Developing "I" Statements

From: Dr. Frank Gunzburg

When you learn to express your anger appropriately it can actually be a helpful emotion. Anger can be a signal for you about things that feel wrong for you in your relationship or in your life. And learning how to express it appropriately can help you make change where change is possible.

If we accept the idea that anger comes from within you (and there can be little doubt that it does), then the only appropriate way to express your anger is through the use of "I" statements.

"I" statements are a method by which you can take ownership of your anger and express it in a productive way without turning it outward by blaming your partner or acting in a rageful way. These statements are called "I" statements because they describe what is happening inside you. They aren’t about your spouse or the world at large, but an expression of your personal experience in a particular circumstance. They are powerful not only because they give you the power to express your anger in more controlled ways, but they often open up the possibility of conversation about issues that are disturbing you.

So let’s get started creating "I" statements. Keep in mind as you read these instructions that if you don’t do this naturally, you will be a beginner at this. Like any beginner, you should practice during non-stressful times with low stress issues. That will minimize your frustration and maximize your ability to work through the exercise.

Expressing Your Anger in a Healthy Way: A Method for Developing "I" Statements

There are many ways to develop "I" statements. In my practice, I coach people through the procedure, giving suggestions and examples. However, I recently ran across Hope Morrow’s trauma website and I thought she did a really fine job of describing the method for developing these statements. I have her permission to share this with you. I have modified, deleted, and added to her material to stay more in line with my own method, but a large part of this comes from her essay and if you want, you can read her original essay at http://home.earthlink.net/~hopefull/i-statem.htm. Let’s get started with the basic components for "I" statements.

Start by developing each of these four steps, then follow the instructions and check the guidelines afterwards.

1)     You need to begin with "I"

2)     You have to know what YOU feel or want and the intensity of your feelings or desires.

3)     You have to describe the event that evoked your feeling(s) or desire—something objective or observable that BOTH of you will agree on, and

4)     You have to figure out the effect and intensity the event has on YOU.

Combine these pieces to form a sentence as follows:

"I feel ____#2____ when ____#3____, because _____#4_____.

EXAMPLE: "(1) I feel (2) very scared (3) when you are late home from work, because (4) I worry that something might have happened to you."

After you have done some of these, you do not have to stick with this order. You can use the same basic elements and switch the order. I’ll give you an example later.

Creating and communicating "I" statements might be difficult at first, but it gets easier with practice.

The Potential Pitfalls for "I" Statements

·        Avoid inserting "that" or "like." The phrases "I feel that…" or "I feel like…" introduce thoughts not feelings and usually include an opinion or critical judgment. The use of "I feel" should always be followed by a feeling such as "sad," "glad," or "afraid." Feelings describe what you experience in your body—not what you think in your head.

 

·        Avoid disguised YOU statements. These include sentences that begin with "I feel that you…" or "I feel like you…" These statements begin with the word "feel" which can throw everyone off, including the speaker, as to what the true message is. These are thinking statements masquerading as feeling statements by using the word "feel." Typically, this beginning is followed by criticism in the form of opinions or judgments, and put your partner in a one-down position.

 

·        Your good feelings should outnumber your bad feelings by at least two to one. Some people spend a lot of time focusing on communicating their negative feelings and forget to communicate their positive feelings. Expressing your joy, happiness, relief, etc. when your partner has done something that elicits these feelings in you is equally important.

Once you have made your "I" statement, close the statement quickly without too much expounding, lest you undo the hard work you have done creating your "I" statement.

Remain open and honest as best you can. It is usually hard to talk about emotions, especially overpowering and negative emotions like anger.

Dr. Frank Gunzburg is a licensed counselor in Maryland and has been specializing is helping couples restore their marriage for over 30 years.