For many people, especially women, much of their mental energy goes into stuffing their feelings so far down they don’t even know they have them. They spend their life pleasing others, seeking the approval of everyone but themselves.
“We are nobodies. We are in hiding. We don’t know who we are,” says psychologist Emilie Ross Raphael, Ph.D., of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She means “we” not in the collective sense but in the personal sense. She includes herself among those who have—or in her case, had—to learn how to be honest about her own feelings.
Typically, says Raphael, the problem involves always saying “yes” when often you mean “no.” And the resolution typically comes down to giving yourself permission to feel angry—and finding the courage to say what’s on your mind without fear of losing the love of others.
Until this happens, it’s not possible to have a healthy relationship. Hurt feelings are inevitable in relationships, bound to arise in a fast-paced world of imperfect communication between people.
The trick is speaking them. That requires expressing anger appropriately—one of the great challenges of being a grownup and managing ourselves. More often people hold their feelings in, then at some minor infraction explode out of proportion to the cause, often bewildering everyone around them.
It’s not an overnight process. You have to learn to set limits with others. And to move the sources of approval inward, from outward. “This is the story of my life,” says Raphael. “It comes from having hard-to-please parents who set high standards. When we grow up we carry the critical parents around in our head. We become the critical ones. We are, for example, forever discounting compliments. And we maintain a low self-image by selectively focusing on negative input from those around us.”
For starters, you have to begin to think of anger as a constructive emotion. It’s a signal that your feelings are hurt and you must move into conflict resolution.
Examine whether your current anger or resentment or hurt feelings are the tip of a much larger iceberg. How long have you had such feelings? If you get upset with your husband because he’s going out with his buddies for an evening, maybe it really isn’t about that instance but about how much of his himself he generally gives to you and your feeling that it isn’t enough.