I don't know how to tell you how I feel.

I’ve been dealing with difficult feelings for several weeks now. To name a few: jealousy, exasperation, doubt, listlessness, anxiety, apathy.

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My feelings feel like a handful of thorns. If I hold on too tight to them, they hurt me. I’m not trying to be overdramatic. I always try my best of reflect and sort through them before I vent to others. I try my best to be responsible about venting appropriately. All of this considered, I am terrible at actually talking about how I feel.

I’m a doer, I’m a fixer, I’m a feeler, and I’m a truth-teller—except when it comes to my feelings. To many folks who know me well, this may seem strange because of how frequently I speak before I think. I talk, and I talk, and I talk, and rarely do I hold much back—except when it comes to my feelings. You don’t have to wonder why this happens because I’m about to tell you (sometimes, I’m so self-aware, it hurts), and then I’m going to tell you how to work around me (if you choose to do so).

I’m already sensing how self-indulgent this post is beginning to feel and sound, but this isn’t a matter of selfishness as much as a matter of self-preservation. This is cheaper and quicker than therapy. Thank you for being here.

I’ve lived 90% of my life as “the Helper.” So much that it’s actually one of my top Enneagram types, my other being the Enthusiast. I have a genuine inclination and desire to help other people, and that’s played out in my life as often being relegated to the role of the confidant, the listener, the advisor, the counselor, the advice giver, etc. I really do enjoy helping others, whether it’s through emotional support or actually taking action to relieve the suffering of others; I am not tooting my own horn. I want to make this world a better place.

Except within the last year couple of years or so.

I realized that I had poor boundaries. To take ownership of my own behavior, I frequently positioned myself in a way that has signaled to others that I am always open to listening, to helping, and to being “there” for people. Always.

Until I realized that it was very much crushing my own sense of self. That is, I so frequently morph myself into what others needed in their momentary discomfort that I’ve twisted myself into unrecognizable shapes.

This is absolutely not a revelation to many people, especially to folks who are reformed people-pleasers. If anything I’ve written so far resonates with you, you may very well be a people-pleaser.

I hate losing my sense of self. I know exactly when it happens—again, the thorns.

Here is exactly why and when this happens for me.

1) I know my feelings will hurt you, and our relationship doesn’t have the capacity for conflict.

I never, ever intend to hurt anybody, but sometimes, I do anyways. When we communicate, we have our intended message, our received message, and then we have our impact: we have control of one of these things. Things will still get lost in translation. And some relationships do not have a tolerance for conflict. It’s like a porcelain vase. You bear the brunt of keeping it in-tact, but one shake and crack.

The dynamics of most relationships are cemented early on, and most of the time, after they’ve been set up, they will rarely change until a conversation happens about changing it. Those conversations are tricky; most people resist change because they aren’t good at having those tough conversations. Those conversations are either avoided altogether, or they’re ineffective, and most communication patterns in relationships just go back to what feels “comfortable.”

2) I am questioning the reality/validity of my feelings.

This drives me fucking crazy, and it’s not a fault of anyone except me. It’s the way I was raised and socialized. I have a really crippled intuition from crushing myself into the many different shapes other people have asked me to be (see above), and I’m trying to work on this. It’s hard because I have so many relationships where I have to be so many different versions of myself. Reconciling all those different versions of myself is incredibly difficult. Sometimes, I genuinely doubt I honestly know who I really am underneath it all.

3) I am ashamed of the way I feel.

Self-explanatory. It happens. I feel angry. I feel jealous. I feel like a bitch for feeling the way I feel. I get frustrated with myself because I feel things that make me feel like a bad person. I wish I didn’t have to feel these things; I wish I were the type of person who didn’t feel angry or jealous or catty. But I’m not that type of person. I feel all of these things, and my reflex is that I’m ashamed of it. This is another thing I’m working on. I’m trying to let myself feel what I feel, to name what I feel, to sit in what I feel, and then to not judge myself for the things I feel. Spoiler alert: It’s really fucking hard.

4) I have decided that the way I feel is less important than the way you feel.

Related to #1. Another side-effect of my self-sacrifice reflex (I’m not trying to make myself a martyr here. It’s just a thing. I wish it weren’t. Again, another thing I’m working on). I’m better at saying “no,” or “I don’t have time for that” nowadays, and that has helped tremendously. At first, boundaries will feel really yucky and selfish. Let me reassure you: they are not. If you tell your truth, the people who care will listen. They will respect your boundaries. The folks who don’t respect your boundaries will push back when you try to maintain them because they benefit from you not having them.

But your boundaries matter. Stay strong. Say no. Sit in the discomfort. The people who care about you will stick around.

5) I do not know how to phrase what I feel.

Sometimes, the feels are just feels. I haven’t gotten to the point where I want to or know how to verbalize the feelings swirling in my head. Sometimes, my feelings are just a hurricane or a ball of yarn, and I haven’t found a way to reign it in or untangle the mess.

This was a lot to read for people who aren’t used to navigating feelings. And that’s okay. It isn’t everybody’s default to always be swimming in their every emotion and thought (as you can see, it is mine). But I think a little bit of mindfulness can go a long way, for both our mental and emotional wellness, as well as for our relationships.

If you’re not the “feelings” type of person, but this is definitely something you want to work on with me or with someone in your life, here are three ways you can start this conversation.

  • “Is that how you really feel?”

  • “Would you like to talk about it?”

  • “I want to discuss this with you openly and honestly. How you feel is important to me. I want to work this out, because our relationship is important to me.”

As my final note, I want to encourage you to do one thing if you don’t take anything else away from this blog poster: take care of your helpers. Take care of your “strong” friends. Many times, they won’t ask for help because they feel like their feelings are a burden on others; ask them what they need and be genuine about following through when they honestly answer you. If you aren’t ready to be there for them in that way (and that’s okay), then at least be open to listening and affirming the way they feel, but don’t promise what you cannot deliver. For me, dependability is really, really important, and I’d rather you be upfront about what you need, what you can or cannot do, than to try and not followthrough. It’s okay if you just don’t want to/cannot be available for what I need. I just need to know the desire is there.