I hate and avoid difficult conversations. So I read “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” hoping to discover a better way to handle them. I found the book frustrating — not because it’s bad, but because it’s so good.
The advice is annoying because it’s simple and straightforward. I’d like to think relationships are complex and that’s why they get messy. But the ground rules for relationships aren’t complicated at all. We learn them in preschool, and we forget how to follow them as adults.
For instance, what should you do if someone hurts your feelings? The answer is simple: Talk to them about how you’re feeling. That’s what my parents taught me to do. But for whatever reason, as an adult, I don’t want to walk up to somebody and say, “Hey, you hurt my feelings.” And I don’t think I’m the only one who has a hard time with that.
I internalize anger and frustration. Instead of talking about it, I abandon my anger at my expense or I abandon the relationship entirely. Either I lose self-esteem or I lose a friend because I’m not willing to express my emotions.
When you stop sticking up for yourself, you stop believing your feelings matter. If they stop mattering to you, then they stop mattering to everyone. So when people hurt you, you feel angry but keep it to yourself, and the cycle simply repeats.
The key to ending this cycle is getting the anger off your chest but without placing blame or making another person feel guilty for it. Just admit, “I feel angry, and I don’t won’t to.” Some people might get defensive, but I’ve found that friends and family are usually sad to hear I feel angry and they’ll attempt to patch things up as quickly as possible.
Guilt is on the opposite side of the anger equation. When someone else is angry with me or I feel like they have good reason to be, I feel guilty.
Never admit guilt. As soon as you admit guilt or wrongdoing, you’re liable. This might be good legal advice, but it’s awful relationship advice. If you’re feeling guilty for any reason, don’t bottle it up. Otherwise, it’ll eat away at you. If you’re feeling guilty or you’ve wronged someone, admit it and try to fix the damage that’s been done.
I had a pornography problem in college, and the guilt I felt was unbearable. The breaking point was when my girlfriend told me she loved me. I couldn’t stand it anymore. So I confessed my sin to my girlfriend.
She gave me some great advice. She told me to apologize to everyone I felt I was hurting with this secret sin. She told me to keep talking about my guilt until there was no guilt left to talk about. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. But after admitting my guilt to everyone, I was finally free from it.
Admitting feelings of guilt is still hard for me, but now I know it’s better to confess it. Otherwise, it just keeps piling up and weighs me down emotionally and spiritually.
Feeling depressed and lonely
Depression is the loneliest feeling in the world. Every time I’m depressed, it feels like I’m the only person in the world as sad as I am. There are mornings when I don’t want to get out of bed because as soon as I do, a world of happy people is waiting for me. And I think they won’t understand what I’m going through.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling depressed. We live in a depressing world where heartbreaking situations happen every day. But only a few people will admit their sadness and talk about it.
So the next time you feel depressed, spill the beans. Whether it’s clinical depression and you need the help of a therapist or you’re having an off day and need the shoulder of a friend, talk about your emotional lows. You’d be surprised how many people have felt or do feel the same way. Even if they can’t exactly relate to you, friends can at least listen and provide godly encouragement. Depression isn’t a battle you have to fight alone.
It’s not selfish to share our feelings. Whether it’s guilt, depression, loneliness or anger, I’m learning that talking about my emotions isn’t about me; it’s about relationships. It’s about sharing more of myself with the people I love.
Friends and family can tell when we’re not talking about how we feel, and it can communicate that we don’t trust them with an important part of who we are.
As the authors of “Difficult Conversations” put it: “You deprive your colleagues, friends, and family members of the opportunity to learn and to change in response to your feelings … By keeping your feelings out of the relationship you are keeping an important part of yourself out of the relationship.”
So let’s talk about our feelings — for the sake of our relationships.
Copyright 2018 Matt Stickel. All rights reserved.