What We Learn When We Use “I” Statements

“I” statements are a tool that are often taught to couples to use with one another. They help slow down arguments, diffuse situations and hopefully allow each partner to hear what their counterpart is saying.

AND, “I” statements are also a skill that we can use with ourselves in our day to day lives that can better our relationship with our self…so that’s pretty cool.

BUT FIRST, WHAT ARE THEY?

“I” statements are sentences that are intentionally constructed in a way that expresses the feelings, emotions or beliefs of the person speaking, rather than focusing on the person being spoken to (a communication otherwise known as a “you” statement). “I” statements often start with the word “I” and continue to share solely what the speaker is experiencing. An example would be, “I feel hurt when you don’t acknowledge what I say because it makes me feel overlooked or unimportant.”

The reason “I” statements are helpful in couple’s work is because seeing eye to eye (lol, pun?) is often hard at first. People can see one situation in two totally polarized ways while having the tendency to blame the other for it. “I” statements allow for each partner to speak about their own experience in a way that can be heard by their counterpart. Meaning, they aren’t blaming or shaming their partner for what they did (which would likely result in their partner feeling defensive instead of open). Rather, the speaker is connecting the dots as to why they are experiencing their current state of being and are being heard in the process.

MMKAY BUT THIS ISN’T RELEVANT FOR MY CURRENT RELATIONSHIP STATUS.

As I work with clients, and continue to work with myself, I notice how important using “I” statements are in basically every situation, ever. You don’t need a romantic relationship to implement this type of communication. Being able to own your feelings when you’re talking with someone is relevant for *any* type of relationship, whether it’s with family, friends or yourself.

Practicing “I” statements with yourself, and for yourself, is a game changer.

When we can integrate “I” statements into our inner dialogue, the way we relate to ourselves changes. Our relationship to our feelings, emotions, choices and actions begins to shift. “I” statements give us a strengthened sense of self. They cultivate an awareness towards our constantly changing inner-experience and ask us to connect, on a deeper level, to what we are feeling — they require that we give our self some well-deserved attention.

This is instead of deflecting what we’re feeling onto others’ actions and assigning them the responsibility of making us feel a certain type of way – an action that ultimately breeds resentment and anger within oneself.

“I” statements are a powerful practice in getting ourselves through and past emotional stuckness by beginning to understand what we’re feeling, why we’re feeling it and what we need to do about it.

BUT, LIKE, HOW DO THEY DO THAT?

As the all-knowing Wikipedia notes, “‘I’-statements are designed to rid the myths from the reality of life.” Meaning, they take what we think we know (or more so, assume) about something and challenge us to reeeeally unpack it. “I” statements ask us to critically look at our current experience and work to strip away the assigned meaning and emphasis we are putting in certain narratives (i.e. myths).

The “I” statement can take what we believe to be true and makes us go inward. So, for example, we might have certain ideas floating around in our head, such as, “ People who are loud and talk a lot lack self-awareness”. Prescribing oneself to this belief would likely have you interpret someone’s louder demeanor as annoying or overbearing. However, what’s overlooked is the underlying reason you have this self-created view. Maybe being around loud, talkative people brings up an internalized belief and insecurity of being the “quieter” one or someone who’s fearful of taking up too much space. Instead of allowing waves of heat and anger to come over you, we can notice our internal process and walk ourselves through an “I” statement train of thought:

“I feel intimidated and resentful around people who are louder and more talkative because watching someone who appears so natural at taking up space is something that I feel so uncomfortable with. It makes me feel insecure about my shyness and I notice that I get smaller, scared and quieter when this happens.”

In this example, “I” statements take the blame and fault off of the other person and allows you to own the responsibility of your reactions. It’s a check-in with yourself and lets you connect on a much deeper level than an angry outburst would. More so, noticing that perhaps you do feel so uncomfortable with taking up spaces provides a lot of important information about *you* and opens up the opportunity to grow and develop from it — “Why am I so uncomfortable with taking up space? What sorts of beliefs do I hold around shyness? Why do I get smaller when others get bigger?”

IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME.

Giving yourself a moment where go inside and ask yourself, “why am I feeling what I’m feeling?” teaches us that others don’t make us feel anything – we are in control of how we feel. *And* learning that we are in control of our own feelings and reactions is e-m-p-o-w-e-r-i-n-g. No longer can people *make* you feel a certain type of way if you don’t want to. You have the power (and strength!) to connect with yourself, to sift through your own experiences and to develop a trust in your individual process.

Using the fan favorite of all breakups ever, “I” statements are literally saying, “it’s not you, it’s me”. However, this time, this mode of thinking can bring you closer to someone (yourself included), rather than building a barrier between you and the opposing view. It builds compassion and kindness, rather than resentment and anger.

So next time, right before you really stick it to the person or situation in front of you, right before you blame and shame and say mean things even though you don’t fully understand why you’re saying this and why all this intensity is coming up but you’re going with it anyways…

Pause. Take a deep breath.

And walk yourselves through an “I” statement train of thought:  “Why am I feeling what I’m feeling?”

Start your thoughts with “I am feeling [ABC] when [XYZ] happens because it makes me feel [LMNOP]”. Then see if you can take it even further and sit with what answers come up for you.

“I” statements teach us to take ownership of our feelings, a responsibility towards our own emotions and a thought process leading up to our reactions. They change the way we relate to ourselves, our feelings, our emotions and our choices. They change how we view and perceive those around us because we are no longer giving in to the “easy” way out – blaming others.

“I” statements empower us and strengthen our sense of self. They highlight and give space to our inner-experience and ask us to connect, on a deeper level, to what we are feeling — they require that we turn inward so that ultimately we can grow, develop and shine outwards.

Sounds like a pretty sweet learning opportunity to me.

Have you ever heard about “I” statements? If so, have you used them before? How was it for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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