“You should say what you think and say what you feel, and say what you feel first.” – Vanessa German, Love Front Porch
We teach our kids to be rational and to think for themselves.
We insist that the best way to find answers to complicated problems is to think outside the box.
But I think that a more powerful approach is to say what you are feeling.
I learned in marriage counseling to communicate and solve conflicts by sharing feelings. It was hard at first. Actually, it’s still hard.
It’s hard to say what I’m feeling because it exposes my most vulnerable parts – both to my husband and to myself. It cuts right to the heart of where I’m really hurting and makes it possible for someone to really hurt me even more.
But that is almost never what happens when you say what you’re feeling.
Saying what you feel is like a super weapon that instantly disarms even the most hardened defenses. It usually melts people who care about you, people who know you, and even people who just sort of recognize their own humanity in yours.
(WARNING: Internet trolls do seem to be immune to this super weapon. Sorry.)
Of course, sometimes you encounter someone who works really hard not to hear you when you say what you’re feeling.
I’ve done that. I still do it on occasion.
Empathy can be scary. I know that empathy – which is really just trying to understand what someone else is feeling – has the power to disarm me, and so there are times when I try to avoid it because I very much do not want to lose.
When I first started practicing empathy in marriage counseling, I was afraid that hearing how Jared felt would force me to admit that he was right. I was afraid I would be left feeling wrong and guilty, and I hate both of those things when they are inside me.
But that’s almost never what happens when you try to understand what someone else is feeling.
Instead, the concept of right and wrong becomes irrelevant, and the common ground that didn’t exist before becomes completely obvious.
We’re all just trying to achieve a feeling. To feel safe. To feel loved. To feel heard. To feel beautiful.
That’s our common ground.
It’s amazing how often what seem like thinking disagreements are really misunderstandings about feelings.
It can be hard to say what we feel because we don’t have the practice or the language for it.
I would say, “I feel like…” and our counselor would say, “‘I feel like’ means ‘I think’.” I would listen again to my own words and realize that she was right, and then I would try to rearrange the words to fit the exercise and find that I couldn’t without just admitting how I felt.
When you say how you feel, you are not only vulnerable but more accountable. What you feel is about you, and not what I have done or might do or could be feeling. It shines a light on what’s really motivating you, and that is empowering.
What you think matters, too. What you think reveals the stories you make up and the ideas you have for the world. I’m not suggesting you stop thinking.
But I think that Vanessa is right.
Say what you feel first.