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What’s the Big Deal about “I” Messages?

“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:

  1. Before you make an”I” statement answer the questions:
    • What am I feeling?
    • When am I feeling it?
    • Why am I feeling it?
  2. Use feelings words such as uncomfortable, hurt, angry, or worried.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.

  6. Avoid “you” statements such as “I feel that you…,” or “You make me feel…”

Practice, Practice

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.

What’s the Big Deal about “I” Messages?

Tracy Thompson-Tormaschy

APA Reference
Thompson-Tormaschy, T. (2020). What’s the Big Deal about “I” Messages?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.