How to talk about all the icky things (So that you might feel a little less icky.)


By Angelica Shiels Psy.D.

I clean the house once a week, so if you come over near the end of the week, you might notice sticky floors, a smudged refrigerator, and blue kiddy toothpaste all over the upstairs bathroom sink.  For that one day at the end of the week, though, the house looks amazingly free of weird crusty stuff.

Sometimes on summer afternoons, I send my muddy, watermelon-sticky boys through the sprinkler, and they all come out the other side gleaming clean (and happy) for the time-being.  The momentary lack of snack-goop and dirt on those boys is cathartic.

Of course we all have a steady flow of unfixable, inevitable stress and turmoil that we endure in any given week….Wouldn’t it be nice if all that junk in our lives could just be swept away in a paper towel, down a drain, or through a sprinkler?  
I mean, I’d love to vacuum up that surge of guilt I feel after crushing my four-year old with my involuntary death-glare (the glare that is supposed to mean, “I am so scared that you are going to hurt your brother” but accidentally comes out as, “You are a horrible and vile human being”). And I’m sure my my husband would love to wipe away his regret about missing the kids’ t-ball hits, swimming triumphs and bed-time stories because he’s across the globe on-business…

(And as tempting as it may be  sometimes, I don’t think hosing my husband down in the freezing cold sprinkler would do him a lot of good.)

It’s pretty well-known that two of the best things to do with unfixable stress and unpleasant-feelings are 1)  Exercise and 2) Talk about it.  (No, drowning in enormous amounts of Pinot Grigio or  Heavenly Hash [the ice cream.  Come on now.] are not on the list.) Number one is easy enough to not screw up– Just get your heart racing a little.  But did you know that doing #2 right is actually pretty difficult?  I see it all the time at my job, and even notice how hard it is to do myself, enough that  I decided to write this post about it….  

How to talk about all the icky things:  (So that you might feel a little less icky.)

Rules for the talker:

1)  Lead with the old-cliche I-statement:  “I feel…..because…..”

2)  If any of your icky feelings have to do with the other person’s behavior, do not focus on that behavior except to directly ask for them to do something specific and realistic in the future (Instead of saying, “You never answer the phone when I call,” ask “Could you please make an effort to answer the phone when I call?”)

3)  Be aware of what you need in that conversation, and don’t hesitate to ask for it.  “Could you please just listen until I finish?”  “Could you please just hug me? ”  “Could you please just tell me I’m not crazy for feeling that way?”  “Could you please just let me know everything will be okay?”

Rules for the listener:

1)  Resist the urge to solve the problem.  We hear the stereotype about women wanting to be heard and men wanting to “solve problems,” but the truth is, men and women want to be heard.  Let go of the need to fix, rescue, or solve the problem.  Many times the problem isn’t fixable anyway, and almost all the time, the other person just wants to have their feeling heard and acknowledged.  If my husband started telling me about how I just need to take some deep breaths instead of giving our son the “death-glare,” my instinct would be to reenact my expression right in my husband’s condescending face (something I also have to remember in therapy.  People don’t want to hear “advice” unless they ask for “advice”!!).

2)  Resist the urge to talk the other person out of their feelings.  “You shouldn’t feel that way because….”  “Look on the bright side; At least….” and  “It’s not that bad….” are all well-meaning statements, but feel like nails-on-a-chalkboard to someone that just wants their feeling as it is in that moment to be acknowledged.  Telling my husband that he shouldn’t feel bad about being away from the family because everyone is doing just fine without him is…. Well, just terribly wrong on so many levels (and it is also, incidentally, a lie).

3)  Try any of these:  1)  Be a silent “holding place” for the feelings, just listening and keeping your mouth shut during the pauses, nodding and keeping eye contact to show you are listening.  2)  Validate the other person– Tell them how it makes sense that they feel the way they feel.  3)  Mirror/repeat what the other person is saying– “So you had a really bad day;” ” Your bus was running late;”  “You have a presentation and your deadline tomorrow.”  4)  Empathize:  “Sounds horrible.”  “Sounds really hard.”  “Man, that does not sound fun.”


While having this kind of a talk may not completely erase all the messy, crusty emotional stuff in our lives, it sure does feel good….Maybe even as good as a Sunday-night-clean house 🙂

Enjoy your connecting and real, meaningful de-cluttering, everyone!


Just something to think about,



This Overthinking Mommy


P.S.  These are good conversation rules of thumb to use with our kids too… Even and especially when we really don’t share their same perspectives and feelings about something….



3 thoughts on “How to talk about all the icky things (So that you might feel a little less icky.)

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