How Does That Make You Feel?

How Does That Make You Feel?

There it is. Finally, the therapist asks THE question. The title alone probably caused some percentage of readers to jump back over to Netflix! I can honestly tell you that when the subject of feelings comes up in therapy (which, as you might guess is fairly often), there are often looks of either fear, frustration, confusion, or downright anger. Apparently, thinking about feelings causes some people to feel quite a lot!

So, what’s the issue? Why do some people struggle with the notion of feelings? Well, I think there are several points at which one might lose his or her way in dealing with one’s own or another’s strong emotions. So here is a little primer for those of you find this topic a little difficult.

First, feeling and expressing emotions does not cause people to lose their ability to reason. I’m going to stereotype some here. Husband after husband will look at me and say “I just can’t talk to her when she gets like this.” The her he is referring to is his wife and the this he is referring to is crying. But after a moment or two, I ask her some question and she answers it reasonably and thoughtfully. Now, that’s not to say that some people don’t allow their feelings to ratchet up but as a rule, if you try, you can be very reasonable when you are feeling strong emotion. The husband in question here would be so much better served to sit for a moment and then re-engage. Show her you are not intimidated by feelings; that she has a right to feel her feelings; and you have not lost respect for her just because she is expressing them.

Second, and another common stereotype will be employed, many men have been long trained about which feelings are acceptable to express and which are not. Brene Brown says the shame message men face is “do not be perceived as weak” and for many, there are certain feelings that are synonymous with weak. Some of these include sadness, fear, and confusion. So when these men actually feel these “weak” feelings, shame fires up and they either suppress or reroute the feelings into the more acceptable ones like indifference or anger. One thing I know for sure as a therapist is that when one emotion is expressed as a different one, confusion and chaos often follow. So men, when your wives talk about you not being in touch with your feelings, that’s probably what they are talking about. I would encourage you to spend a little time challenging your shame message and start at least naming feelings for what they actually are.

The final one (for today) is the fear of just being swept away by feelings. Another common reason I find for men and women trying to suppress their feelings is that they are afraid that if they start letting them all out, they will just be lost in an avalanche. For you I say this; what you fear is understandable but probably not true. In fact, it is the holding in, burying down, and hiding from feelings that increases their overwhelming power. Find a good friend, a minister, or a trained therapist to sit down with. Take a deep breath, Share your story. And when they ask, “How does that make you feel?” tell them.