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Dr. Mayo – Expressing Emotions

Learning to do it in a clear, simple, and accurate way.


by Dr Nicolle Mayo - June 6, 2019

Articulating our emotions to others can be difficult, especially when it feels vulnerable and we fear critique, rejection, or don’t want to hurt others. Emotional expression, however, is vital to our relationships; therefore, learning to do it in a clear, simple, and accurate way promotes authenticity and reduces confusion.

Through this process, though, we have to remember that we can think about our emotions. In fact, we NEED to think about our emotions before conveying them to others. Sometimes our emotional intensity runs high, and when this is the case, expressing emotions can be detrimental to our relationships. This is where self-awareness and accuracy are key. Knowing exactly what we are feeling and why before we express it to others can help us sort through any issues or misconceptions first. It also familiarizes us without our emotional patterns.

Once we have recognized what emotion we are experiencing, and reduced its intensity (if that is an issue in the moment), then we can talk through it or about it with others. This is still easier said than done, even when we go through the first steps of self-awareness and recognition of the emotion. Because of this difficulty, many of us will not talk about our emotions at all, or revert to solely talking about emotions from behind a screen. E-mails, texts, etc. can be a starting point to express emotions, if it is too difficult at first, but a follow-up is definitely needed. Emotional expression involves body language, clarification, deeper explanation, and screen talk simply can’t fulfill all of these criteria. This is where A LOT of miscommunication can take place. Writing letters to others about our emotions can also help, but we need to revisit what the other person read that we wrote. Sometimes, though, writing a letter about our emotions to another person can be helpful without even giving it to them. This is when writing out our emotional experience is more beneficial to us, helps us figure out what we are feeling, and then we can decide whether or not it’s appropriate to discuss it with another person. Depending on the situation, our emotional experience may be based in past baggage, which may not necessarily be relevant to the other person. In this case, working this out by ourselves may be a better option.

If we want to practice expressing our emotions to others face to face, the first step requires us to be familiar with our emotions. The second step, then, necessitates that we are genuine with others that we know and trust. Starting with a simple phrase of, “I am feeling __________________” is a good conversation starter that will probably provoke additional questions from another person. We may get stuck during the conversation, and that is okay, especially when first practicing. Don’t be afraid to talk through this. For example, we may say, “This is really hard for me to explain.” Or “ I am having trouble deciding what or how to say what I am feeling.” It takes a lot to begin talking about our emotions. The more we practice, the more articulate we get, especially if we spend some time visiting with the emotions by ourselves before communicating them to others.

When we learn to articulate our emotions to others, it does not mean they will respond to us in a way we want or need. Sometimes we may feel invalidated, or shutdown by others who may not understand what we mean, or say. That is okay. The point, here, is that we learn to get comfortable with our emotions and expressing them. We can also learn to manage our reactions to others’ invalidations as part of this process. Stay tuned for the next feature on emotional strategy to find out more!


Videography: Ethan Chabala

Video Editing: Ethan Chabala

Writing: Dr Nicolle Mayo


Produced by Vogt Media

Funded by UPMC Susquehanna, Penn Wells Hotel / Lodge

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