In past articles, we have looked at the communication glitches that occur in all kinds of personal and professional relationships. The phenomenon of projection was discussed as one way you can find yourself in conflict with another person, (see Negative Impact). When you project onto people or situations, your perception of reality becomes distorted. This can cause unexpected communication problems. These conflicts can also occur when you don’t express your emotional needs.
Unexpressed emotional needs are like a stream that gets blocked by fallen branches forming a dam. Eventually the water behind the dam finds its way over or around the blockage and the stream continues on. The same holds true for unexpressed emotions. When you don’t acknowledge what you need, either to yourself or to another person, the emotions don’t go away. They either get expressed indirectly or can show up in your body as physical symptoms: headaches, ulcers, teeth-grinding, etc. These painful physical signals show the effort that the body goes through to manage unexpressed feelings. I do want to clarify that many physical symptoms are not emotionally based, and all should be discussed with your medical or wellness practitioner.
In my experience as a therapist, unexpressed emotions continue to knock at the door of our conscious minds, waiting to be released. Maybe your needs to have more rest, more fun or to get support are being ignored. Perhaps the connection to these emotional needs has become faint and hard to identify. They then show up disguised in another form, such as the impulse to overeat, drink, or work. These behaviors are a way of managing the discomfort of pent-up emotions.
You can also track how unexpressed needs leak out indirectly. Notice if you find yourself feeling resentful, complaining about minor things, or “forgetting” to follow through on a commitment. Other indirect expressions include teasing, sarcasm, unexpected explosive anger, or withdrawal from the person you have not been direct with.
If you don’t let others know what you need from them for whatever reason, it inevitably will show up in some of the ways I’ve mentioned. Better to express what you need right from the beginning. You can at least negotiate from there. Here are some tips to help you get started:
1. Take a few moments everyday to ask yourself, “How do I feel?” and “What do I need?” You can even program it to pop-up on your computer or Blackberry throughout the day. I know you can’t satisfy every need you have at the exact time you have them but you can remind yourself to keep checking in with your feelings.
2. If you find yourself feeling resentful, angry, or hurt by someone’s behavior, take a moment to ask yourself, “Have I directly expressed what I need to this person?”
3. If you find yourself over-working, eating, drinking, or spending, ask yourself if there is some emotional need you are trying to manage through these behaviors.
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