I remember a time when I was afraid to speak up in relationships.
A time when my emotions would overwhelm me and my reality would betray me. A time when speaking up felt monumental and scary.
While childhood conditioning played a large part in why I did not assert myself, fear played a larger part.
Fear of a reaction, fear of disapproval and fear of the unknown kept me “safe” in my comfort zone.
In my early years there were many missed opportunities. Looking back, taking action by speaking up would not only have given me a sense of internal calm (reduced anxiety) but a mark of self-worth, self-love and self-acceptance.
When I began to face fear head on and embrace my self-worth, everything began to shift in my life.
The control that I thought I had by avoiding issues was replaced with empowered action, confidence and growth.
Here are a few steps I took to face fear and how it helped me express how I feel in relationships.
1. Get out of your comfort zone
If expressing how you feel to your partner is scary, you first have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone. Your comfort zone is just that, a place where you feel comfortable and safe. Although there is nothing wrong with that, you typically don’t grow much if you stay there. You don’t achieve new goals or live your best life.
First make a decision if you want a healthier relationship with yourself and an authentic relationship with your partner.
Once you make a decision, the rest will be learning new skills and taking action. Be aware that this will require you to be courageous and vulnerable, too.
2. Embrace imperfection
If you grew up in a family of origin that expected you to be perfect and that allowed little room for mistakes, you may struggle with perfectionism. Expecting yourself to do or say things just “right” will make expressing yourself to your partner feel overwhelming.
Know that in the beginning your words and feelings may not come out the way you meant it to. You may become emotional, as well. That’s OK. Relationships are imperfect and “messy” and so are we.
3. Trust your feelings
Family of origin and upbringing has a lot to do with how children get “shaped” and what they learn about what is “acceptable” or not.
If your caregivers did not provide a safe environment for you to express your emotions, or did not model open communication themselves, you may have trouble expressing or even knowing how you feel. You may also judge how you feel or even doubt them.
Your feelings are your feelings. Don’t be afraid of them. They are there to help you navigate through life. See them as a life-long friend that will be by your side.
4. Let go of the need for approval
If you are afraid to express how you feel to your partner because he may not agree or approve of how you feel, first you need to let go of the need for approval. Recognize that he may feel differently about the situation. Be proud that you expressed your feelings to him and how that’s more important than his validation.
Whenever you don’t do or say something because you’re afraid of rejection, you become emotionally “tied” to something that’s outside you.
When you’re effected by others’ opinions, you’re allowing them to emotionally control you. In this pattern, you will begin to feel worse about yourself and diminish your self-worth. Take back your control and speak up. Give yourself the self-validation you need.
5. Take a pause
When faced with a problem, you may want an immediate resolve. A need to “fix” the situation. This applies when you’re afraid you’ll overreact to your partner or overwhelm him, as well. Instead, take a pause.
Take out a notebook and write down your feelings.
Reflect on them. Later that day or next, if you still feel the need to express yourself, do so. This will help in several ways: help clarify your feelings, help express your feelings with a clear mind and come from a calmer place.
6. Be accountable
If you’re fearful about what’s going to happen if you assert yourself or how your partner is going to feel (and also what this means for the relationship), you’re getting way ahead of yourself.
When you operate from a place of fear, you jump to conclusions about how someone else may feel and assume responsibility for their feelings. Stay in the moment and take responsibility for how you feel. Take it one step at a time.
Be accountable for only your part in the relationship; that means your emotions, your behavior, your actions, etc.
Don’t assume responsibility for your partner’s emotions or behavior or assume how your partner will feel. Also, be direct. Sometimes, “short and sweet” is the best approach. You can always follow up with the conversation later.
Many factors can contribute to a passive communication style but fear is often the main culprit.
Don’t let your fears about what could happen keep you from expressing your true self. Trust the process. Share what is important to you. Be authentic and honor yourself. In the end, know your self-worth is far more important than the outcome.