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Courage to Express My Feelings

October 10, 2019

The last few weeks we have been learning from the research of Bronnie Ware who spent much time with the terminally ill. She dialogued with them about their lives and experiences, and interviewed them, asking this question: Do you have any regrets? She identified the five most common regrets of the dying and shared them in a profoundly provocative book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. The first week we considered regret #5: “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” It is so surprisingly common for people to realize that happiness is a choice. Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness. Regret #4 was “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

Regret #3 of the dying was “I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.” Ware says, "Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result. We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you speak honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.”

Brene Brown is a researcher who is very invested in helping people develop the courage to express their true feelings while there is life and time. Dr. Brown says the people she works with tell her they’re uncomfortable having these conversations because they do not know how to have them. They’re worried they will say the wrong thing or will be taken the wrong way or that people will make assumptions, so often they do not have these conversations. Dr. Brown says we must listen and learn and have the courage to initiate these conversations because “if it’s to me, it’s up to me.” We have to be able to choose courage over comfort. We have to be able to say, “Look, I don’t know if I’m going to nail this, but I’m going to try because I am not going to stay quiet.”

Sometimes we live in fear of how others will react to our feelings and so we hide them instead of sharing them. It IS wise and good sometimes to restrain (Proverbs 10:19, Proverbs 12:16). However, there are times when we need to speak up, let our voice be heard, and express our feelings. We may need to protect ourselves from the purposeful or accidental actions of others. Sometimes people are anxious to know and need to know what we are really feeling, who we really are, and what we think, even if it conflicts with their perspective. Feelings are given to us by God as natural expressions of our humanity. We should not trust our feelings completely, but neither should we deny what our feelings are trying to tell us. We must exercise wisdom when we reveal our feelings, and do so in a way that is productive and helpful.

However, when you express your feelings, you must remember from the top that you cannot control the reaction of others. Someone may react negatively to something you shared with a positive intention. You are not responsible for how they react. Just make sure your reaction to them is cordial and godly. The benefits far outweigh the problems.

It is extremely sad to hear, after a death of someone they truly cared about, expressing regret over something they didn’t say. Pride may keep us from saying we’re sorry. Embarrassment may make it difficult to say, “I love you,” “I appreciate you,” or “thank you.” Phrases like these are precious. They would mean the world to people in our lives, yet they far too often go unsaid because we will not take the leap and say them. Everyone’s life is full of situations where it is difficult to say what we really feel, but sometimes silence comes at a high price.

Benefits of expressing your feelings include…

  • Leading a fuller, more authentic life. Being true to yourself and sharing your heart fills your mind and memories with goodness.
  • Working through your fears. Courage in one area leads to courage in others.
  • Improving your relationships. Speaking the truth and sharing good feelings makes relationships more intimate.
  • Starting a wonderful trend. Courage is contagious! Your actions will make it easier for others to do the same. Your willingness to be direct and honest often makes it easier for others to find the courage to do the same.

Practice expressing your feelings regularly. Like any other skill that you’d like to improve, open communication improves the more you practice. Take note of daily opportunities to speak up and share good things, building the relationship. You will be better prepared when more difficult situations come along.

Even when you need to share some difficult truths, you can choose a setting and the appropriate language. That will make the message easier to receive. Respect the boundaries of others. Just because you have personally decided to become more expressive, other people may still not be comfortable with openness. Be sensitive.

Listen intentionally. Try to meet the other person’s needs as much as you can. Create a habit of giving more compliments and sharing the good stuff. Let people know how their kind acts, their presence, and generosity improve your life and how much you care about them.

You have this one life. Express your true feelings. Your life will be better, and you will avoid regrets.