How To Have Your Emotions Without Shooting Yourself In The Foot

Many of my clients struggle with the same dilemma.  They “feel deeply” and always have.  They’ve been told often that they are “too emotional” or “too sensitive” “too harsh” or “too much”.  But they have found that there is just no getting rid of these emotions and it feels inauthentic not to share them. Many of them have been shamed for their strong emotions and are no longer willing to shove them down.  But then what?  How do we have, honor and understand all of our emotions and maintain a healthy balance in relationship with others who aren’t always so interested in experiencing all of those emotions with us?  How can we be authentic with ourselves without burning every relationship bridge we have?

I wrote up this step-by-step for a client last week and thought it may be helpful to others as well.  Give it a whirl… it’s super handy during the holidays and always helpful in marriages and partnerships!


1.     Notice when your body is telling you something is wrong.  (Tight chest, blushed cheeks, rapid heart rate, fidgeting etc.)

2.     Immediately tell yourself to pause.  Either:

a.     Walk away or politely excuse yourself if it will go unnoticed OR

b.     Say, “Hey, I’m feeling a certain kind of way.  I’m going to take a minute to sit with what’s going on for me.”

3.     Take note of the feeling you’re having:  “I’m really angry”

4.     Then ask yourself if there is an underlying emotion you didn’t initially notice:

a.     Guilt

b.     Shame

c.      Violated

d.     Fear

e.     Jealousy

f.      Embarrassment

5.     Ask yourself, “Why is this important to me?”

6.     Ask yourself, “Is this best addressed now or later or never?”  “Will it help me or hurt me to deal with this now?” Typically it’s best to set a boundary in the moment and have a discussion about feelings after you’ve gotten past the rush of emotion.

7.     Decide what boundaries you need to set in the moment so that you are protected by your boundaries—not your rage.  Examples:

a.     “Hey folks, I’m not feeling well.  I think I need to go home.”

b.     “Thanks for your opinion, I’ll think on that.”

c.      “I’d rather talk about something else.”

d.     “I’m not comfortable with the way you are touching me.”

8.     Once you are out of the situation, process through with words (language helps us metabolize an event) in your journal, with your therapist or with a trusted friend.  Give yourself permission for all of the feelings and then decide how you can best protect yourself from whatever was so upsetting.  Sometimes there are better ways to move forward than sharing our emotions with those who’ve hurt us.  For example:

a.     Reducing time spent with that person

b.     Reducing emotional vulnerability with that person

c.      Setting boundaries around behavior vs. expressing our vulnerable emotions.


How Do I Know If I Should Share My Emotions?

1.     Is the relationship important to you?

a.     If so, it’s important to really get it right, but likely worth it to express your feelings.

b.     If not, it is only worth it to share emotions with that person if it will help create boundaries to keep you safe.

2.     Is the person likely to receive it openly if you share it without blame or judgment?

a.     If so, and you care about the relationship, you should share your emotions in a non-judgmental way.  Prepare and practice what you are going to say.

b.     If not, you must weigh the therapeutic benefit of telling them against the likely emotional and possibly logistical consequences that will arise.

3.     Is it likely to help you set a boundary, increase connection or feel some type of therapeutic relief to say so?

a.     If so, share your emotions but be ready for all potential responses.

b.     If not you may choose to let it go.  The value in communicating your emotions isn’t really present and so it will likely lead to more harm than good.  Stick to talking about it with your therapist or friends.