NaBloPoMo 2018: What I’m Learning
I’ve been working for many years now on feeling my feelings rather than thinking them. Rationality and analysis in service of self-awareness and understanding are great, but I have tried too long to will my hard feelings away, or experience them all as anger rather than what they really are—sadness, shame, fear, etc.
With books like The Art of Possibility, Mindsight, and Rising Strong, after multiple readings, along with years of therapy, I have acquired the skills to allow these feelings to emerge, engage, and pass. I understand much better now the purpose of emotions: they are simply signals. They are meant to draw our attention to something meaningful in our existence. This could be a threat, a connection, a relationship, anything. We modern humans spend a lot of time judging our emotions (and thus one another’s), trying to suppress the ones that make us feel bad, masking them, numbing them, and offloading them. For whatever reason, we are not good at simply allowing them, learning from them, and letting them go.
I started following Nate Green on Facebook just before he deactivated his page. He now communicates with readers through email newsletters, and his is one of the few I actually read. This week he sent a rare second message, linking to his recent article for Men’s Health, “There Will Be Tears: Inside the Retreat Where Men Purge Toxic Emotions.” If you read nothing else this weekend, read this.
Nate participates in an Evryman retreat in Big Sky, Montana, a project “aimed at teaching men how to access and express their emotions.” When I saw the headline I felt a squirming in my gut, which surprised me. We, especially we women, are always urging men to be more ‘in touch’ with their feelings, right? Don’t we always want our men to be more sensitive and caring, more empathic and expressive? Don’t we want them to role model all of this for our children, especially our boys?
Nate describes the retreat and its exercises:
My thoughts are racing. I shift my feet. Andrew shifts his. We continue to stare at each other. Finally, Andrew takes a deep breath and speaks. “If you really knew me, you’d know that I smoke too much pot and use it as a coping mechanism. And you would know I’m ashamed of it.”
His gaze lowers, embarrassed. He looks back up and we lock eyes. Now it’s my turn.
“If you really knew me, you’d know that I sometimes drink too much alcohol and it worries me.”
I have never spoken those words out loud before. I instantly feel lighter, like a giant
weight I didn’t even know was there has been lifted. Andrew smiles, happy to not be alone in his confession.
“Thanks,” he says.
“Thank you,” I say.
…To our left and right are 16 other men, paired off just like us. Behind us sits a gigantic log cabin that will be our home for the next two nights. After that, we’ll carry 50-pound packs into the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park, where we’ll walk and sleep among the grizzlies, mosquitoes, and stars for three more nights.
We all met maybe an hour ago.
Yikes. I’m pretty emotionally confident and open, and this would be hard for me. Imagine (or maybe you don’t have to) how hard it would be for outwardly strong, independent, and stoic men to do this. What would it take for you men to go on a retreat like this? Women, how do you picture the men in your life going through something like this? How would we react if our men disclosed their innermost fears to us, cried openly in front of us, at home, at work, on the field?
For a long time I did not understand how hard this is for men. I thought they were all just shallow and simply did not have emotions (other than anger and sarcasm). In Daring Greatly Brené Brown writes how she learned about the severe threat that vulnerability really is for men. After one of her presentations she was approached by an older man, a husband and father of her superfans. He pointed out to her that though we say we want men to show more vulnerability, the moment any man does, he immediately pays a steep price. I like to think we would welcome it, but I have a feeling many of us would react with shock and dismay, at least initially. We complain about how women are perceived as weak and ‘hysterical’ when showing emotion, and if I’m honest, I might feel the same or worse about a man doing it.
So our mission should be to make it okay for all of us, men included, to ‘be emotional.’ That does not mean losing control and acting out. It does not mean using emotions as an excuse for abusive behaviors. It means allowing and holding space for our common human experiences to affect us at our core, and acknowledging how it feels. It means helping each other breathe and walk through it all, holding each other up through the hard parts. In Rising Strong and Dare to Lead, Brown takes us through steps she and her team have developed for working through hard emotions, called the Reckoning, Rumbling, and Revolution. I’m getting really good at the first step, also known as the Shitty First Draft.
I know I have included multiple links here with minimal explanation. It’s late. And you can click and read at your leisure. Or maybe you don’t need to; maybe you know exactly what I’m referring to and you march with the same mission already. If so, let’s connect. Let’s find all of us who understand the profound need for this shift in culture and society. Let us form a chorus and sing loudly to whomever will listen, and make the world better for all of us—men, women, children—all of us for one another.
Great post Catherine. I think it’s a struggle to let ourselves feel things. We are taught to push back at our feelings. Especially men. Learning to embrace that emotional part of ourselves without letting emotions control us is difficult. I honestly never thought about how I pass judgement on emotions, whether my own or another’s. Some really good food for thought here. Thanks for sharing it. And Happy Thanksgiving.
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Thanks for reading, Ilona! My husband always quotes GI Joe to me: “Knowing is half the battle!” So true, and equally difficult as the other half, I’d say, no? Happy Thanksgiving to you, also!
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