There was that day at the beach. Sunny, windless, and clear. In my brain, I had built up some ungodly expectations about the amazing adventures we were going to have. I packed the kayak and everything. But my hard-working husband told me he planned to do nothing but rest his weary bones on the sand. He assured me we had talked about that earlier. I willed myself not to remember and began a nice simmering silent pout. Then the baby, being a baby, began throwing a monster sandy fit. While trying to contain him, a tiny stray hand, in mid-writhe, struck me across the nose. Immediately I boiled over. I left him under the shade tent with daddy, and stomped off through the sand.
My daughter ran up to me from her sandcastle building, “What’s wrong mommy?” she asked.
My mind crackled and buzzed. Without slowing my march, I shouted straight ahead of me, “Mommy feels ANGRY!”
I didn’t shout blaming my husband for being too tired, or the baby for pitching a fit. Though those things absolutely triggered me. I had a reaction much bigger than the circumstances. It was blown up from disappointment about my own unmet expectations for fun (a rare commodity for this former adventure guide amid the constant demands of mommyhood) that I placed entirely upon that day.
Weeks later, I recounted that tale to my counselor. She gave me a high five – right there in session. I laughed. That felt like my lowest moment on the beach: in utter disappointment and anger. But she remarked how that was a new tack for me: I was able to get right to what I felt there in the moment. It still didn’t feel good, but it expressed exactly what was going on for me.
At their core: “I feel” statements create a clarity of communication within fights and messes.
What does it look like?
As a tool, I think it looks like a nail placed carefully, and hammered straight. With the wind of conflict and hurts blowing about, it’s tricky not to glance off the head, bending the nail, the “truth” of your statement. It’s making the “connection” where you intend it to go: what you meant is what they heard. As any carpenter will tell you, it takes practice to hammer nails straight.
It looks and feels scary. It’s bringing your feelings, a personal part of you, into a problem. It looks honest. The very reason you’re having a problem is likely because somewhere along the line your feelings have been hurt. Talking about he way you feel is the best way to be heard.
What does it do?
It clears a space. Since the other person doesn’t have to defend themselves from an outright attack, they have the space to listen to you, and the opportunity to care about the problem you’re having. This is what you want in the first place, right?
It also puts matters in their rightful places. Your feelings are valid, and they are yours to own. The offense the other person committed is theirs to own. Nobody made anybody do or feel anything. Each person makes their own choices. When we navigate our conversations with this understanding, it clears the way for us to care about each other like adults. This kind of communication does not come naturally. It takes work and practice. Practice is hard, but not impossible. Above all, practicing “I feel” statements is worth it, for the health of your relationships. It is a mark of developing maturity and wisdom.
“I feel” statements are not the end of the conversation. They are the beginning. A relationship goes two ways. The goal of these statements are for you to be understood, and even cared-about, in your feelings. Then it’s your turn to listen for the other’s feelings. When two people feel cared-about within a conflict, the problem becomes much more manageable, as you both feel safe enough to work together toward a solution.
How do I use it?
Make it personal. Make it very personal. You know that careless person in your life? 10-to-1 they have no idea they hurt your feelings. The feedback you give them about how their actions affect others is a valuable gift, one which they can use to make healthy changes in their own life. What a positive spin to put on something as scary as confrontation, at least for this people-pleaser!
“Like apples of gold in settings of silver
Is a word spoken in right circumstances.” Proverbs 25:11
It’s using the right words, expressing my feelings about the situation, to make connections amid conflict.
What if I don’t use it?
Blame will rule the way you talk about your problems – which can get tricky. Sure that friend is inconsiderate when they show up 15 minutes late to everything. You are certain they know that lateness is a HUGE pet peeve of yours. So instead of talking about yourself and your hurt feelings, you focus a polite attack on them. THEY are the problem after all. You say something like, “Oh there you are! Looks like we can finally begin. You know, it’s not my place to say, but some of the girls are starting to talk…”
Blame makes the other person responsible for your feelings and your problems. But that person is not responsible for you. That’s your job. It’s your job to communicate yourself clearly, not pulling any punches or taking any weird twisty turns to “soften” the blow.
Another term for this is “co-dependency.” It’s where my well-being is entirely reliant upon your actions. In mommy terms, it’s this set up: “If my kids behave, I am a tranquil, happy mama. But if they screech and fight, if they disobey and talk back, I fly into a rage and stay angry and withdrawn until they get their acts together.” Ouch. Been there. The poor kids. It’s a lose-lose scenario for them, because acting perfectly to keep mommy together is way above their pay-grade. They’re just kids. And they need a mommy who owns her own emotions, so that she can see her children clearly enough to parent them appropriately and give them what they need: whether that be a hug, a punishment, a snack, or a nap. Kids act crazy for the weirdest reasons. Hanging my sense of well-being on their sweet company is like inviting a dance party atop an Ikea endtable: it’s bound to break, and someone’s going to get hurt.
Rather, my well-being must be reliant upon my Savior’s love for me: a love that is complete, whether I behave myself or not.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
I can bring my bad attitude and my cranky heart. I can bring my harsh words and my co-dependent tendencies all to Jesus. He will always say, “Yes, I died for all those sins. I took the punishment for all of that. I forgive you and love you. Now you can live free of shame and of blame. Now you can walk with me in my light and truth. You belong to me now, and as such, you have everything you need for life and godliness. Which means, you have it in you – through my power – to own your feelings, to have THOSE conversations that will nurture health and love in your relationships.”