Talking about your feelings can be difficult. Learn how to open up and express your feelings effectively with these tips.
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Bottling up emotions can prevent us from processing them and make them harder to handle. But so many of us find it hard to talk about our feelings. We might overthink the process, worry about being judged, or struggle to find the right language.
There’s no right or wrong way to go about sharing how you feel, though.
You could speak to family and friends for support. Or you may find it easier to open up to a professional counsellor or coach. Maybe you have a colleague or line manager you can approach. Other sources of support may include a religious or spiritual community, teachers, or academic supervisors.
The important thing is that you feel safe and supported by the person you’re opening up to.
If you can't speak face to face, you could try talking on a video or phone call. Or maybe you prefer to write your feelings down in a letter, email, or online chat.
Writing your feelings down provides a space to reflect on, and shape, what you want to say. Writing a letter to yourself, or keeping a journal, are great ways to explore your feelings. They can also help you articulate them when you’re ready to share.
When you’re ready to talk, find somewhere comfortable, relatively quiet, and where you’re unlikely to be disturbed or interrupted.
If you’re planning to talk with a colleague, manager, or friend, consider telling them in advance that you want to have a personal and private conversation. They can then prepare to give you enough time and space. You may also want to discuss any concerns about confidentiality.
What do you want to say? How much do you want to share? Try not to overthink it, but have a vague idea of what you want to cover.
Give your plan some flexibility so that you can adapt to how the conversation naturally unfolds. It can be distressing if you have a rigid plan for the conversation and things don’t go how you wanted. The trick is to balance knowing what you’d like to say, and leaving room for the other person to speak.
To help you prepare, you could make some brief notes or write points down in a journal. You don’t have to share everything. You’re in control of what you share.
Opening phrases like, ‘I haven’t felt like myself lately,’ or ‘I’ve been struggling to cope lately,’ may provide a starting point.
Aim to use language and phrases that are comfortable and relevant to your experiences.
“My husband said he hadn't realised how far he'd strayed from his values and where he wants to be. We were able to discuss the need for peace and tranquillity and talk about some goals together.”
It can help someone to understand what you’re experiencing if you describe how your feelings are affecting your life, and what actions they’re prompting you to take (or stopping you from taking).
You might say, ‘I’ve been really anxious lately, and it’s making me withdraw’, or ‘I’m feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work I have on and it’s really affecting my sleep’. Making connections between how you feel and your behaviours helps people to understand your situation. It may even be something they can relate to.
You may also find it helpful to share how you feel about the emotions you’re experiencing. Perhaps you feel anxious about your low mood, or guilty when you feel happy. This gives the other person more information about what you’re going through and helps you to better understand what you’re experiencing.
Acknowledging how difficult it is for you to talk about your feelings gives the other person a chance to respond in a sensitive and helpful way.
You could say, ‘I find it hard to share what I feel, but I think it would be helpful…’. This might also give you some time and space to settle into the rhythm and tone of the conversation. If you start to feel uncomfortable, let the other person know and give them the chance to reply.
It can be useful for both of you to share some examples of what you’d find helpful. This might be listening. Or it could be something more practical, like if you’re talking to your manager, you could discuss potential changes to your job and responsibilities.
It may take several conversations to explain how you’re feeling. That’s ok.
The goal is to express your genuine experiences, and do so in a way that allows you (and whoever you’re talking to) to feel comfortable. While it isn’t your responsibility to manage how other people respond, it may be beneficial to both of you to allow time for them to process what you’ve told them and return to the conversation later.
Similarly, if the other person’s response upsets you, or they don’t seem willing or able to respond helpfully, the wisest and kindest thing you can do is talk to someone else.
It’s not your job to convince someone to help you. Nor do you have to justify how you feel. Maintaining your boundaries around difficult and sensitive conversations will empower you to support yourself safely.
When you first talk about your emotions, it’s easy to feel dependent on the people you share them with, especially if you only share your experiences with one person. The goal of disclosing your emotions is for you to manage your feelings so that you can better support yourself. That’s very different from depending solely on others.
Although friends and family can sometimes help you feel less anxious, it’s important that this process empowers you to work through your emotions independently. Talking about your emotions should be an experience that strengthens the openness and trust you have in relationships, without making others responsible for how you feel.
Whenever you feel uncomfortable, unsure, or guilty about sharing how you feel, ask yourself what you’d say to a loved one dealing with something similar. Apply the same kindness to yourself.
Our emotions affect so many things, from our ability to learn, to how creative we are, to whether we can develop and sustain healthy and reciprocal relationships. So it’s vital we find positive ways to explore and express them.
Talking about our feelings can make us feel vulnerable, but try to see it as investing in yourself. By sharing how you feel with someone supportive and trustworthy, you’ll learn ways to support yourself through life’s ups and downs.
Sharing how you feel with others also gives them permission to share how they’re feeling, too, allowing us each to contribute to a society where we can all be more emotionally authentic.
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