If you’d have asked high school me to rate the difficulty level of telling someone how I feel, I’d probably have put it on par with taking a statistics exam. It’s scary, you never feel fully prepared, and worst of all, you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. The good news? Ultimately, telling someone how you feel doesn’t have to be so dreadful.
Most people — no matter how self-assured they are — struggle with this incredibly vulnerable act at some point in time. And there are a number of reasons why it can feel challenging. According to Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent relationship therapist in Los Angeles, it often comes down to emotional safety.
“You really have to look at a primary fear that the majority of people have — which is being abandoned,” Brown tells Elite Daily. “This can come in the form of rejection, ridicule, judgment, being shamed, or flat out physically abandoned. This fear can sometimes overwhelm our need to reveal our inner world to someone. It can be hard to open up if we aren’t sure if it is safe to do so.”
Nicole Richardson, licensed marriage and family therapist, concurs.
“I have yet to meet an adult who does not fear rejection on some level. And of course, rejection is scary!” she adds.
Now that you know you’re not alone, rest assured that there are plenty of tactics you can try to feel more confident in sharing your true feelings. Here are a few tried-and-true strategies that experts suggest giving a shot.
Time it right.
When you’ve made the decision to reveal your true feelings to someone, you’ll feel more comfortable if you figure out the right time rather than just randomly blurting it out.
“Choose your moments,” explains Dr. Brown. “For example, if you are feeling particularly vulnerable and fragile, I would probably wait.”
Not only should you take into account when the time feels right for you, but you should also consider the other person you’re sharing with. Ideally, you want to be sure that they’re not distracted or tired. If you’re not sure when will work for them, Dr. Brown recommends simply asking: “When’s a good time for us to talk?” That way you don’t have to try and analyze their mood to figure out the ideal time.
Read the room.
It’s crucial to know your audience when you’re having a vulnerable conversation. The more you know about them, the easier it will be to create a feeling of safety in revealing how you feel.
Dr. Brown recommends asking: Has this person proven themselves to be patient and kind, or self-centered and dismissive?
“This will likely give you some insight into the types of people that are safe to open up to,” he adds.
However, there will be times when it’s not a best friend or long-term boyfriend you’re opening up to. If you don’t know the person that well, Dr. Brown advises erring on the side of optimism.
“Try to assume the other person’s good will,” he says. “Odds are, they’re not out to get you.”
Remembering other times when you’ve been honest with this person and they reacted favorably will likely give you some reassurance when having this challenging conversation.
Monitor your tone.
When we are dreading a particular conversation we feel fearful of, it may accidentally turn into a confrontation when we finally work up the courage to reveal our true feelings. Dr. Brown advises being careful of this, and making an effort to monitor you tone. This is particularly important when you’re revealing any negative feelings, such as feeling hurt, betrayed, angry, or insecure.
“Starting off by blaming them is probably not going to make for a good experience for either of you,” says Dr. Brown. “You want to convey your feelings without blaming them. The kinder your tone, the better chance you will have of being heard, empathized with, and understood.”
It’s always helpful to come from an “I,” place, rather than “you.” In other words, start by saying how you feel, as opposed to accusing the other person of making you feel a particular way. That way, they’re less likely to get defensive. If it helps, you might want to practice what you’re going to say ahead of time. Once you’ve expressed your feelings out loud by yourself, you can fine-tune your tone so that the person you’re talking to is more likely to be receptive to hearing your side.
According to Richardson, when we have feelings for someone, we often accidentally give them the power of validating or invalidating us — as if our value increases if they validate our feelings, and decreases if they don’t.
“Be careful not to give away your power,” she warns. “No one has the power to hurt us unless we give it to them. Brené Brown talks a lot about how when we are anxious or afraid, we begin to tell ourselves stories and typically those stories are negative. We often use these stories to keep us small, afraid and stuck. The truth is, the only real barrier to having the life that you want is you. If you are willing to get out of your own way by loving and supporting yourself, you can step into the person and the life you were meant to live.”
Work on building yourself up in any way you can, whether that means taking strength training classes at the gym, journaling about your daily accomplishments, or setting reminders on your phone with affirmations of self-love. The more you recognize your own self-worth and power, the less likely you are to allow yourself to be crushed when you reveal your feelings and don’t receive the response you desired.
The reality is, you may not become comfortable expressing your feelings overnight — which is why Dr. Brown stresses the importance of being patient with yourself.
“Accept that you may very well not feel comfortable nor confident when initially sharing your feelings,” he explains. “This is completely normal. We don’t really develop confidence by holding our feelings in — we develop confidence by opening up to others.”
Experts agree it’s well worth it to overcome your fear of expressing your feelings. For one, Dr. Brown asserts that this is the best way to establish trust in someone.
“The ability to trust someone allows us to be vulnerable with them,” he says. “And when we are vulnerable, we dramatically increase our chances of knowing just how much we can connect with someone.”
Richardson also emphasizes that in order to live your most authentic life, it’s crucial to let your feelings be known.
“If you have a kind, loving or nice thing to share and you don’t, it feeds the fear that you are not good enough,” she adds. If you share your goodness, it has the opportunity to grow and spread. Even if you do not get your desired outcome, you have stepped more fully into who you truly are and have honored yourself. There is no better gift we can give ourselves and nothing more difficult in life than to live authentically.”
Remember: The rewards to speaking from your heart can far outweigh the risks. Expressing your feelings is nothing short of bestowing a gift upon someone — it shows them that you trust them, and it allows them the opportunity to be honest with you in return. Who knows? They just might feel the same way. The point is, the kind of person you want to keep in your life will want to know how you feel, and appreciate your honesty and bravery. If you can let your guard down and be vulnerable with them, they’re far more likely to do the same.
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