"You Don't Tell Me How You Feel"
In a recent couples session, one client said to their male partner, "You are always telling me what you think, but never tell me how you feel." It was a significant moment that gave him pause...and it should.
Others are rarely interested in how men feel. We are taught early that our feelings are irrelevant. Skinned your knee? Forget about it and go play. Feeling sad? Buck up little camper. The sun will come out...tomorrow. Afraid of your father? Pretend you aren't and avoid him. Back hurt? Go to work anyway. It is no wonder that opioids, marijuana, alcohol and sugar are as widely used in American society. They are all maladaptive external coping mechanisms for feelings/sensations we don't know how to handle on our own. They help us feel better when we cannot find an internal process to do so. And it is no wonder that millions of partners of American men have no idea what they feel about most matters in their relationship.
Our neurological system sets itself to "high" or "low" (the most survivable setting) in childhood...it is adaptive...it keeps us alive. But what is adaptive in childhood becomes maladaptive in adulthood. The man not in touch with his feeling state (see my previous blog posts) is at a relational disadvantage at work, at home and in society. When we can identify our emotions and express them to our partners, our partners don't have to project their worst fears onto us. The human mind's ability to fill in the informational blanks others leave for us with worst case scenario is what has kept humans on this planet for as long as we've been here. In the absence of information a narrative is created. Men who are able to identify their feeling state and communicate it do not have to first edit the narrative created by their partner (or boss or child). They are also less at risk for large outbursts of sadness or anger from which it can be difficult to move on.
The antidote to this problem is for men to ask THEMSELVES how they feel, and give themselves time to come to a conclusion. Mindfulness meditation, yoga, exercise, or any bilateral (left-right-left-right) movement can help us to reach the feeling and begin to process it. The next question is why? Is this an emotional pattern as a result of a childhood wound? Is this a feeling that it attached to shame or a negative meaning for us? Asking questions with curiosity rather than judgement is helpful to this process. Is this an issue that should be worked through with a helping professional in individual therapy? The next step is to communicate the feeling with ownership to someone we trust. Maybe that person can ask about the history of the emotion and how they might help.
Men are as capable of accessing their emotions as women, but developing the skills to identify and communicate them takes practice. You can do it! And you'll feel great when you do!