The Most Personal Question You Can Ask Someone

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Before you read the rest of this article please consider this: What do you think is the most personal question you can ask someone?

Some possibilities:

  1. How much money do you make?
  2. How old are you?
  3. How much do you weigh?
  4. What’s your biggest secret?
  5. Boxers or briefs?

Yes, those are all very personal questions, for sure. But nevertheless, the answer is, as you may have suspected, NONE OF THE ABOVE.

The most personal question you can ask another person is “What are you feeling?”

Two things make this question so distinctly personal. First, you are asking about the other person’s feelings. And second, our feelings are the most deeply personal, biological expression of who we are.

Asking a person what they are feeling is inquiring about their deepest self. When you ask this question you are trying to understand or know this person’s inner experience. So this question is very personal, but it is so much more!

Because of the reasons outlined above, “What are you feeling?” is also one of the most caring questions you can ask. It’s a way of saying, “I care about the experience of your inner self. I want to know about the real you.”

“What are you feeling?” has other versions like:

How do you feel? (Emotionally not physically)

What do you feel about that?

What do you feel?

What are your feelings?

Despite the enormous value and power of all these questions, they are, each and every one, drastically underused in today’s world. Jokes and cartoons abound depicting harassed husbands dreading these questions from their wives.

Many people think of emotion as a weakness that is not to be talked about. Others believe that asking someone about their feelings is a violation of their privacy. But neither of these assumptions is actually true or valid in any way.

Of course, the questions can be applied in the wrong way, to the wrong person or at the wrong time. But most people, fearing any of that, refrain from asking it to the right person at the right time, potentially missing multiple opportunities to express interest and care on a deeply meaningful level.

3 Ways To Use The Most Personal Question

  1. Ask it to your partner in the middle of a difficult conversation to express interest and care on a deep level.
  2. Pose it to your child to help her become aware that she has feelings and give her the message that you care what she is feeling.
  3. Put it to a friend who seems out of sorts, to help him focus inward.

The Most Important Way To Use The Most Personal Question

Use it on yourself.

Yes, that is right. Use it on yourself.

As seldom as you pose this question to others, I’m willing to bet that you pose it even less often to yourself. But this is a very, very important question for you to ask yourself multiple times, every single day.

In my experience as a psychologist, and in my study of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), I have found that this question prevents Childhood Emotional Neglect in children when they are asked it by their parents. I have also seen that it cures Childhood Emotional Neglect when adults ask it of themselves.

Asking yourself, “What am I feeling?” accomplishes multiple healthy aims.

  • It turns your attention inward as you try to answer it.
  • It forces you to pay attention to your feelings.
  • It helps you learn how to name your emotions.
  • It validates the importance of your feelings.
  • It puts you in touch with your feelings, which will allow them to help and guide you.

If your parents failed to notice or respond to your feelings enough as they raised you (Childhood Emotional Neglect), they set you up to believe that your feelings do not matter. Perhaps you’ve always felt it best to ignore them.

But sadly, living this way is blocking you from feeling all the joy, warmth, connection, excitement, anticipation, and love that you should be experiencing each and every day. Living with Childhood Emotional Neglect is a little like having a cloud hanging over your head through your entire adult life. It affects your inner life, your decisions, and virtually all of your relationships.

Amazingly, all of these adult struggles can be overcome by a combination of self-focus,  self-knowledge and emotion training. And all can be accomplished by the simple act of asking yourself what you are feeling.

When you shift your approach to “feelings” from avoidance to acceptance, a truly remarkable change happens in your life. You begin to become aware of a part of yourself you never saw before, and a level of connection with others that you never knew existed before.

So ask. Ask the people who matter, and especially ask yourself.

What are you feeling? What am I feeling?

And reap the rewards of daring to ask the most personal question of all.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and hard to remember so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out, Take The CEN Test. It’s free.

To learn much more about how to deepen and strengthen your relationships by paying more attention to emotions, see the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, see my first book Running on Empty


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Lyn - October 24, 2018 Reply

Your article was really interesting, although I fear far too advanced for me. I generally have no clue what i’m feeling or why. Any advice on some baby steps would be much appreciated..?

