From Danny Silk’s book, Keep Your Love On:
The best tool for telling another person about you is an ‘I message.’ The basic structure of the “I message” is: “I feel [emotion] when [describe experience] and I need to feel
Notice that the “I message” begins with “I feel,” not “I think.” The “I message” is designed to let other people know what is happening inside you, not for you to let them know what you think about them or what you think they need to do. As you construct an “I message,” make sure that you are really expressing a feeling, not an opinion.
“I feel like you are an idiot,” is not a feeling. It is an opinion— because you could replace “feel like” with “think.” If you start to say, “I feel like…” you should stop and check yourself —because what is likely going to follow is not a feeling, but a judgement. And a judgement statement is actually an expression of mistrust, not trust. A judgement statement says, “I’m too scared to show you what is really going on inside me. I’ll only feel safe to show you what I’m feeling if you first agree with my assessment of what’s wrong with you and then promise never to be like that again.”
Nothing guarantees raising another person’s defences and hijacking a conversation more than a judgement statement. In their fear, people convince themselves that they can make people change without needing to be vulnerable, rather than trusting people to change by offering vulnerability. And for some weird reason, they expect the other person to say, “Thank you! I was wondering what was wrong with me!”
Yeah. That never happens.
Instead, we need to take the approach that says, “I feel a feeling and it’s connected to an event. When this happened, this is the feeling that I had. And I need to feel something different than what is happening.”
“I feel scared when you drive this fast. I need to feel safe and protected when I am in the car with you.”
“I need to hear about you and feel valued when we talk.”
“I feel hurt when you talk to me like that.”
“I feel hurt and judged when you frame it like this.”
“When you hit the wall in anger, I feel scared.”
“I feel rejected when you react to my efforts to help you like that.”
When you send “I messages” like these, you let the other person see your true emotions then he or she can decide how to respond. You become vulnerable and powerful, because you protect the other person’s choice to move toward you and meet your needs on their own terms. If you’re on the receiving end of the “I message,” you have some decisions to make:
1. Are you going to honour the vulnerability offered, value the person’s need, and work out how you can meet it?
2. Are you going to be powerful enough to adjust yourself in order to move toward the person and protect your connection and trust?
Both of these choices often require at least as much vulnerability as it took for the other person to show you their need. It is vulnerable (scary and humbling) to allow someone’s needs to influence your heart and your actions. But know this—doing your part to complete the trust cycle is just as important for you as for the other person. One of your needs in a relationship is to be able to meet the other person’s needs! You need them to receive your love. And you need to know that you are a powerful, trustworthy person who can choose to grow, change, adjust, and do what you need to do to love them in ways they can receive. It will do wonders for your self-respect.