Have you ever wondered what is the function of having a rich emotional vocabulary and hence being able to express our feelings easily based on our life experiences?
The Costs Of Societal Conditioning
The average person seems to verbally express about 8 emotional words that they are familiar with. It seems that we almost owe it to our teachers and parents for either teaching it well or not doing enough to nourish our emotional health because our younger years of 1-12 were critical years when we learnt to be angry, calm, happy and tense and a whole host of other emotions. Why such an assertion?
Men especially may have grown up with certain messages that they were pummeled with unconsciously by default just by being Male. By now, many of these issues don’t register. For e.g. do you recall and still have strong beliefs that Men don’t cry so “be strong” or uttered these assertions like Don’t be a woman or Only women whine. Simple as these stereotypes are, we don’t need to go too deep to realize that we are already inhibited by societal expectations about how a male should and should not behave. Some of the repercussions of these messages manifests in men not expressing themselves when they are vulnerable, distressed or even joyful and happy. They seem restricted to go back to the inner child, the part that all of us have and are yearning to go back to. Have you also noticed how some leaders are so alpha male, having foolish perceptions that they have to be tough, serious and strong rather than vulnerable open and expressive sometimes.
Hence many males go about their lives having feelings but masking them from society. Even when something is funny, they may grin on the outside but laugh inside hence living double lives in one body. Our wives, girlfriends and colleagues sometimes wonder if we are just a physical body with a faded emotional system or one that refuses to blend in with the emotional climate of happiness where others are staying in. Do men sometimes fail to just allow themselves to be and that is feel what they are feeling and express and share what’s going on inside? If men allow this to happen, they enhance communication, connection, affection and hence invite themselves to experience a whole range of feelings, emotions and experiences which make life worth living. Much too often, expressive men can be perceived as more feminine by the typical alpha male and because of this association, they rather just recoil back into their own shell and retreat in silence. I think it is really about time that men realize that some of their conditioning have resulted in loneliness and helplessness. Check www.mkpau.org, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to nurturing authentic men.
What’s So Important About Expressing Feelings?
Putting feelings into words makes sadness and anger less intense. That’s why even talking to a therapist – or even a sympathetic bartender – often makes people feel better. They said talking about negative feelings activates a part of the brain responsible for impulse control. What they found is that when people attached a word like angry to an angry-looking face, the response in the amygdala portion of the brain that handles fear, panic and other strong emotions decreased. “This region of the brain seems to be involved in putting on the brakes,” or dampen down the responses in the basic emotional circuits in the brain said University of California, LA, researcher Matthew Lieberman, whose study appears in the journal Psychological Science.
When we don’t express feelings, or use feeling words, the brain tries to figure out the source of the troubling thought and why it exists and when it can’t quite figure what it really feels, a mental-emotional puzzle presents itself as it tries to figure out which specific emotion directly relates to the event. When the labeling is accurate, the brain actually relaxes and has a buffer effect on fear, panic and anger. “By simply putting the name to an emotion, the person doesn’t feel like they’ve come to any new insight. And yet we see this dampening response anyway” says Lieberman.
Back To Basics
Exercise 1: Brainstorming Emotions
Try brainstorming a list of emotions and stay with it for as long as you can. On average, you should try to think of 25. If you have exhausted all thoughts, try to Google/Yahoo for a list of emotions and check which ones you are familiar with. Attempt to form complete sentences with these emotions based on your past experience.
For example, I felt very angry with my brother for locking me in a cupboard and not responding to my screams as it was getting difficult to breathe in it.
Exercise 2: Write About How You Feel
Writing may be a useful way to explore your feelings. I have personally found that when I was upset with someone and did not feel like speaking to them, I’d write an email and save it for later. It would immediate reduce a large amount of tension, perhaps the act of having let it out of my system and releasing what exactly was the cause and consequences of the other person’s actions.
Exercise 3: Self-disclosure
Try expressing yourself in public or in a group of people you know. This can be about an opinion about anything especially if you are used to keeping it to yourself. People who express themselves are generally happier, less tense and have less to hide. They are comfortable with themselves and have less hang-ups about what others think about them, in essence stronger self-acceptance. This allows such people to have better self-esteem, self-worth and confidence about their thoughts, beliefs and perceptions. When we express ourselves either through writing or speaking, we affirm what we think and feel. Minimizing or suppressing has the effect of bottling up and not clarifying what we are going through inside. It starts to look like a flooded drain with murky water, silt, dirt and leaves start to build and block passages for flow to happen.