Getting in touch with our feelings and sharing "I-statements" is a known strategy for communicating nonviolently and bettering our chances of being heard.
So why isn't it working?!
Faux-Feelings are Actually Thoughts
"I feel like you're ignoring me."
"I'm feeling attacked!"
"This feels so disrespectful."
"I feel like you're forcing me!"
While these I-statements all seem to focus on what you are feeling, they are in fact making an interpretation about the other person's actions and intent.
For example, it may or may not be true that someone is ignoring you, but you do not feel ignored — you are actually interpreting that they are ignoring you.
Just for a moment, recall a time when someone seemed to be ignoring you. Tune into your body and find what this feeling of "ignored" is like.
I assume you'll find that there isn't a feeling of ignored, but rather there are one or more feelings making this unique soup of emotion, depending upon the situation. Perhaps you feel angry, impatient, frustrated, sad, lonely, or some combination.
You think they are doing something to you, which is causing you to feel negative emotions.
It's More Than Semantics
While this may seem like an unimportant semantic, it actually can put a large kink in your communication flow.
Feelings are an embodied experience, like sensations. Sharing an emotion or sensation with someone is to name a truth of your experience.
Real feelings can't be argued with.
You may not like that I'm sad, angry, frustrated, or embarrassed, but you can't deny that it's happening for me. It's a fact, like giving a weather report: it's foggy, raining, cloudy, a thunderstorm.
In contrast, judgments and interpretations are stories and can have many narratives. To say that I'm feeling attacked is to say that you are attacking me, that you mean to harm me, that you are doing something wrong.
It's a Setup for Struggle
Thinking that your judgment is your feeling sets you up for struggle.
First, it puts you in a victim framework — that someone is doing something to you that is out of your control. (Another term for faux-feelings is victim verb!)
This framework keeps the other person and their actions as the focus, rather than sinking deeper into what is going on for you — what you're really feeling and what you're needing — which is where you'll find your guide to solutions.
Second, it puts the other person on the defense, as they want to prove your judgment wrong and not accept the blame, whether or not your interpretation of their actions is accurate.
While to you they seem to be ignoring you, to them they are overwhelmed with a deadline at work and haven't been able to respond yet.
How to Identify Faux-Feelings
Here are some key identifiers to help you recognize when you or someone else is claiming a judgment, interpretation, or request as a feeling.
I feel followed by what we think another is doing to us (I feel ignored.)
I feel followed by that, like, as if (I feel that you should apologize.)
I feel followed by names or nouns referring to people (I feel my mom is passive aggressive.)
I feel followed by descriptions of what we think (I feel inadequate as an artist.)
You Can Use Faux-Feelings for Good
Faux-feelings, like all judgments and interpretations, can be used to help or hinder our communication and connection with another.
Judgments are trailheads into our inner emotional wilderness. If you notice them and follow their thread with curiosity, they lead you to what they are trying to communicate — your real feelings, needs, and values.
Here are some example translations of faux-feelings:
I'm feeling unappreciated. —> I feel sad and frustrated because I want acknowledgment for what I've done.
This feels so disrespectful. —> I feel angry and shocked because I want the opportunity to express my concerns and be heard.
I feel like you're forcing me. —> I feel anxious and confused because I'm not seeing what my choices are.
These are true I-statements because they are centered around my actual feelings and experience rather than an interpretation of another's.
Stay Centered in Your Truth
Of course, what they've done or said still matters.
Their behavior contributed to or reduced the level my my needs were met, which lead to my emotional response, which led to my judgment about them.
However, the judgment about them (or myself, if this is a self-judgment) may not be true. My needs and emotional response is about me and is true.
Focusing on what is true creates a more solid foundation to build upon.
By being clear with what is yours, you are inviting them to be clear with what is theirs. This makes a bridge instead of a wall.
Practice noticing your interpretations and judgments in your mind before you communicate them.
Imagine your judgments living at a superficial level (I imagine in my head), your emotions at a deeper level (I imagine in my chest), and your needs/values at a core level (I imagine in my hips).
When noticing a judgment, let your attention sink down from your head and into your chest to find the embodied emotions. Then let your attention sink down from your chest and into your hips (or wherever works for you) to find the unmet needs.
Teri Lynn Grunthaner is an Expressive Therapist in Lawrence, Kansas. She works with people who long to co-create a more beautiful world—where respect, compassion, and authenticity hold the center our lives revolve around. Visit her at www.radical-hearts.com.