Would you like to deepen your relationships, feel closer to those you care about? Consider sharing how they affect you, how what they said or what they did makes you feel. Putting your feelings toward others into words is one of the hallmarks of emotional communication, a way of relating to others that can ultimately deepen relationships and make them more satisfying.
I find in my work with patients that there is often great confusion between communication that is emotional (or, we might say, relational) and communication that is outright aggressive. Aggressive communications are those words and phrases directed toward others that either explicitly or implicitly evaluate, judge, criticize or otherwise objectify or devalue the other. They are communications that tend to leave the relationship and one’s feelings out and to focus, often exclusively, on the other person.
What’s more – Even without intending to do so, we may inadvertently slip into a mode of relating that is essentially aggressive, arousing defensiveness and self-consciousness in the other person. How might this happen? Simply by directing the communication at the other person and leaving the relationship (and how we feel about and/or are affected by the person) out. This can lead the focus to be on the other person, implicitly suggesting that there is a problem (with them) and/or forcing them to consider themselves objectively from an outside (the relationship) perspective. None of this leads us to feel closer to others, or to ourselves.
Consider the difference between these communications: “You never call me.” vs. “I feel hurt (…frustrated…annoyed…) that you never call me.” The first might induce feelings of guilt or evaluative worries on the order of, “I am a bad friend;” whereas the second implicitly suggests that the relationship is important enough to affect you and to cause you to risk sharing this in a moment when you are feeling somewhat vulnerable.
So consider giving emotional communication a try – telling another how what they did or what they said makes you feel. Make sure it’s someone who is important to you and with whom you wish to get closer. You may be surprised at how vulnerable it feels in the moment to share your feelings in this manner. In many ways, it’s a lot easier (and feels safer) to put the focus on the other person, but this will not make you feel closer to each other and will not deepen your relationship.
In sharing your feelings toward others, you are implicitly telling them that they are important to you – that you care about them and about the relationship – even if the feelings you share are irritation, frustration, annoyance or even anger. Putting your feelings toward others into words allows for the possibility of even very strong feelings to be communicated – as long as it is done with words and you make sure to include the relationship (i.e., you and your feelings) in what you say.