings flare up, we tend to express ourselves in the least effective way: we blame, criticize, manipulate, or demand.  The problem feels like the OTHER person’s actions, which “cause” our hurt or angry feelings.  In that moment, it seems like the only solution to our pain is for the other person to immediately stop, apologize and try to make up for the pain they caused or be punished because of it.

If we blame, criticize, manipulate or demand, though, the recipient will most likely react to these by defending their actions or feeling their own pain and counter-attacking…or maybe they’ll just withdraw.  This is exactly the opposite of what we are craving, and probably increases our pain.  Plus – we may now have to address someone else’s pain when we are not even able to contain our own.

So – we tend to up the ante by elaborating on our blame, criticism, manipulations and demands, which may provoke the other person to do the same… on and on we go.

How can we stop this painful cycle?  Or better yet – keep it from happening at all?

Here is a simple 2 sentence template that you can use when you get triggered (based on the book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life):

When {observable event} happened, I felt {feeling} because I need/value {underlying need that felt unmet or value that felt jeopardized}.  Would you be willing to {specific request that person could do} in the future?

The “observable event” is something objectively observable, rather than a judgment (e.g., “you rolled your eyes” NOT “you dismissed me”). Remember that you don’t want to get bogged down in whether your interpretation of the other person’s actions was correct.  This can derail your efforts to get a good response.

The “feeling” is something that is an actual feeling, rather than an interpretation (e.g., “I felt sad” NOT “I felt like you did not love me”). Sometimes, it is hard to separate our actual feelings from our interpretation of the other person’s actions.  Generally, if you say you feel “that…” “as if…” or “like…”, those are judgments or interpretations, and they are more likely to generate defenses from the person you are speaking with, rather than what you are looking for.

The “need/value” that underlies the feelings may be harder to figure out, but do your best.  This can be good for you to reflect on, also, to figure out what is really bothering you. Try to state this need or value in the broadest sense that is not specific to the other person.  For example, you can say “because I need to feel understood”, rather than “because I need you to listen to me.”  The first will be heard as something personal and legitimate.  The second may be heard as a criticism of the other person’s actions.

Finally, the “request” is ideally something specific, time-limited, and easily done. We forget this so often in our communication because we feel like our request is obvious from our complaint.  But guess what – it’s not!  Frequently, our complaint is heard as the person just not being good enough with no hope of changing.  It is important to let the person know what they can do that will address our feelings.  This is something positive they can do and is, after all, what we really want to result from our conversation.  They are allowed to say “no” if that particular solution does not work for them, so prepare yourself.  But don’t be afraid to invite them to suggest something that WOULD work for them.  Remember that you are requesting something from someone else, and they are free to make up their own mind about what they are willing to do.

Good luck!

Rose Rigole is a psychotherapist in private practice in Irvine, California, and is currently accepting new clients. She can be reached by telephone at (424) 571-2273, by email at rose@counselingsocal.com, or via her website at http://www.counselingsocal.com.

Ms. Rigole is registered with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences as a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern #64370 and is employed and supervised by Dr. Renee Miller, LMFT #43207 at Journey Coaching and Counseling Services at 18023 Sky Park Cir., Suite G, Irvine, CA.

About Rose Hickman

Rose Hickman, LMFT is a couples counselor and therapist with offices in Los Angeles, and Costa Mesa in Orange County, California. She is currently accepting new clients and can be reached at (424) 571-2273. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT 83810).
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