As parents and caretakers of toddlers will tell you, one of their biggest struggles is getting children to use their words and not act out in anger or frustrations. We encourage kids to say what is wrong rather than throwing a temper tantrum. In fact, there’s even an episode of the PBS Kids show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood that addresses this issue, and along with it, they sing a catchy little tune “Use Your Words to Say How You Feel.”

As a therapist to grown ups, I can tell you that the problem is not isolated to the terrible twos. There are plenty of adults who struggle to speak their truth and, instead, act out their feelings.

How many times do you find yourself mad or upset at someone, and rather than saying, “My feelings are hurt,” you instead withdraw in anger and claim, “it’s fine” as you roll your eyes?

At the root of much of this is a FEAR of rejection/abandonment, confrontation, retaliation, and/or guilt.

Can you relate to fearing one of these will happen if you were to speak up?

If you were raised in a family where open communication was discouraged or even punished, you learned at an early age to suppress your feelings. This is where the seeds of dysfunctional communication get planted. The problem with stuffing your feelings is that they don’t actually go away. They must come out, and they will, but they will be displaced or distorted, making it harder to understand what is really going on. This makes problem solving in relationships complicated and, sometimes, impossible.

To gain a clear picture of how communicating feelings was handled in your family of origin, answer the questions below:

  • Where feelings discussed in the home you grew up?
  • Did your parents share their own feelings and/or encourage you to share yours?
  • Did your parents care about the way you felt?
  • If you shared negative feelings were you punished or comforted?
  • Did you feel free to share your feelings if you were upset about something? How would your family react?
  • If you had a two-parent home, did your parents share their feelings with each other?
  • If there was an argument, did the adults in your life talk it out or act it out? (silent treatment, eye rolling, slamming doors, picking a fight about something other than the actual conflict are all ways of acting out feelings)

Once you have a better picture of why you communicate feelings the way you do, you can choose to change what is not working. This exercise is not to lay blame but simply to create choices.

I want to challenge you this week to speak your truth, using “I” statements rather than “You” statements. It might be scary at first, but you deserve to be seen and heard.

Think about it: How can anyone authentically love you if they don’t authentically know you?

Drop a comment with your thoughts around speaking your truth versus acting out your frustrations.

I hope you have an amazing week and, as always, take care of you.

Love Love Love


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  1. I act it out. I hold my emotions because I struggle to communicate how I feel so it is easier for me to suppress my feelings. But it comes out in unexpected rage and the person who I am upset with is in shock because they had no idea!

    Thanks for this article. This is exactly what I needed right now. I promise to try use my words to express how things make me feel rather than keep it in. It is much easier and safer to keep my feelings suppressed but the consequence is it comes out in large doses of unexpected emotion that I can’t control!

  2. Thanks, Terri, for this awesome post. As an adult, and a parent, I am working hard to learn how to be real with my feelings and deal with them as they come up. This has been such an amazing step of growth for me as I also teach my young son how to be real with his emotions.

    I work for a parenting coach and we love your site and your words of wisdom. Thank you for sharing it in a clear way that I can easily incorporate into my life.

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