How can men who are socialized not to acknowledge their feelings find the vocabulary to start expressing themselves?
People often ask me how I support men in getting in touch with their feelings. Often, the question is coming from the partner of one of these men and they’ve been struggling with this for the bulk of the relationship. They love the guy, they know there’s something going on inside, but they can’t get him to talk to them.
A big part of the work is letting go of trying to “get” anyone to do anything. That’s a losing battle at best. At worst, it’d be pretty manipulative on my part. When I’m working with a client it’s almost always because he wants to do the work. Yes, there are times when he’s been given an ultimatum by someone important in his life, but I acknowledge that there’s always some “buy in” to the process.
That buy-in is great, but what we have now is someone telling me how much they want to connect with their emotions, but Just. Can’t. Do. It.
They’re trying, they see the positives for doing so, but for some reason, there’s a huge stumbling block and, since they’re guys who’ve been socialized to fix things, they are really angry that it’s not something they can puzzle their way through. Certainly, they’re also upset they can’t do it on their own. And they’re confused when they learn that it’s not something to be “figured” or “thought” out. If you’re going to connect to your emotions you’re going to have to feel your way there, and that’s off-putting to many. Sounds a bit woo-woo to others. It’s really the only way to fully connect to those emotions.
Don’t worry, there is a workaround…at least to start off.
Listen to Your Physical Self
When people are disconnected from their emotions, I find it grounding and helpful to start with the physical. This can be uncomfortable, but it’s more accessible than trying to label emotions right off the bat for those who haven’t yet developed that skill (and it is a skill and doesn’t necessarily come naturally.)
When someone tells me they’re pretty stumped by the “What are you feeling right now?” question, I encourage them to talk about a place in their body that feels different. Maybe it feels good, maybe there’s discomfort, but whatever comes up first is what we explore.
- I’ll ask whether that sensation is familiar, and can they link it to circumstances, and maybe even emotional states.
- I’ll ask them if they’ve been pushing the feeling away and, if so, to let themselves feel it, discomfort and all.
- I’ll ask them to give it a voice. (I know this sounds a little “woo-woo”.) If the physical feeling had some words, what would it say?
During the course of all this, we may actually experiment with some emotions they may be having, but just didn’t have the language for:
- That sounds like sadness.
- It seems like you’re feeling disappointed.
- You may be holding on to some real shame, there. What do you think?
- This last question is important: What do you think about my saying that? Does that ring true?
It’s a Start
I wasn’t lying about the need to feel your way through this: Noticing physical sensations and connecting them to emotions is really just the first step in getting to know your emotional/feeling self.
The hope is that it takes some of the ‘deer in the headlights’ paralysis from the initial question of “How are you feeling right now?” for someone who just hasn’t had a lot of practice in connecting with those emotions.
Try it out and let me know how it goes for you!
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