Feelings and thoughts and judgments. Oh my!

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Given that we are, by and large, social animals, we use language to express ourselves. But sometimes we choose words which drag a conversation down like lead weights!

Think about sentences that starts with the words: “I feel…”. A pretty common usage, for sure.
So what’s so important about the word “feel”?
Two things:
1. “Feel” has become a catch-all that includes emotions, of course, but also includes thoughts, observations, and judgements.
2. When it’s used incorrectly, we wind up with misunderstandings at best, and blow-out arguments at worst.

Let’s take a look at how this works in a conversation…

Chris: “Hey, Pat. Damn, you didn’t take out that trash?”
Pat: “I forgot, no biggie…why are you so steamed about the trash?”
Chris: “‘Cause I feel that YOU don’t feel anything I ask you to do is important enough to do, that’s why!”
Pat: “Seriously? Well, I’ll tell you what I feel…I feel like I’m the hired help around here half the time.”

OK, Pat clearly understood that Chris had a problem with the trash situation… in *some* way…that came through loud and clear. But what did Chris really say in response to Pat’s question?
Chris expressed a thought (“…I feel that…”) and a judgment (“…YOU don’t feel…”) but not a real expression of emotions at all!
Pat’s retort (“…I feel like…”) was supposedly a feeling (emotion) that really came across as an observation, but turned out to be a judgment, yet again.

So what did Chris really feel? What emotions were at play? I don’t know and, without a doubt, Pat didn’t know!
Chris or Pat might have been expressing frustration, sadness, or anger. Without further discussion (make that without a discussion), they can’t know.

Let’s start with the assumption that Chris and Pat *want* to communicate and *want* to live a good life together. If those conditions were untrue, no technique could help unravel this unless they dealt with those issues first – just wanted to get that disclaimer in there!

It’s a pretty safe bet that when the words “I feel” are followed by either “that” or “like”. the next part is *not* going to be a feeling, an emotion.
Contrast that to “I feel sad/unhappy/angry/anxious”. Those are emotions.
Even “I feel tired” or “I feel hungry” while not expressing emotion, do express a state that can be understood and addressed.
“I feel stupid” or “I feel ugly” simply beg for an explanation and are far deeper than the words imply.

So, what are Pat and Chris going to do? They do care about one another and they do want to communicate effectively.

There is a technique for effective communication called NVC – Nonviolent Communication. It was designed to allow people to express true emotions in a way that enables both the person presenting the information and the person receiving the information to remain present, on track, and respectful of both their own boundaries and the other person’s.

In my next post we’ll take a look at how this can work for both Pat and Chris (oh yeah…and for us too).

About zolfw

I am an avid trail runner and fitness enthusiast, an accomplished cook, a lover of cinema and literature (although I read everything from graphic novels to professional psychology tomes, neither extreme being literature in the strict sense) . I am a retired Health and Wellness Coach. I am a husband, father, grandfather, and uncle.
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2 Responses to Feelings and thoughts and judgments. Oh my!

  1. Sandy says:

    Hi Zo,

    Thanks for your interesting post on communication. Looking forward to your follow-up next week.


  2. And don’t even get me started on the prevalence of “You make me feel…”


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