informal_homeIt’s a truism in America that women deal with emotions better than men.  I’m not sure about that.  I have a lot of female friends who struggle with their difficult emotions just as much as men, only differently.  Men, especially of older generations, tend to keep their feelings private and work out their struggles alone.  Men of the younger generations, however, seemed to have turned a corner.

The good news is that younger men, those in the so-called Millennial Generation, are all about breaking down stereotypes.  They are more willing to work through tough emotions by sharing them with family and friends.  I’m amazed at how often I hear about young people seeking their parents’ advice about very personal issues, including those around the area of love and sex.  This is a sea-change from when I was growing up.

When confronted with tough emotional experiences, men’s first instinct is often to push the feelings away to deal with at some “ideal” time.  Yet emotions contain within them some kind message, a truth about who we are in that moment.  There is wisdom to be gained that we might otherwise miss if we don’t face the feelings head-on.  Pushing them away can lose the raw feelings that lead to insight to this truth.

One issue is that we’ve been trained to ascribe much more to feelings than they deserve.  Feelings cannot hurt us, but we often fear them nonetheless.  I think that’s because certain strong emotions such as grief, fear, and anger come to the fore as powerful and consuming. They seem to be less controllable and so we’re worried about how we’re going to express them, who might get hurt in the process, and what collateral damage we may cause by letting them out.

We may be surprised that if we simply name the emotion verbally, we’re able to keep from letting it explode out of control.  Our emotions are signals that something in our lives is crying out for attention.  We are needing attention first of all from ourselves…to be seen, heard, and nurtured.

Here are three suggestions to help:

1. When a challenging feeling arises – sadness, depression, anger, fear, confusion, whatever the emotion is – in that moment ask yourself: Can this feeling simply be okay?  Can I suspend judging it as right or wrong, and therefore judging myself as right or wrong?

2. Have a conversation with that part of you that is being washed over with waves of emotion.  Give it a voice, not simply by complaining about life, but by giving that feeling the opportunity to be vulnerable and speak its truth.

3.  We need to own our feelings; no one can “make” us feel a certain way, though their words or actions may trigger our own strong feelings.  But we can ask for support from friends.  We can ask guidance from trusted colleagues.  We can be honest about how we feel without shame because what we are feeling is normal.

Tough emotions cry out to be shared with ourselves and with others, in the right context.  Workplaces will become much safer and more productive when and if employees are able to speak the truth of their emotions without concern for professional consequences.  Marriages and partnerships will find greater intimacy and love when shame and fear are replaced by honesty and vulnerability.

When we recognize and honor how we feel in the moment, we will also sense greater “control” of our lives, not from a place of fear but from a place of empowerment.  And when we feel empowered, we are more able to eliminate limiting beliefs that keep us from taking care of ourselves and discovering the joy of living.

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