Recently someone was describing a family relative and told me how they made her so angry sometimes. We probably heard people say that as well as things like, “You made me feel so sad,” “You drive me crazy!” or “You make me feel responsible for your struggles.”
When we state that another person has the power to make us feel a certain way, we are almost blaming them for causing us those feelings. It is basically saying the other person has some sense of control over our feelings, making us victim to the power we give them with such statements. This can seem subtle but I think it can affect us because we give up personal power by believing others have the ability to control our feelings when they use You messages.
A more accurate way to phrase the dynamics of an interaction is for them to say something like, “I felt angry when you …” or “I understand that you felt hurt when I said…” These are I-messages as opposed to You-messages. When we send a You- message to someone, it can be experienced as a power play and/or a put down from us. In compassion and fairness, we do not want to transmit messages that can hurt others and our relationship with them.
According to the website Good Therapy, “An ‘I’ message or ‘I’ statement is a style of communication that focuses on the feelings or beliefs of the speaker rather than thoughts and characteristics that the speaker attributes to the listener. For example, a person might say to his or her partner, ‘I feel abandoned and worried when you consistently come home late without calling’ instead of demanding, ‘Why are you never home on time?’
ROLE OF “I” STATEMENTS IN COMMUNICATION
Thomas Gordon developed the concept of an ‘I’ statement in the 1960s and contrasted these statements to ‘you’ statements, which shift blame and attributions to the listener. ‘I’ statements enable speakers to be assertive without making accusations, which can often make listeners feel defensive. An ‘I’ statement can help a person become aware of problematic behavior and generally forces the speaker to take responsibility for his or her own thoughts and feelings rather than attributing them—sometimes falsely or unfairly—to someone else.
When used correctly, ‘I’ statements can help foster positive communication in relationships and may help them become stronger, as sharing feelings and thoughts in an honest and open manner can help partners grow closer on an emotional level.
On the website Better Relating, Beth Rogerson provides some excellent examples of her five recommended parts of a good I-Message.
“The 5-Step Formula”
Be concise and specific.
- When you…
- I feel…
- I imagine…
- I need/want…
- Would you…
Here’s how to fill out those five steps.
- When you…state the specific action your partner takes.
- I feel…share how you feel inside when your partner did that thing.
- I imagine…try to imagine your partner’s perspective. How do you imagine they see the situation? Imagine a good intention.
- I need/want…share what the frustrated part of you say that it needs in this situation. You want to identify what you need and want in this situation, not what you want your partner to do.
- Would you…make a specific and concrete request to your partner.
Applying the 5 Steps to More Effective “I” Statements
- When you don’t come to talk about our budget at the scheduled time
- I feel frustrated and angry
- I imagine you are really busy with work, and it’s hard to juggle so many different things
- I need a partner to help me out with the not-so-fun things in our relationship, like money, in a reliable and consistent way.
- Would you please join me right now to specifically find a workable solution for us both so we can work together to create a solid budget for our shared home expenses?
The possible potential impact makes it worthwhile to become more aware and use I-messages instead of You-messages. The GoodTherapy article makes a strong case for using “I” messages: “When used correctly, ‘I’ statements can help foster positive communication in relationships and may help them become stronger, as sharing feelings and thoughts in an honest and open manner can help partners grow closer on an emotional level.”
Invitation for Reflection:
- Think about a recent conversation you had with someone in which there were some feelings of anger, frustration, hurt or sadness. Did those in the interaction use You messages or I messages? If they (or you) used You messages, how might that have impacted the sense of safety in the relationship?
- Consider how you or the other person might have used I-statements instead. How might that have impacted the conversation and relationship?
- If this all makes sense consider the degree to which you are willing to be intentional about using I-messages to promote safer, healthier communication in future conversations.
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute