“I” messages do two things: They help us communicate with others and they keep us from feeling like a victim. We have all heard of “I” messages and if you haven’t, this is what an “I” message is: I feel (feeling) when (this happens or event) because (why).
“I” messages break down barriers, allowing us to listen to each other. “You” messages put up walls because we are busy defending ourselves from attack. Isn’t it easier to hear someone say, “I feel worried when you don’t tell me where you are and when you are going to come home because I am afraid of what might happen. I’m afraid that you might be splat in the middle of some street somewhere” than to hear someone say, “Why didn’t you call? You make me so mad when you don’t call. How many times do I have to tell you to call me? You could be dead in some alley somewhere and I wouldn’t know about it.” Both are saying essentially the same thing but the first is easier to listen to.
General considerations when using “I” messages:
- Before you make an”I” statement answer the questions:
- What am I feeling?
- When am I feeling it?
- Why am I feeling it?
- Use feelings words such as uncomfortable, hurt, angry, or worried.
- Use of the word “like” also is acceptable, e.g., “I feel like a doormat when I mop the floor and then you come in with dirty shoes and make tracks because my effort to clean was wasted.”
- Be specific when describing when something happened. (Not when this place is a mess but rather when the towels are not picked up in the bathroom.)
- Be specific in describing why. (Not because I hate picking up after you rather because I am afraid I might slip on one of the towels and get hurt.)
Being specific helps the listener to understand exactly what you are upset about and why. If you are not specific enough, it is easier for the other person to deny that it happened or to question what you are talking about.
- Avoid “you” statements such as “I feel that you…,” or “You make me feel…”
Learning to use “I” messages can be like learning a foreign language. In foreign languages the grammar is different so you need to learn different sentence structures. As a result you are going to be stumbling over sentences for awhile. Practice helps.
Men vs. Women
Men generally find it easy to say why they are feeling the way they are but most have a very difficult time identifying what they are feeling. Women generally can go on and on about how they are feeling but have a hard time saying why they feel they way they do. In my experience both members of a couple either are not specific about when things happen or
are very detailed about events.
What Do “I” Messages Have To Do with Being a Victim?
“I” messages are about taking ownership for what you are feeling and thinking rather than blaming others for what you are feeling and thinking. No one makes you feel the way that you do and no one makes you think the way that you do. This is a tough concept for many people to understand. You choose how you feel based on what you think.
For example, “You make me mad when you leave the towels on the floor. How many times have I told you to pick them up?” If I said that, my thinking would likely be: “They are so thoughtless. I’m tired of yelling; nobody listens to me.” I would be feeling mad because of those thoughts. If I thought to myself instead: “I will teach my children how to pick up the towels on the floor by giving them a consequence and then following through with that or by reorganizing the bathroom routine so that it would be easier for them to keep the towels picked up,” I might still feel mad but mostly I would feel empowered and purposeful because I was doing something about it.
My “I” message might come out like this: “I am so afraid of slipping and falling when the towels are on the floor. I am really angry that they were left there. Would you kids like me to take away your favorite toy when you leave the towels on the floor or would you like to put them on these hooks that I have hung just for them? See, they each are a different color so you know which one is yours.” I would be in control of what happened rather than allowing my children to be in control.
Nobody makes anybody feel anything.
Another example is if my husband gave me flowers and I thought “Oh, how nice of him to give me flowers.” I likely would thank him for giving them to me because I would feel special. But if I thought instead, “What a waste of money. He could have bought me something for my kitchen instead,” then I would feel angry and would tell him not to do it again. Not only do “I” messages break down defenses but they also put us in control of our thoughts and feelings. When we are in control of those, we are no longer a victim.
Visit brighterdays4you.com for more information.
Thompson-Tormaschy, T. (2007). What’s the Big Deal about “I” Messages?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 22, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/2007/whats-the-big-deal-about-i-messages/
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.