I can’t think of one person who likes being asked that question. There’s something inherently off putting about being asked—“how does that make you feel?”—articulated with a tone spoken to with young children. One of my clients requested of me during our first session together never to ask him that question—and I could relate.
As a therapist who specializes in emotions, my heart also quickly sank. What the heck do I ask instead? While I’ve discovered better questions, it made me wonder why exactly that question is so annoying.
IT HAS AN AGENDA
Does your brain shout, “stop trying to fix me!” when you get asked that question?
One second you’re sharing an embarrassing story of what your mother said to you at your sister’s wedding—focusing on the details and the indignation—and now the focus is back on you and your feelings. The question can feel out of left field and loaded with an agenda. You weren’t expecting or wanting to be asked that question—instead, you were wanting to share something that happened to you.
The question can make you feel dismissed and unheard.
I’m talking about my mom and how horrible she is! The fact that you’re asking me this question means you think I have a problem and I need to change. The question can suggest you’re a part of the problem, if not THE problem.
It doesn’t feel good.
IT PROVOKES VULNERABILITY
Whether we like it or not, our emotions shape how we view ourselves, our closest relationships, and our deepest desires for life. Being asked “how does that make you feel?” puts us in the spotlight in an uncomfortable way.
In Latin, “vulnerability” means the ability to be wounded. Revealing our emotions is scary for a reason! I share them with you, and you now have the ability to hurt me.
Moreover, feelings are complicated. They come and go. They can be painful. They can lead to bad decision making. The reality is when we talk about our feelings, we start to feel our feelings. For those of us who are more rational or have sought to suppress negative emotions for years, being put on the spot can be disorientating and confusing—and not having an answer can be alarming.
IT THREATENS SURVIVAL
In a fast-paced world where efficiency and productivity are valued, feelings not only feel like a luxury, but as a potential threat to staying afloat.
Asking someone to feel their feelings—especially in crisis—can cause harm. Unfortunately, many of us experience our day-to-day stressors in crisis mode, leaving us numb and detached. While we are human beings and not human doings, the question can feel threatening to our ability to function.
The cost of not processing stress and negative emotions, of course, is that the body stores it, resulting in any number of complex trauma symptoms and/or autoimmune disorders.
There’s no short cut to happiness.
Our emotions reveal our humanity—and the only successful path in this life is through experiencing them. Our intuition tells us so, and the research backs it up. It’s clear putting someone on the spot to know what they are feeling isn’t helpful, but that doesn’t mean that doing the work to feel doesn’t save lives.
While I won’t stop asking people, “how does that make you feel?” in my more thoughtless moments, it comes from a good place—it can also mean, you matter…to me.
This Post Written By:
Nicole Rizkallah, LAMFT – Therapy With Heart
8737 E. Via De Commercio, Suite 200
Scottsdale, Arizona 85258
Phone: (480) 888-5380
Fax: (480) 203-2881