Awesome You Be


   

The Importance of Acknowledging FeelingsCartoon: two people falling off cliff. Woman says to man: "I sense you are worried about our future. Do you want to talk about it?"

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

A friend asks to speak with you and criticises your recent behaviour. She is worried about you. You laugh, explain that she has misunderstood and that she is wrong. Instead of being happy about it, she seems upset. Why?

She is upset because you failed to acknowledge her feelings and concerns about you. That she was worried about you suggests that she had given the matter some thought. That she asked to speak with you and criticised you, a friend, suggests that the matter was important to her.

So, when you laughed off her criticism and told her she was wrong, you failed to acknowledge her feelings and her concern for you as a friend. Worse, you told her those feelings were wrong without even taking them into consideration − you seemed only interested in defending yourself. No wonder she is upset.

A better approach to such criticism would be to say, "Thank you for your concern and telling me about this. I appreciate it and I need to think about it." By doing this, you acknowledge her feelings and concerns about you and demonstrate that you take them seriously. And, I assure you, your friend will not look down upon you for this. If anything, she will have increased respect for you.

And then really do think about it, for two reasons. Firstly, she could be right! It is human nature to believe your own actions are right and to be defensive when criticised. But you and I and every human being on this planet are less than perfect. We make mistakes. We do the wrong things, often with the best of intentions. So, when a caring friend criticises you, it is best to really think about what she has said.

Secondly, even if her criticism is entirely unwarranted, if one friend questions your actions, it is likely that others also question your actions. So, you may want to rethink whatever you have been doing that has led to the criticism. At the very least, you may want to communicate better about what you are doing.

If, after thinking about her criticism, you are sure she has misunderstood, acknowledge again her criticism and concern, explain why you believe she has misunderstood your actions and, once you have done this, ask for her opinion. Such a response still respects her thoughts and feelings while giving you the opportunity to defend yourself.

Of course, if your friend is a moaner who is constantly criticising you and everyone else, you probably don't need to follow this procedure. Instead, share this article with her and then criticise her critical peronality!

The Disappointed Winner

Permit me to boast a little. A couple of months ago, my eldest son (17 years) won second place in the Flemish Chemistry Olympiad. As a result, he was one of four Belgians who went on to participate in the International Chemistry Olympiad which this year took place in Baku, Azerbaijan. He had studied hard to get that second place win and he studied hard during the first half of his summer holiday so that he would do well in Baku.

He did well, but not well enough. He did not win an award in Baku. The Chinese took the top four spots and they probably deserved them. My understanding is that China and other countries take this competition extremely seriously and train kids for years to do well. My son did  not study to that extent.

As a result, he came back from Baku feeling disappointed. Friends and family told him not to feel that way. They told him that he should be proud. He had done very well to get as far as he did. He came second place in his country. His family, friends, teachers and the school were all proud of him. I have been proud of him and his brother from the moment each was born and neither one of them has ever come close to disappointing me.

That said, people telling him not to be disappointed did not necessarily cheer him up. Why not? Because they failed to acknowledge that he DID feel disappointed. Telling him that his feeling was  wrong did not help.

I can certainly understand how he felt. He had been on a winning streak. He graduated with good marks. In addition to the Chemistry Olympiad, he took first place in the Flemish Astronomy Olympiad (not an international competition). He could have participated in the Physics Olympiad, but Belgium prohibits kids from participating in both the Chemistry and Physics Olympiad.  And he put a lot of work into preparing for the competition in Baku. Of course he felt disappointed! I would have felt disappointed. I expect you would have done too, wouldn't you?

I told him that. I told him that I understood he felt disappointed. I told him that I would have felt disappointed. I told him that it was okay to feel disappointed.

Then, I told him that at the same time he should also feel proud of all that he had accomplished And, of course, I told him how proud I have always been of him.

Okay, that's enough proud parental boasting from me! Let's move on.

Cheer Up!

Have you ever felt down? Sure you have. We all feel down from time to time and for all kinds of reasons, from having a bad start to the day (alarm didn't go off, you spilled coffee down your shirt and burned the toast) to something serious like being dumped by your sweetheart or worse.

When you have felt down, has a friend ever said to you something like, "Cheer up!" or "Lighten up, it's not that bad!"

That "Cheer Up" is horrible, isn't it? It is almost guaranteed to make you feel even worse than you already do (if you are down). Why? Because it fails to acknowledge that you are experiencing negative feelings and they are making you feel bad

Your friend would be a better friend if instead she asked what was making you feel down, listened to your complaints and acknowledged them as worthy of feeling down.

Indeed, this is why the best thing a you can do when a friend is down is not to say "cheer up". It is not to offer advice. It is not to say, "I know how you feel." It is to acknowledge that your friend has very negative feelings about something and to acknowledge that it is okay to have such feelings. The best way to do that is often simply to listen sympathetically and acknowledge.

It's Okay to Have Negative Feelings

This is absolutely critical to understand when interacting with others as well as dealing with your own emotions: it is okay to have negative feelings! It is great to have negative feelings not because those feelings are great, but having them makes you human. Having them gives you reason to do better in the future. Having them allows you to appreciate the positive feelings better.

When a friend or colleague or family member criticises you, don't jump in and defend yourself. Acknowledge the criticism and think about it.  Your friend will appreciate that you have acknowledged her criticism and her feelings. That will make her more receptive to any explanation you may offer and more respecting of you as a friend.

It is also okay to have mixed positive and negative feelings when the world thinks you should feel great. In fact it is normal. Do not dismiss the negative feelings in favour of the positive ones. Acknowledge those negative feelings and accept them in yourself and in others who complain about feeling badly when you feel they should be feeling great.

It is also okay to feel down for any reason. Accept that in yourself and accept it in others. If a friend feels down, do not tell her to "cheer up." Do not dismiss her negative feelings as trivial. They are not trivial. They are making her feel down! Instead, acknowledge that it is okay to feel down and be willing to listen sympathetically.

If you can learn to acknowledge negative feelings in yourself and others; if you can learn to respect those feelings and even appreciate them, you will be a more balanced person yourself as well as a great friend, relation and partner.

 

 

 

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