Okay, I’ll admit it—it’s hard for me to open up about my feelings. I convince myself that I’m better off keeping them all buried inside, as far down as they will go. I refuse to talk about, think about, or even acknowledge them. That is, until I can’t suppress my feelings any longer and they all rise to the surface at once. The result? A humungous mess that could have been avoided, had I just confronted them in the first place. Fortunately, I’ve learned to at least write my feelings down on paper—I grab a pen, and let the ink reveal what’s buried inside. However, I still find it impossible to open up to others. Why?
Talking about your feelings can be difficult for a variety of reasons. But Licensed Psychologist Dr. Tanisha Ranger says there are two main reasons doing so is so tough, which she has observed in her years of practice:
- We aren’t actually aware of how we feel.
- We are terrified of the response we’ll get when we share our feelings.
We might think we know our feelings, but we can probably dig deeper. And our fears of what could happen next are likely holding us back—even if we don’t realize it. “Talking about your feelings is a vulnerable act,” for certain, and “vulnerability is always scary, but never feeling connected, heard or understood by anyone is even scarier,” as explained by Ranger. So, clear
the hurdles that lie ahead and learn to open up about your feelings by exploring the answers to these three telling questions:
Are you talking to a safe, trustworthy person?
This is the first question you should ask yourself, according to Ranger, as your audience can make or break the outcome of expressing your feelings. “My first tip for sharing your feelings is to make sure the person you’re intending to share them with is actually a safe and trustworthy person,” she says. “Not everyone is entitled to your story, and opening up to the wrong people can lead to consequences that keep you buttoned up for a long time to come. Consider how this person treats you in general—are they kind or kind of cruel? Consider how this person talks to you about other people. Consider whether or not this person ever opens up to you. Choose wisely, but cut yourself some slack if you make a mistake.”
Do you know exactly what your feelings are?
Another question to explore before opening up is, how exactly do I feel? Really familiarize yourself with and understand your feelings prior to talking about them with someone else. “Make sure you know what your feelings are!” Ranger says. “We like to use phrases like, ‘I feel some type of way,’ to indicate that we’re bothered or upset, but that isn’t clear at all! Even if it is fun to say. Being able to recognize and name our emotions is an important skill when it comes to communicating effectively with others. If you are feeling angry, for example, it’s a good idea to examine whether or not there are other feelings behind it like sadness, disappointment, resentment, guilt, hurt, shame, jealousy, etc. Those more vulnerable feelings often hide behind (or are over-powered by) anger, which means that you don’t have a totally accurate view of what’s going on with you. Be honest with yourself so that you can be honest with others.”
What are you afraid of?
This is the third and final question Ranger recommends asking yourself. As mentioned earlier, oftentimes we don’t or can’t talk about our feelings because we’re afraid of what will come from it. So, be honest with yourself and identify whatever fears you have related to sharing your feelings. “My last tip for sharing your feelings is to examine your fears,” Ranger says. “What are you afraid will happen if you’re honest about your feelings? Do you fear being judged, ridiculed, abandoned, punished? Do you fear that expressing your feelings will start a cascade of events that you may not be able to get control of? Again, be really honest with yourself about what you fear will happen. Once you’re clear on that, consider the relative likelihood of these feared outcomes. This will not make the fear totally dissipate, but it will allow you to start a dialogue with yourself about what could potentially be lost and what’s to be gained, by being honest about your feelings.”
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