Whenever I’m expressing heartfelt thanks to you, I don’t want you to tell me it was “no big deal”—not if it was a big deal for you to help me.
Whenever I’m genuinely apologizing to you for something hurtful, don’t tell me not to worry about it.
Whenever I give you a compliment, don’t thank me for my “kind words” or tell me you “feel flattered.” If what I express is genuine, then I’m not saying it out of kindness or flattery—I’m saying it out of honesty.
Whenever I’m confiding in you about something that’s upsetting me, don’t tell me that it’s nothing to worry about, even if it’s the most trivial thing in the world. Don’t tell me that you’re “sorry to hear that” either, just because that’s what you’re supposed to say.
If you’re going to do nothing but regurgitate pre-programmed responses, then I might as well be talking to a robot.
I want to know how you really feel about it. Tell me that you’re glad I noticed how much work you put into something. Let me know that you felt warm and fuzzy when I told you that. If you felt hurt or sad, express that too. If you forgive me for having hurt you, then let me know. If you’re unable to forgive me because you think I’ll hurt you again, tell me that too. You can even tell me that you’re at a loss for words.
All of the above responses have one thing in common: they dismiss my emotions, treating them as misguided and insignificant. The thing is, there’s no such thing as a wrong emotion. All genuine feelings flow naturally from events and causes. While they can be expressed in unhealthy ways, on their own there is nothing wrong with them. Dismissing them doesn’t make them go away, either. It merely shoves them out of your path so they can resurface in some other way.
So when you tell someone that what they feel strongly about is “no big deal” or nothing more than “kind words,” that communicates that what they feel doesn’t matter. It will likely discourage them from sharing their feelings with you in the future if they feel that they won’t be valued.
Being guilty of this myself, I understand that most people don’t respond like this with bad intentions. I think there are two reasons people make these mistakes.
1) It’s hard to respond with sincerity, because it puts you in a vulnerable position. The listener might dismiss your emotions or use them against you.
2) Etiquette. As children, we learn that we can only express certain sentiments if we want to be accepted. In the name of politeness, we are taught that we must censor the feelings we have that are inconvenient to those in authority. Thus we fall into ruts of predictable conversation in order to protect ourselves from punishment.
But as adults, we no longer have to live to appease authority figures (assuming you’re not in a job where you do—if you are, get out.) We can now escape the shackles of our history and cultivate the habits that serve us best. When speaking with people who are close to us, we can make the effort to abandon the Script of Etiquette and choose to speak from the heart.
The world would be a much better place if we could simply express our true feelings.