How to identify and express your feelings versus expressing opinions. Use these Feelings Worksheets!
It’s hard for me to put my feelings into words. — Joaquin Phoenix
Count me as right there with you, Joaquin! They say that under every emotion and feeling is a need. The problem is that some people (*raises hand*) might not be able to accurately identify a feeling. Instead, feelings are replaced with opinions, which usually set our audience on the defensive instead of creating a connection. We’ll get to the difference between the two shortly, but in today’s culture, in America at least, we’re only now starting to open up the dialogue around feelings and the ability to identify and express them as a strength instead of a weakness.
So, what exactly is a feeling!?
By dictionary: (n.) an emotional state or reaction; and by American writer and feminist Audre Lorde: “Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.”
And what about opinions?
By dictionary: (n.) a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge; and as the famous quote goes: “Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one and most of them stink!”
It makes sense then how views and judgments about a situation can be confused with feelings that result from a situation. And when used in conflict and communication in relationships, opinions lead to defensive responses while feelings lead to heart-to-heart connection. Feelings usually help diffuse conflict.
Feelings = Connection and Understanding
Opinions = Disconnection and Defensiveness
How does one tell if he’s stating a feeling or an opinion? Simple. If the statement “I feel….” is followed by an actual emotion and not another word, it’s a true feeling. On the flip side, if “I feel…” is followed by “like” or “that”, it’s an opinion.
Let’s look at this in action:
Scenario A: “I feel sad that you screened my call the other night because I was really looking forward to sharing some good news with you.”
Scenario B: “I feel like you didn’t want to talk to me when screened my call the other night and all I wanted to do was share some good news with you!”
Read those two statements again as if your partner or family member is saying them to you. And then visualize how you’d respond. Likely an “Oh no! I’m sorry you feel that way, I was just right in the middle of another call! Next time, I’ll shoot you a text to let you know why I have to decline the call, cool?” would be a natural outcome from Scenario A. And from Scenario B, most people would feel the need to justify and defend the attack.
So what do you do if you have trouble identifying your emotions?
Here are two cheat sheets for you to review with positive feelings and negative feelings. And if identifying and expressing emotions is particularly difficult for you, try the following exercise:
Pick 10 emotions that resonate for you from both the positive and negative sheets (20 in total). Then write “I feel [emotion] when ___________________.” This will work your Emotional Intelligence muscle and you’ll start to notice greater ease in expressing emotions as a result.
This post is from the Happy Partners Project — a mission-driven method for strengthening relationships and sustaining healthy habits that lead to increased overall relationship satisfaction. Its first product is a relationship check-in deck. Our belief is that happier partners build happier homes and ultimately have healthier communication, greater life satisfaction and increased emotional intelligence. For those couples who have children, we also believe that modeling healthy relationships will have legacy effects on the next generation of emotionally intelligent, well-adjusted humans.