Our handyman brought us a sweet potato pie for the holidays, like he does every year. One forkful of its decadence kept me “evening it out” until 1/4 of the pie had disappeared.
The savory sweetness wasn’t the only thing that drew my fork to that pie all night.
A difficult conversation with my son had left me with a lot of unexpressed FEELINGS. I had missed the critical part of our exchange where you tell the person how you feel.
Interpersonal effectiveness in a hard interaction ideally goes like this:*
I saved this graphic on my phone just in case something comes up
The easy to remember acronym is DEAR MAN.
Describe the current situation, sticking to the facts. Tell the person exactly what you are reacting to.
“You told me you would be home by dinner, but you didn’t get here until 11.”
Express your feelings and opinions about the situation. Don’t assuming the other person knows how you feel. Use phrases like “I want” instead of “you should,” “I don’t want,” instead of “you shouldn’t.”
“When you come home so late, I worry about you.”
Assert yourself by asking for what you want or saying no clearly. Do not assume others will figure out what you prefer. No one can read your mind.
“I would really like it if you would call me when you are going to be late.”
Reinforce (reward) the person in advance by explaining the positive effects of getting what you want or need. If necessary, clarify the negative consequences of not getting what you want or need.
“I would be so relieved, and a lot easier to live with if you do that.”
Mindfully stay focused on your goals. Maintain your position—don’t get off topic. Keep asking, saying no or expressing what you want until it is clearly received. Ignore attacks or attempts to change the subject.
“I would still like a call.”
Appear confident and effective. Make good eye contact, offering no apologies or retreating.
Negotiate. Be willing to give to get. Turn the problem over to the other person. Ask them for alternative solutions. Focus on what will work.
“What do you think we should do? I am not willing to just stop worrying about you.”
Even though I have practiced this communication style a lot, I’ve had difficulty remembering the feelings part.
Vulnerability doesn’t come easy for me in person. (Writing it all down and sending it to your inbox? Piece of cake. I am all dessert metaphors all the time.).
After the conversation in which I kept my feelings hidden: I ate. So. Much. PIE.
And this is the price I paid for stuffing my feelings:
A rough night’s sleep and a leaden morning meditation. It is usually an energy cleansing, vibration-raising moment that leaves me tingly and ready to enjoy the day. After pie night, however, I fell asleep and left late for my run.
Out on the road, my morning refresher felt more like a slog through molasses.
I headed out to school drop-off behind schedule, hit construction traffic and got yelled at by a stranger for attempting a questionable cut through.
Choosing not to express my feelings skipped the self-honoring part of asking for my needs to be met. It messed me up for a full day afterwards.
I also missed establishing a better connection with my son. When you tell people how you feel, you allow yourself to be SEEN by the other person. Instead, I had left an empty pothole inside to be filled with stuff that doesn’t belong in there. Like pie.
So. Next time, when I have a hard conversation, I will be more mindful of all the critical pieces and intentional about what I want out of it. I WILL SAY HOW I FEEL.
When you express your feelings to another person, you create a connection between the two of you. When you feel connected to others, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.
WRITING PROMPT: How are you at expressing your feelings? Do you notice what happens when you forgo the opportunity? How can you engage with others in a more self-honoring way?
*This is from the book and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy parenting skills class we are taking. This little graphic is very handy. If I can get the feelings part down, it will work better.
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