How often do you tell people how you feel about them? I don’t just mean your family and loved ones. I’m also talking about the other people you care about and share your life journey with? Hopefully recognising and expressing your feelings towards people comes naturally to you and you do it generously. If not, I get it … for many of us, such vulnerability can be challenging.
I have always considered myself an expressive person … easily, and often unintentionally, displaying my emotions to the world. What I’ve come to realise though is that it hasn’t always been easy for me to express to people how I feel about them or what I see and admire in them.
I think there are a few reasons for this, including a distant memory of not getting the response I’d expected when I was vulnerable, and the unhelpful story I attached to that. I was living in a new city and keen to make new friends. A girlfriend I’d met through work invited me to a social event with her and her husband’s friends. I had a lovely time and later sent a thank you note to the hosts and later received some feedback that it was a bit much. It left me feeling like they thought I was desperate and weird.
Today my self-esteem is more robust and I feel confident that I would process that experience differently, even if my initial reaction was hurt and isolation. Perhaps you’ve had similar experiences, albeit with different details.
One area I really noticed my inability to express was on special occasions. For as long as I could remember selecting and writing on greeting cards felt near impossible for me. I’ve wanted to say so much more than “Wishing you a happy birthday” but the right words would never materialise. Over and over I settled for some perfunctory greeting because I was unable to tap into anything more heartfelt. I realise now how blocked I was.
At one level I was keen to express my feelings about people to them but my heart and my subconscious mind held back, not wanting to risk the pain of ridicule or, even worse, complete rejection. This awareness was great because it gave me something to work with.
I am fortunate to have many expressive friends in my circle. I knew expression was something I wanted in my life because I admired it so much in them. I would marvel at their words. I felt pleasure and joy when they told me how they felt or sent a thoughtful message. I wanted to be able to give this gift to others.
In recent times as I’ve found self acceptance, and let go of worrying about the judgment of others, I’ve felt my heart opening and my ability and willingness to express expanding.
While I’m still a work in progress, more and more I share my feelings with friends. I still remember the first time I told a girlfriend “I love you” around two years ago. It felt scary and a little awkward. I took a deep breath and practically blurted it out. I even feel emotional about it now as I write. I’ve said “I love you” or “I love _______ about you” many times since to friends and it’s got easier and easier.
I love many people in my life and I’ve decided life is too short to hold back. A friend knowing that they are loved can be just the thing they need when they’re going through a tough time. Connection has been proven to be a protective factor for mental illness and suicide.
What’s the worst that can happen? You might not get the reaction that you expect. They might think you’re a weirdo. So what? We don’t need to make that about us. There’s every likelihood though that you will get the opposite reaction – connection will grow, relationships will blossom and you will THRIVE more.
Give it a go, I dare you!
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Donna Thistlethwaite is a Brisbane-based speaker and trainer specialising in mental health and resilience. She is an accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Resilience at Work Facilitator with a passion for suicide prevention and for helping individuals, teams and organisations to THRIVE. You can find out about her next Mental Health First Aid courses here.