Express Negative Emotions Maturely

There’s a very successful formula for expressing negative emotions maturely that consists of four parts:

1 – When you (do a specific behavior)
2 – I feel (emotion words)
3 – And I wish you would (do this specific alternative behavior) instead
4 – And if you can’t, or if you won’t, I’ll need to (do this specific self-soothing behavior) to soothe, comfort, or protect myself next time it happens.

Sounds simple, right?

Well, there’s lots of pitfalls.

First, it’s very important that you describe a specific behavior that the other person does, not attack their character, not make guesses about what they’re thinking or feeling, and not insult or demean them. Just state the behavior simply.

Next, it’s important to use specific emotion words like angry, sad, worried, terrified, or betrayed, and use as many of them as you need to fully describe your emotional experience.

Third, it is important to suggest specific alternatives to the person, not just say, “I wish you would stop that” or “I wish you would do something else.” If they knew a more appropriate behavior, they might do it, so chances are that they just don’t know another one, so you need to suggest one or more that would be acceptable to you.

Finally, you need to leave the other person an “out” by letting them know that you understand that they might be unwilling or unable to change that behavior and that you’re going to take adult responsibility of your own emotions and take care of yourself if it should happen again. This is not a place to threaten punishments, revenge, or humiliation, but to simply state what you are going to need to do to take care of yourself if this should continue to happen.

It’s not easy to learn, but it really works, so if you can discipline yourself to practice, you will get outrageous results.

Comments are closed.