An undeveloped ability to communicate feelings is to blame for many undesirable behaviors in parent–child relationships, as well as a child’s interaction with friends and classmates. Problems such as bullying behavior, control issues, verbal and emotional abuse, and dishonesty in relationship matters can all be blamed on difficulty in communicating feelings. But once the problem is identified, there is a solution—make the language of emotions as common in your household as your native tongue. There is a learning process, but once you recognize the special vocabulary of feelings, you will discover a path to resolution, truth, and growth.
While visiting the village of my father’s birthplace in Greece, I often felt frustrated because I didn’t have command of the Greek language to communicate feelings. While living in his home and attempting to become more fluent in his native tongue and way of life, my heart had opened. I had so many profound thoughts and feelings to share with my Greek family; however, they were accompanied with exasperation and exhaustion from not knowing the language or how to string the words together fluently. Mastering the language to communicate feelings can present the same frustrations. When exposed at an early age, it is natural and effortless to learn a second language. As we age, it can become a more challenging process. Any age is appropriate for learning the second language of feelings because it is essential to our individual and collective growth. As I observe the distressing events in personal lives and society, many of them by today’s youth, I realize that the adage that our feelings should be kept to ourselves no longer applies. I wonder about the feelings behind many of the acts and bullying behavior. What is being expressed through these actions rather than through communicating feelings? Just imagine what feelings are acting as a pilot light behind the flame of bullying behavior, prejudice, control issues, dishonesty in relationship problems, murder, divorce, verbal and emotional abuse, anger, alcohol and substance abuse, or theft. What if the underlying feelings in every action were effectively verbalized, rather than stifled until they were acted on inappropriately?
Many disastrous choices can be attributed to a general lack of knowledge about the foreign language of feelings. How we each act on our feelings is a personal choice, but the frustration of not knowing the words to identify feelings, nor the ability to string them together and communicate them well becomes a control issue and can result in unnecessary explosive and self-defeating behaviors and unhappiness. War, addiction, negativity, disease, and violence are just a few of the potential outcomes of our hidden feelings. These are results of the negative programming of subconscious beliefs that are initiated during the early years of life. Examples of such beliefs are:
- I’m not good enough for the A-team.
- It’s not safe to express my feelings.
- The world is a scary place.
- What I have to say isn’t important.
- I can numb my sadness with drugs.
A key to unlocking destructive and hidden mindsets is communication. I had a young female client who was challenged with meeting her father’s high expectations. As the adult child of divorced parents, she recognized that she was deprived of her choice when they imposed their selection in her summertime and other activities. As a result of feeling as if she had no control in her life, she chose to act out through self-mutilation by cutting herself, a direct infliction of pain. When asked how she would like her father to ideally respond, she said, “[As] understanding, patient, accepting, allowing, open-minded, trusting, compassionate.” She added, “Most of all, I wish he would just listen to me. I’d be such a different person if he weren’t so controlling. The more he tries to push me down, the more I resist.” In her maturity, she reasoned that maybe he was controlled as a child, and that it’s sad that he has never shared his heart with her or allowed himself to be vulnerable. And he didn’t know how to stop bullying his family.
Feelings communication may sound like a simple solution, and that’s because it is! How many of us communicate how we truly feel? How many children are taught the basic principles of feelings communication in school? How many adults feel confident communicating with this kind of clarity? If we look at the state of the world, the answer becomes obvious—too few. However, it is never too late. We can begin right now.
If we want to give our children tools that will benefit them for the rest of their lives and protect them from verbal and emotional abuse, let’s give them the skills and encouragement to communicate their feelings. Following are a few easy-to-implement steps to get the process started:
Openly discuss how you feel with your children. If you’re upset, talk about that feeling. If you’re experiencing happiness, share it!
Encourage children to talk about how they are feeling from an early age. Is your child acting out and exhibiting bullying behavior? Chances are he is trying in the only way he knows how to communicate his feelings. Most likely, she doesn’t have the reservoir of feelings vocabulary to share the truth of her heart. Recognize misbehavior as an inability to communicate in a more effective way and your child will stop bullying now.
Teach children a feelings vocabulary, and encourage them to use it throughout life. Often in talking with children, they will convey frustration in not knowing what they feel or how to say it. One suggestion is to talk about different words that convey feelings.
When your child is angry, encourage exploration of the feeling. Talk about what triggered the anger. Examine the possibility that it might also be frustration, fear, irritation, or even sadness. If it is anger, that’s okay too. The important thing is to talk about the feeling and discover ways to cope with it if it is causing problems in his or her life. Also consider a way for both you and your child to remember that despite these difficult feelings, the root of your relationship is love for each other. This positive awareness will motivate your commitment to learning the language of feelings and make the process more joyful.
These are just a few methods to learn the language of communicating feelings. Having successfully learned this language and put it into practice, we’ll begin to see our children and ourselves behave more openly, more ethically, more personally accountable, and more capable of realizing dreams and goals. The benefits are clear and once learned, these skills will become a second language that will help us feel at home wherever we travel.