‘People say that I am cold, that I have no feelings. That isn't exactly true. I just don't express myself. I figure that it is better to keep my feelings to myself.’
‘I feel an impulse and I act it out. I blow up too easily and so get into a lot of trouble with my family and friends. I wish I could control my temper better.’
These two seemingly different statements from hypothetical mental health clients actually express the same underlying problems - an inability or unwillingness to express emotions appropriately.
In the first case, the individual denies or suppresses his emotions for fear of consequences of admitting them to others. This individual is most likely afraid that the expression of his deepest needs and feelings will lead to ridicule, criticism, or rejection.
And in fact when we do reveal ourselves to others, we risk the possibility of such reactions. It takes courage to express our deepest emotions and needs but the potential pay-off is a genuine, close, caring relationship with another human being and the avoidance of loneliness. The cost of not expressing our feelings is possible loneliness, depression, or psychosomatic symptoms.
It is a well known fact that more women than men avail themselves of mental health services, not because women have more problems than men but because they are more willing to share and explore their deepest emotions with another person. Many men have burdened themselves with an unnecessary role that dictates that they should be able to solve their problems without help from others and should not show their feelings. Perhaps it is time for men to liberate themselves from this role and assert their right to have and express emotions. In the second example above, the individual expresses his feelings - usually of anger – too freely, and so has difficulty relating to others in a meaningful way. This anger results from the position, "I am right and the other person is wrong", a view not always easy to prove. Often an angry person is a person who has been hurt but it is easier, and seemingly safer, to express the anger, to blow up in a rage, than to admit to emotional pain and frustration.
Unbridled, uncontrolled temper is detrimental to effective human relations. Few close interpersonal relationships can long endure frequent and explosive expressions of anger without diminishing the affection that binds the partners together.
This is not to say that angry or hurt feelings should not be expressed in close relationships. They certainly should, but in a controlled, constructive manner. It is such honest communication of needs and feelings that strengthens relationships.
As is true in many other areas in life, there is a middle way to handle emotions between complete suppression and complete, unchecked expression.
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