Welcome back to my review of The Power of Two by Susan Heitler. In our last post we covered the first basic of cooperative dialogue, say it. We discussed concepts including voicelessness, hinting, hoping, wishing, and guessing. I then introduced ‘I statements’ which we will continue doing in our discussion today. Today we will be diving into the second basic of collaborative dialogue, Verbalize Feelings.
-Courtney, Graduate Intern
Before we start to discuss how to verbalize our feelings in an appropriate way, I want to look at the definition of emotions first. According to the book “Discovering Psychology” by Don Hockenbury and Sandra E. Hockenbury (2007), “an emotion is a complex psychological state that involves three distinct components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioral or expressive response”. In other words, there is an activating event or situation, which leads to changes in our body sensations, and then we make a decision on how to respond to both. That decision is our emotion, or how we feel about both the event and the bodily symptoms that accompany it. This is only one of many definitions of emotions but for the purpose of our discussion I will be referring to this one. Communicating our emotions to our partners is a much more complex experience than what we might initially assume. When I feel happy for example, I physically feel more energetic and light as opposed to when I feel anxious I feel tense and shaky. If I want to effectively communicate to my partner what is coming up for me in a moment or what did come up for me, it would be to my own benefit to identify what my entire experience was. The combination of physical symptoms, both positive and negative, and a psychological state may support or inhibit one from being able to effectively verbalize their emotions. Emotional awareness is developed over time and in doing so, can increase one’s chance of having their needs met and concerns addressed by both the individual and their partner.
One final differentiation before our discussion on verbalizing emotions is the difference between emotions and moods. In the simplest of terms emotions are “hot” more acute and short term experiences in response to a situation and physical symptoms whereas a mood is mild and longer lasting than an emotion (Beedie & Lane, 2005). For example, my mood may be annoyed and I also experience the emotion of happiness after hearing a joke but quickly return to annoyed. Think of your mood as your general feeling of your day and your emotion how you feel in just the current moment.
Heitler works from the idea that without feelings we wouldn’t be aware of danger, when problems need to be addressed, or something gratifying has happened. Given their importance, those feelings need to be labeled in order to talk about them and manage them. The more we can do this the more intimate we can be with our partner. When we label and then verbalize our emotions we are more successful in communicating the true emotion and its intensity versus when we act on them, which we will discuss more soon. When labeling our emotions, Heitler says that we start with a single word. For example, sad, happy, discouraged, confident and joyful are examples of labeling our emotion. In order to communicate this label we return to our “I” statements. (For your review check out our last blog Say It!).
Using “I” statements to label feelings:
I feel nervous when I see our credit card statements are so high.
I feel excited when we have a date night planned.
I am worried that you’re going to get hurt when you drive home late at night.
The alternative to verbalizing our emotions is to act them out. When we act out in response to our emotions we tend to exaggerate or dramatize the emotions. Talking out our emotions allows a level of processing in which we can unlock understanding for both ourselves and for our partner. The use of “I feel” statements according to Heitler (1997), “opens up the possibility of problem solving…and launches a discussion that results in improving the situation”. When using these statements and then continuing the conversation around your emotion, it is important to be mindful of how your emotions are affecting you within the conversation. Meaning, we want to ensure we are using gentle language rather than emotional overkill in response to growing frustration or pain. Emotional overkill may come in the form of exaggerations, catastrophic thinking, and blaming statements. The most common blaming statements are “you make me feel” statements. Heitler points out that there are no findings to support that anyone can actually make someone feel a certain way. Therefore, we must own our emotions and responses. Taking ownership of our emotions can be empowering and increase our self-awareness and later confidence. According to Heitler our self-confidence plays a role into how we respond and thus creates an image of how someone views more than just their partner, but themselves and the world around them.
Heavy stuff this time right? Well, emotions aren’t easy to acknowledge, experience, nonetheless express to others. Working on emotional identification and verbalization is important to do whether you are involved with a partner or not. Earlier I said that expressing our emotions allows us to have our needs met and this is true across any and all contexts and relationships. Emotions are universal, how one is affected by them is completely unique. We need to speak our mind and share with others what is coming up for us otherwise we will continue on the same hamster wheel of concerns wondering why we can’t get off.
Follow along as we continue to dive into The Power of Two and its use with married couples, dating relationships, and single people. Bear in mind all information provided comes as a review of Heitler’s book and from a clinician actively learning and utilizing the tools.
Hockenbury, D. and Hockenbury, S.E. (2007). Discovering Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers.
Beedie C, Terry P, Lane A. Distinctions between emotion and mood. Cognition & Emotion. 2005; 19(6):847-878. doi:10.1080/02699930541000057