    Christina - March 17, 2019 Reply

    I had this same problem for years. I just recently (within the past year) began practicing asking myself how I feel. For me, my emotions just came across to me as a generally uncomfortable feeling. Not any feeling in particular, I just felt uncomfortable, like squeamish, like I just didn’t want to be where ever I was anymore. Eventually whenever I felt that way, I was able to recognize that it was because i was having a feeling. Of course, I had no idea what feeling it was – it could have been sad, angry, scared, alone, invalidated… I started my journey by congratulating myself every time I recognized that I was uncomfortable. I would say out loud or in my head ‘congrats! You did it! You had a feeling!’ and I would give myself a physical pat on the shoulder or I’d give my arm an encouraging squeeze. Cheesy, ya totally, but also priceless. Giving myself permission to encourage me and acknowledge my ‘win’ has been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Once I got good at just noticing that I was uncomfortable, I was able to start asking myself ‘Why?’. Example – “hmmm i feel uncomfortable, i wonder why? Did someone say something i didn’t like? Am i doing something that I’m not used to or not good at so maybe I’m feeling a little insecure? What didn’t I like about what that person said? Why do i feel insecure about doing this- is there a chance that people will know if i make a mistake?” All these questions (and more) I answered as objectively as possible – just as a fact and WITHOUT blame. The more of these questions I asked, the more I actually learned about myself. My answers where may times just 1-3 words so nothing lengthy – my goal is always to be as concise as I can. I do this out loud, or in my head and my favorite is to journal it – either handwritten or typed. It’s amazing the realizations I come to when I do this exercise. Many times all of a sudden I’ll have a break through and start recalling a very specific incident in my childhood where i had a similar experience. I would have never made the connection without doing the exercise and I would have never realized that it was something that needed healed.

Jim - August 26, 2018 Reply

I just started to read and learn about CEN a few days ago.My girlfriend opened my eyes that I have CEN 8as she has too) and our relationship is suffering from it in a bad way. It really took me a while. She pointed it out already months ago, but I didnt see it. But since a few days me eyes are wide open and I hope not to late as she is my true love.
I bought myself a little notebook to write down my feelings, do a short meditation every day, and read a lot over and over again,, making a scheme of it, studying it.
I saw the question in the header and I straight said the correct answer. Which made me very proud and wrote that down in my feelingsbook. I just dont hope its too late for our relation.

Janis - August 3, 2018 Reply

I know for a fact that I have this to deal with, and to be honest, my gut reaction was that “What are you feeling?” isn’t the most personal question you can ask someone, but instead it’s the most dangerous question you can forced to answer. I guess that shows what’s up with me right there, doesn’t it? Answering that question honestly would make me feel like I was a grey seal being shoved into a tank full of sharks.

    Jonice Webb PhD - August 3, 2018 Reply

    Yes Janis, please do deal with your fear. I’m certain that it is blocking you from the most rich and rewarding parts of life.

Vexations - August 1, 2018 Reply

I think it is important when asking “the most personal question” that one must remember what Carl Rogers said, “Being empathic means: “To be with another in this way means that for the time being you lay aside the views and values you hold for yourself in order to enter another’s world without prejudice.

In some sense it means that you lay aside your self and this can only be done by a person who is secure enough in himself that he knows he will not get lost in what may turn out to be the strange or bizarre world of the other, and can comfortably return to his own world when he wishes. ”

In other words the tone, posture, and manner in which one asks “the most personal question” is as important as the words.

Donna - July 30, 2018 Reply

Hi my name is donna

Jen - July 30, 2018 Reply

Not off topic. How about why are all the actors in the photo array white?
Aside from that, I really like the website. Very helpful.

    Jonice Webb PhD - July 30, 2018 Reply

    Dear Jen, I love your question! I always look for the best image I can find to fit the particular blog. And I do make sure to use images showing a variety of different races as often as I can. I think it is very important indeed. Thanks so much for your thoughtful question.

Connie stuart - July 29, 2018 Reply

I have read with great interest Jonice Webb’s discussions about CEN in the articles sent in email to my phone for a great while. Also I have gone to 12 step meetings for 32 years. I have a psychiatrist and a therapist and go to “group”. Recovery or should I say organized connection with people based on known healthy practices gives life it’s needed structure.

I feel a strong need to go further to go to a greater level of action all the time. Yer I am so overwhelmed with “gotta-do”s” already. I would like to read all MS Webb’s books and get, somehow, on a more directed path of recovery but I just can’t do everything.

    Jonice Webb PhD - July 29, 2018 Reply

    Dear Connie, I am a great believer that we heal when we’re ready. Just do what you can and be proud that you are growing.

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