Reflecting feelings is the most valuable interpersonal skill I’ve learned.
I first learned of its value when I was developing my Gentle Parenting toolbox. I was continually amazed at how much more quickly I could defuse my children’s Big Feelings simply by giving them the words to describe their intense feelings. Before I learned the skill, I tried to explain to the children why their feelings were over-the-top given the situation. (In retrospect, I’m amazed that I ever thought that was a good idea! Isn’t it funny how growth works?)
“You’re so frustrated that the blocks won’t stack the way you want them to!”
“You’re sad that your banana broke! You wish your banana were still whole!”
“Having a cup without a straw is disappointing! You had been looking forward to having a straw.”
If you are a parent, and this is a new concept to you, I encourage you to learn how to name the feeling your child is feeling—to state what you think they’re feeling without judgment. If they are verbal enough, if they correct your statement or give it nuance, then EVEN BETTER! Teaching our kids to identify and communicate how they are feeling sets them up for relational and emotional success in life.
As amazed as I was with how well reflecting feelings worked with my children, I was even more amazed that reflecting feelings is valuable in ALL of my interactions with people. No matter the age of the person, the reason for the interaction, or the level of involvement reflecting feelings helps.
To a friend online: “Of course you are disappointed! Of course! You were expecting this job to come through!”
To a fellow shopper at a busy store in a high stress time: “It is so frustrating for people to not follow the rules!”
To my husband: “It makes sense that that made you angry. I can’t imagine being overlooked like that and not being angry!”
To a friend: “You are feeling undervalued and taken for granted. Of course that makes you sad and angry!”
(An aside: If the feelings-reflection contains judgment or a note of rote, then the other person isn’t going to respond well. You must be genuine in your observation and reflection. If you cannot be genuine in your engagement, it is better to not even try.)
The beauty of reflecting feelings is that I can genuinely listen to how the person is feeling and let them know that I hear them. Reflecting feelings doesn’t mean that I think they are “in the right” or that I agree with them about the topic we are discussing.
I can care about someone and how they feel (loving them as myself) while knowing that their viewpoint is skewed or sinful (do not be conformed to this world).
With my children, my spouse, my friends, my acquaintances, and perfect strangers, I can care about how they feel even as I encourage them to do better. The relationships in my life that do this for me are good gifts in my life. My friends who love me—and listen to me and care about how I feel—WHILE ALSO helping to hold me to higher standards of love and righteousness than my feelings would direct me toward are a gift beyond measure.