How To Understand and Communicate Your Feelings

Feelings can be elusive or overwhelming, so knowing what you feel is not always easy. When you understand your own thoughts, feelings, and reactions will improve your relationships, because understanding yourself makes it easier to communicate with others. Seek to understand what you feel, how much of it is related to the present moment, current events, your physical state, and how much is related to your personal history. Caring about what you feel and knowing more about it actually makes you more compassionate, empathetic, and caring toward others. Awareness and understanding of your own feelings also means you’ll be much more intelligent about others’ feelings-that is, you’ll have the wisdom of your own feelings to help you sort out when others’ feelings are real or deceptive.

If you’re upset, confused or feeling emotionally overwhelmed, knowing how to sort out your feelings can help you figure out what’s going on inside and help you get what you want and need.

Notice your feelings. Are you anxious, tense, or worried about something? Are you calm? Focus on your breathing and feel the body sensations that go with it-the cool air coming in, the rhythm of your lungs expanding and deflating. If you pay attention to your breathing for a little while, it helps you be more aware of your feelings. Are you reacting emotionally to your surroundings? If it’s noisy, are you annoyed? If it’s too quiet, are you uneasy? If you’re warm and comfy, do you feel peaceful and soothed? It’s usually easier to feel feelings if you give them a little time to rise to the surface and if you’re in a place where you won’t be disturbed, but they are moving through you every moment of every day. When you take the time to notice them, you can often use that information to help you handle situations wisely.

Whether you realize it or not, there is a lot of chatter going on in your mind. At this moment, you may be arguing or agreeing with what you’re reading, or commenting on whether you think this is helpful, or criticizing or worrying about whether you’re doing it correctly. Bits of songs, movie or TV dialogue, or conversations from other times and places may be running by like a background soundtrack. Sit and listen for a few moments, and try to identify each thought that goes by. With a little practice, you’ll become aware of a “soundtrack” composed of memories, thoughts, criticisms, background noise, TV, music, movies, the news, and other noises you’ve recorded in your lifetime.

If you practice this awareness of your inner thoughts and feelings, you’ll soon be able to quickly sort out what’s going on with you, and, if you do it repeatedly over several days, you’ll find that your self-knowledge grows rapidly. After a few weeks, you’ll be much more aware of your own body, your feelings, and your thoughts. Once aware, you have a chance to manage and/or change them to be more effective for you. Accurate awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and actions is the key to understanding and communicating them.

Being curious about your emotions and thoughts will lead you to understanding and to explanations of things that, until now, have been mystifying. What’s underneath your depression, your anxiety, your impulsive behaviors, your out-of-control emotions? Getting interested in what you think and feel, as you would be in what is going on with your friend, your spouse, or your children will help you improve your relationship with yourself and with others.

Your own emotions tell you what others’ feelings are. We can sense how someone feels without being told. By comparing what our other senses tell us about others (smiles, frowns, tension, “prickly vibes,” relaxed breathing, and an indescribable type of data we call empathy) with what we know about our own inner feelings, we draw conclusions about what other people are feeling. Without being told, we know when someone is angry, when someone has strong positive or negative feelings toward us, and when we are loved. Understanding gives us something to communicate.

Here’s how to open up communication with another person:

1. Don’t talk, listen. Some people are less verbal than others, and when we get nervous, we verbal ones tend to talk and talk. Resist the impulse to take over the conversation, and give the other person time to talk.

2. Don’t be worried about a little silence: give the other person a chance fill it.

3. When you do talk, end your (brief) story with a question: “What do you think? or Was it like that for you?” That invites the other person to answer.

4. Treat the conversation like a tennis match: say something, then give the other person a chance to respond… take your time.

5. No complaining count your blessings, and say positive things. Everyone responds better to that.

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