Not everyone finds expressing their feelings easy or having it come naturally. While the stereotype is that men have the hardest time expressing their emotions, everyone at one time or another in their life may find it difficult to say how they feel.
Learning why you have trouble expressing your feelings can go a long way into changing that behavior. Saying how you feel is something you can learn how to do, just as readily as you can learn how to fix a faucet or mend a button on a shirt. Here are ten common reasons why people find it difficult to express their emotions to someone else.
1. Conflict Phobia
You are afraid of angry feelings or conflicts with people. You may believe that people with good relationships should not engage in verbal “fights” or intense arguments. In addition, you may believe that disclosing your thoughts and feelings to those you care about would result in their rejection of you. This is sometimes referred to as the “ostrich phenomenon” — burying your head in the sand instead of addressing relationship problems.
2. Emotional Perfectionism
You believe that you should not have feelings such as anger, jealousy, depression, or anxiety. You think you should always be rational and in control of your emotions. You are afraid of being exposed as weak and vulnerable. You believe that people will belittle or reject you if they know how you really feel.
3. Fear of Disapproval and Rejection
You are so terrified by rejection and ending up alone that you would rather swallow your feelings and put up with some abuse than take the chance of making anyone mad at you. You feel an excessive need to please people and to meet what you perceive to be their expectations. You are afraid that people would not like you if you expressed your thoughts and feelings.
4. Passive-Aggressive Behavior
You pout and hold your hurt or angry feelings inside instead of disclosing what you feel. You give others the silent treatment, which is inappropriate, and a common strategy to elicit feelings of guilt (on their part).
You are convinced that your relationship cannot improve no matter what you do. You may feel that you have already tried everything and nothing works. You may believe that your spouse (or partner) is just too stubborn and insensitive to be able to change. These positions represent a self-fulfilling prophecy–once you give up, an established position of hopelessness supports your predicted outcome.
6. Low Self-Esteem
You believe that you are not entitled to express your feelings or to ask others for what you want. You think you should always please other people and meet their expectations.
You believe that you have the right to say what you think and feel when you are upset. (Generally, feelings are best expressed during a calm and structured or semi-structured exchange.) Structuring your communication does not result in a perception that you are “faking” or attempting to inappropriately manipulate others.
8. Mind Reading
You believe that others should know how you feel and what you need (although you have not disclosed what you need). The position that individuals close to you can “divine” what you need provides an excuse to engage in non-disclosure, and thereafter, to feel resentful because people do not appear to care about your needs.
You are afraid to admit that you are angry, hurt, or resentful because you do not want to give anyone the satisfaction of knowing that her or his behavior is unacceptable. Taking pride in controlling your emotions and experiencing hurt or resentment does not support clear and functional communication.
10. Need to Solve Problems
When you have a conflict with an individual (i.e., your needs are not being met), avoiding the associated issues is not a functional solution. Disclosing your feelings and being willing to listen without judgment to the other is constructive.
Burns, D.D. (1989). The feeling good handbook. New York: William Morrow.