Why is it so hard to express your feelings?

Dr. Bernard Golden, the founder of Anger Management Education and a practicing psychologist for nearly 40 years, is here to further explain the importance of doing so while guiding you through the process of identifying the cause of your difficulties and taking necessary steps toward opening up.

Difficulty Expressing Emotions? Identify the Cause

Golden says an important step in feeling more comfortable with your feelings and opening up about those feelings is identifying the cause of your difficulties. There are plenty of reasons that may explain why it’s so hard for you to open up, but there are a few specific possibilities:

1) You don’t know exactly how you feel. “For example, you may feel hurt, but it’s helpful to be more precise. Ask yourself if you’re experiencing feelings such as sadness, rejection, disrespect, or shame. Clarifying your feelings helps you connect with yourself, the values you have, and those you wish to live by. Similarly, stating your specific feelings increases the likelihood of being understood by others.”

2) You feel that you’re the only one who has such feelings. “Regardless of how different you feel than other people, remember that feelings are a part of being human. You are not alone.”

3) You have an inner dialogue that tells you it’s weak to express feelings. “Many of us have grown up with the message that expressing our feelings makes us weak—when, in fact, it empowers us. Those who suggested it is weak may have been fearful of accessing their own feelings.”

4) You may not be sure which feelings to trust. “Some of our feelings are influenced by our own knee-jerk conclusions or expectations regarding an event. So, yes, it may help to take a moment to pause before sharing all of your feelings.”

6 Tips for Opening Up

Once you’ve explored why you have such a hard time opening up, you can work on doing so more effectively and confidently. Here are a few tips, which will prove to help you feel more comfortable about expressing your feelings:

1) Be clear about your desire to share your feelings. Golden says you should ask yourself why you want to share your feelings in the first place. Identify the cause and then move forward with doing so: “It’s in your interest to be clear regarding your reasons and expectations whether sharing with a therapist, friend, or a loved one. Also, be aware if you are expecting the person to change just based on your sharing your feelings. Are you sharing to vent? Might you want advice? Or, are you sharing for self-exploration?”

2) Acknowledge sharing feelings as a form of intimacy. It will also help to acknowledge before going into the conversation with a partner that sharing feelings is intimate—therefore, the comfort we do or don’t feel in doing so, relies on past experiences. “Our openness to share feelings is very much influenced by our past history of trust—trust in others and trust in ourselves,” Golden explains. “As such, be aware of any tendency to avoid sharing feelings with your significant other. However, by not sharing important feelings, you will inevitably feel more isolated in the relationship.”

3) Start small. Golden also says it will pay off to start small. If you feel discomfort in discussing your feelings, don’t dive in head first—ease in, instead. “If you’ve had difficulty expressing feelings you may want to first experiment by sharing those that are least uncomfortable to share,” he says.

4) Begin with the people you trust most. Another effective tip is to start by talking to the people you trust most: a best friend, a sibling, a parent. “Begin by expressing your feelings with individuals whom you trust. Begin with someone who appears comfortable with their own feelings, rather than with someone who takes flight from them,” Golden says.

5) Be mindful of the experience. Also, be mindful of your experience so that you can make the next one even better. “Be aware of what you experience following your sharing,” Golden says. “What part felt comfortable? Did it make you more likely to share the next time? If not, what do you need to feel more comfortable in sharing your feelings?”

6) Remember: It’s harmful to keep feelings suppressed. And lastly, remember that keeping your feelings bottled up inside doesn’t do any good. “Acknowledging our feelings increases our capacity for empathy. It’s important to remember that suppressing, minimizing, or denying our feelings makes us less available to recognize them in others,” Golden explains. “By contrast, recognizing and acknowledging our pain is a form of empathy for our own suffering. This awareness heightens our capacity for empathy with others.”