How to Avoid Accidental “Triggers” on Social Media
By Jessica Adams
Emotions are tricky beasts. They often arrive uninvited and leave without saying goodbye. They can also make for some challenging communication when they cloud our thinking. Thankfully we humans have taken the time to understand what emotions are--and what they are not. But sometimes we get it wrong.
Most of us know that our emotions are not reflections of the real world, that how we feel about a person does not necessarily mean that we truly understand them. How often have we misjudged a person? More often than most of us will admit. Sometimes our emotions trick us into believing things of others that may not be true. This can make for some difficult challenges in our world of digital communication where all we can see of each other is the exchange of words.
In the realm of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), often called compassionate communication, a distinction is made between emotions and evaluations. For example, fear, worry, love, concern, joy, sadness, and serenity can all be identified as emotions. But there are other things that we say we “feel” that aren’t genuine feelings.
To say, “I feel abandoned” is to place an evaluation on others, according to NVC experts such as Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. In his book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Dr. Rosenberg says, “What others do may be a stimulus of our feelings, but not the cause.” Perhaps a person feels lonely. Those around them have gone, and our person is alone. If our person says, “I feel abandoned,” they are not expressing a true emotion but an evaluation of the motivations of others. Our person may feel sad, lonely, depressed, or any number of other things, but they can’t feel abandoned because it presupposes the intentions of others.
If I tell you that I feel cheated, then I have essentially declared that a person has tried to cheat me. Whether you are messaging with your spouse, coworker, or someone of an opposing political party, using even mildly inflammatory language that evaluates another person’s motivations and behaviors is far more likely to trigger an antagonistic response, derailing the process of peace building and creating barriers in communication.
When you are sharing your feelings online, remember to use “I feel…” statements, but also be sure that your feelings are just that--feelings--and not reflective of thoughts or stories. You will find that communication flows more smoothly when the language you use is free of blame or evaluation of another person’s motivations and behaviors. You are your own vehicle for peacemaking in daily life. The next time you find yourself needing to share your emotions with others, do a simple check: is this a genuine expression of emotion, or am I including thoughts and stories in my statements of feelings? Peace be with you!