“Fellas, you HAVE to cry. If you don’t cry, you’re gonna kill somebody!” – comedian Nore Davis
What can you do if you don’t know what you are feeling?
What if you can’t even label them?
Don’t laugh. I have been that guy.
I was flying to Montreal to break up with my fiancé, but I had no idea what was going on inside me beyond guilt and shame. I knew that she was going to demand an explanation. She deserved that much.
My mind was completely blank. I felt a horrible sense of dread, like I was walking into a fan blade.
I broke her heart. I flew back from Montreal feeling drained and beat up. I left her without any real closure.
A switch had turned off. I was no longer in love. I was suddenly no longer on the train that we constructed together over two years, built up from romance to commitment to engagement. Next stop, Marriage City.
Did I get cold feet? No. I wasn’t nervous. I simply realized that I wasn’t supposed to be on THIS train.
So I got off. I didn’t pull the brake. I didn’t discuss it in advance. No process. No explanation.
It felt like a door closed and I was cut off from what was going on inside me.
Looking back over the decades, I can see how I was shut off from my emotions. I was protecting myself (and her) because feelings themselves felt dangerous and risky.
I wasn’t raised with any awareness of my inner emotional world, especially the feelings that make me uncomfortable.
As a boy and then a man, everyone and everything pushed me to shrug it off, keep going, and push through.
I learned early and often to move past emotions like embarrassment, vulnerability, and sadness.
It was worse though. I couldn’t have written the above sentence. I didn’t even have the language to label what was happening to me.
If you spend your life ignoring something, you don’t need to know what it is called.
I had to start from scratch to expand my vocabulary for unpleasant feelings. And then I moved on to the pleasant ones.
Can you use five different words to say that you are happy?
Can you name five unpleasant feelings? How about ten?
photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@helloimnik