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Sharon Praissman Fisher

What You Said Made Me Feel Bad

A Danish perspective on the importance of communicating our feelings

This week we share a guest post from one of the authors of the recent parenting book  The Danish Way, which is full of fascinating parenting from the country that’s been ranked happiest in the world.  Iben Sandahl writes about how to let people know when they have hurt our feelings.

In the United States, the average age of first time mothers has risen to 26.3, yet compared to Denmark, with an average age of 29.2 years old, American women still seem to start earlier.  Denmark is constantly voted as the happiest country in the world, and Danes live longer on average, which may make women feel more confident about waiting longer.  Another reason is that women are more likely to pursue a career and want a financial stability before they have children. Education and career have risen in people's minds, rather than family life, because it means a lot for modern Danish women to be financially independent and recognized socially too.

Yet in Denmark, like in the United States, it can seem like everybody has an opinion about when the time is right to become a mother.

Consider this scenario: You had a cozy meeting with your friend from work, who tells you that it´s selfish of you having a child that late in your life, that you must be crazy – even though you didn't ask for her opinion! Or your neighbor looks you over and says the child will be at greater risk for birth defects. And then your husband goes on and on about you waiting too long when he was ready many years earlier.  

The fact that we have all been children or known some children, makes us feel more familiar with the idea of what measures should be present to give children the best start in life. Similarly, most of us also have quite a lot to say about going to school. We feel connected on another level, why we feel it is our right to express ourselves.

Are you able to let your boss, friend or someone know when they have done or said something to hurt you? If not, you’re not alone, as many of us find this difficult.

Other people’s comments can – intentionally or unintentionally – offend and hurt us. But all too often we keep our mouths shut for fear of conflict.  We have a fundamental fear of being excluded, and of standing alone, because this is a vulnerable situation, which can be difficult to manage.  We need the safety and security of social relationships and hesitate therefore to challenge them.   This strategy is both understandable and appropriate, since human beings need to be part of a flock.

But we should also be able to speak out – even at the risk of rejection and becoming ostracized.  It is important to establish your own boundaries and remain steadfast on values that are important to you. If you often compromise on your own foundation, it will eventually begin to crumble, and that’s not what you want.  This is about being an active participant in your own life and not just sliding through.  

Speak out for the other person’s sake

Another reason to pluck up the courage to say: “that made me feel bad” once in a while is for the sake of the other person and your relationship with them. Honesty creates closeness and most likely also generates greater sympathy. It is important for all of us to know when we have done something that may have a significant effect on someone else. We can’t change something if we don’t know what that something is, and minor irritations have a tendency to clump together and grow, which in time will create distance between you and those you care about.  

Choose your battles wisely

On the other hand, it isn’t always smart to speak out the moment you feel a little tug at your self-esteem. One should always choose one’s battles wisely. Sometimes it may be better to let things lie and maintain your dignity. Time is an important factor, since the power of your emotions will diminish and begin cooperating with reason.

This is how to speak your mind:  

1. Take a deep breath and let the problem lie for a couple of days. Sleep on it.

2. Try to find out why the thing the other person said affected you the way it did. Was it contrary to your values, or did it bring back old memories?  Maybe it has more to do with you than with what was actually said.

3. If it still bothers you after a couple of days, do something about it, but first figure out what you want out of this. You can’t control how the other person will react to your message, so take some time to think about if it is “enough” for you to just say it, or do you need some sort of concession from the other person before you feel satisfied? And is that realistic?

4. Find a suitable moment where you can say what’s on your mind. Prepare the other person for the fact that you are going to say something important, so you don’t risk overwhelming them, causing them to become defensive.

5. Just say what you are feeling, straight out. Don’t make a big deal out of it, but try to be clear. Stay on your side of the field. Say, for instance: “When you said what you said, I felt it was a critical comment and an attack on my competency, which made me feel bad. Was that your intention?” By asking if you understood the other person correctly, you indicate that you might have misunderstood something. This will reduce the accusatory tone and invite dialogue instead of argument.

6. Keep your guard down, and say that you want to maintain your relationship so that there are no misunderstandings. Even if you are good friends, married, or colleagues, you are still different individuals.  

Iben Sandahl is the co-author of The Danish Way Of Parenting: A Guide To Raising The Happiest Kids in the World. You can also visit Iben’s Facebook page or follow her on Instagram for more inspiration about parenting.