How do you feel right now? Happy? Disrespected? Sad? Ignored? Depressed? Overwhelmed? Offended?
Now, which one of those adjectives is a „real“ feeling and which is a „fake?“ Can you tell the difference?
In learning to set healthy boundaries, we first have to learn more about how we feel and what we need. We need to become the DETECTIVES of our own souls, and this is a learning process that will take some time and energy to get good at! Our ultimate goal is to learn how to be responsible for identifying and communicating our own feelings and needs so that the ones we are in relationship with understand us better and can treat us as we want to be treated. Let‘s get our magnifying glasses out!
What are feelings?
The dictionary defines a feeling as „an emotional state or reaction,“ and research suggests that humans have 5 „core“ emotions: joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust (for those of you that have seen the movie „Inside Out“ by Pixar, you probably already have the following image in your mind):
These five core emotions can vary in intensity and/or be further broken down into more specific emotions, as seen in the following table:
I don‘t know about you, but I have felt every single one of these emotions at some point in my life. If I had to take a snapshot of my day, I would list the following emotions:
cheerful, hopeless, upset, dissatisfied, irate, relieved, tender, anxious, guilty, apologetic
What a day! Lately, we have been riding an emotional roller coaster with all of the homeschooling, bad weather and Corona virus stress, and on any given day, I feel a whole host of conflicting and exhausting emotions. I hope and pray that calmer days are ahead of us!
Find the Fake
One thing that we can say about emotions is that they start and stop WITH US. They express our current internal state. In talking about our emotions, we use the sentence structure „I am/am not.“ This is very different from the next category, FAUX feelings.
When I talk about faux feelings, I am talking about the way that we describe our emotional state as a result of what someone else has done or said. For example:
„I feel disrespected when you talk to me that way.“
„I feel ignored when you don‘t look at me while I‘m talking.“
„I feel worthless when you don‘t notice how sad I am.“
„I feel stupid when you treat me like a child.“
Unlike their feelings counterparts, these „pseudo feelings“ add a layer of interpretation and/or judgement to the mix and ultimately, give someone else the responsibility for how we feel. When we communicate this to the other person, it is easy to imagine the response that we generally get (and in case you‘re having trouble imagining this, just pretend that someone said one of the above sentences to YOU and how you would respond).
The problem with pseudo feelings is that they attempt to assign blame instead of accepting responsibility!
Let‘s take a look at the following situation:
Your partner loses his temper and begins calling you names and bringing up examples from the past where you made mistakes. You say:
„I feel disrespected when you talk to me that way.“
What is probably going to come out of your partner‘s / friend‘s / colleague‘s mouth after you say this? Something like:
„I don‘t disrespect you!“ (Denial)
OR „YOU feel disrespected?! YOU are the one disrespecting me!“ (Counterattack)
OR „But of COURSE I respect you!“ (Justification)
And now you‘re on your way to the fight you‘ve probably had many times before!
So how do we do it better?
If we want to have a more constructive conversation, we need to find out WHY we feel disrespected and what NEED is not currently getting met.
What feelings are yours in this moment?
anger—why is my partner bringing up old mistakes again?
sadness/frustration—why can‘t my partner see how hard I work to overcome my past?
confusion/helplessness—how can I show him that I am trying to change?
What needs are not being met?
forgiveness / fairness
hope / comfort / understanding
respect / safety
When you reflect on this argument (and I‘m not saying that this will be immediately possible in the heat of the moment), you will find that there is a whole host of emotions and needs that you can communicate, ideally before the next conflict erupts, that will help your partner better understand you AND your „rules of engagement.“ This is where boundaries come in!
Help is on the way!
Now it‘s time to develop an action plan for putting up a „sign“ (review blog post 'Signs of Life') that gives your partner the information he/she needs to communicate with you differently in the future. Some of those „signs“ could be:
We don‘t bring up the sins of the past (meeting my needs for forgiveness and fairness)
We don‘t use demeaning and insulting language (meeting my need for respect and safety)
We learn to praise each other when things are going right (meeting my needs for understanding and hope)
By agreeing on some common rules of conduct, you give your relationship a better chance of succeeding, and if both partners are committed to doing their best, you will find that this explicit and responsibility-based communication fosters cooperation instead of resistance.
Exercise: Think of a situation in your life where conflict arises on a regular basis. Use the following steps to create an action plan for identifying and communicating your feelings:
1. What was said / done?
2. How did that make you feel (use the PDF worksheet to help you identify specific emotions)
3. What needs are not being met? (see PDF worksheet on needs)
4. What do you think YOU can do differently to get your needs met?
5. What can the other person do differently to help meet your needs?
6. What „rules of engagement“ need to be in place in the future?
7. How do you want to say „thank you“ when the other person tries to do better?
With this checklist, you can learn to untangle some of your most complicated and difficult conflict situations and begin having the conversations that make a difference. Is it going to be easy? NO WAY? Is it going to be worth it? YOU BET!
Let me know how you are using this checklist in your own life, and if you need help for this process, feel free to get in touch to arrange a coaching session.
The Link to my Livesession: Fact or Faux