Over the next couple of episodes of The Baggage Reclaim Sessions, I’m delving into a topic that sparks discomfort in a lot of us: talking about our feelings. Expressing ours, not just to others, but also to ourselves, is crucial to our emotional, mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing as well as to the health and wealth of our interpersonal relationships. So, why then, do so many of us have a pattern of not expressing our feelings? And what causes us not to say something even when we might want to? I dive into these, and more.

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Some nuggets from the episode

Why don’t we talk about our feelings? Reasons include…

  • Growing up in an environment where no one talked about them. We deduced something from the absence of expression of feelings whether it was verbally or physical demonstration.
  • Growing up in an environment where there were extremes to how feelings were expressed. E.g. Dynasty-levels of drama, growing up in chaos and needing to protect ourselves, unawareness of a family member’s mental health issues and the impact on their moods.
  • Learning to depriorioritise or outright ignore our feelings and needs. We might do this due to having a ‘one-better’ family member who always tried to outdo our experience. It could be because we were trying to ‘help out’ due to demands on a parent or them being incapacitated.
  • Negative messages about feelings. E.g. Being called “needy”, “too sensitive”, “weak”, “dramatic” and “girlie”. We may have been told to “Buck up!”, “Get a grip!” and “You talk too much!” There are also negative connotations and secrecy about mental health.
  • Family codes. E.g. “Sopranos don’t….” “
  • Keeping secrets.
  • Being encouraged to “look on the bright side” to the point where we learned to bypass our feelings.
  • Fear of worrying or burdening loved ones.
  • Being told what our feelings were.
  • Perceived negative consequences for previous expression of our feelings. E.g. feeling penalised, silent treatment, ridicule, being abandoned.
  • Someone weaponised their feelings.
  • Not wanting to hurt feelings and feeling guilty for feeling how we do.

Given that most of us were not actively taught and shown how to identify, manage and express our feelings, it’s no surprise that so many of us struggle to in adulthood.

Some of the reasons we decide not to say anything include:

  • Fearing hurting people’s feelings.
  • Being afraid of opening Pandora’s box. We might fear what will come out, or be scared that we won’t stop once we open our mouth, or be afraid of what saying something will mean about what we need to do next.
  • Bad timing. Sometimes we’re not in a position to deal with something there and then. And… we forget about it due to, for instance, becoming consumed by something else in our day. But the feelings are still there.
  • Denying, rationalising and minimising. We hope it’s our imagination because we’re afraid of what the truth means.
  • Delaying, postponing and stalling. We’re trying to find the ‘right’ moment or waiting to feel brave enough.
  • Trying to earn the credits to express ourselves. E.g. We put up with crappy treatment so that we eventually feel as if we can give ourselves permission to say how we feel without conflict or criticism.
  • Fearing looking manipulative, aggressive, rage-y.
  • Worrying about being a Debbie Downer.
  • Dropping hints. Hoping others will figure out what we feel without us saying it.

If we are uncomfortable with feeling, recognising and expressing our feelings, we also have a level of discomfort with others doing it too.

  • We can’t feel what we don’t articulate, and we can’t articulate what we don’t feel.
  • Feelings aren’t facts. They’re notifications about our inner state and what might be going on externally. The meanings we attribute aren’t always accurate.
  • It’s OK for people to be uncomfortable. Yes it is, yes it is, yes it is, yes it is!
  • Our feelings don’t say anything about us. They don’t define who we are.
  • Focusing on anger without examining what it represents leads to rumination and obsessing.
  • If we are still angry, it’s because we haven’t got to the bottom of what’s bothering us.

Links mentioned

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