Uncle: I once asked an acquaintance . . . let’s call him ‘Oscar’. . .
Nephew: No, let’s call him R2D2.
Uncle: Shut up. I once asked Oscar how he felt about losing custody of his dog. He shrugged and replied, ‘These things happen.’
Nephew: Ah! He got it wrong, didn’t he? You asked him how he felt, but he gave you his opinion!
Uncle: Well done! I persisted with him: ‘Do you miss your dog?’ I asked, ‘Do you feel like you are a victim of injustice?’ He replied, ‘It doesn’t worry me. Mary can look after Bosley better than I can.’
Nephew: So there was no problem?
Uncle: I knew it did worry him because he had tried hard to keep the dog.
Uncle: Talking with Oscar can be like talking to a zombie. He seems to lack the ability to express what he is feeling. He uses expressions such as ‘I don’t know’ or ‘It doesn’t worry me’, or he provides an opinion instead of a feeling. By being unable, or unwilling, to articulate his emotions he deadens himself.
‘The trouble is, we cannot selectively numb one emotion. We cannot say, here’s the bad stuff, here is shame, disappointment, fear – I don’t want to feel these. You can’t numb them without numbing other emotions, like joy, gratitude, happiness.’
(Brené Brown, TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability.)
Nephew: He becomes a zombie?
Uncle: And, his inability to express his feelings prevents him from fully connecting with others, and from making friends. Worse, my fear is that when he does start feeling all those emotions he won’t know how to handle them. He might do something he’ll regret.
Nephew: Like what? Listen to one of your lectures?
Uncle: To ask someone what they are feeling and get the reply,‘Nothing’, suggests not that they have no emotions, but rather, they aren’t good at identifying them. Perhaps they think emotions are frivolous things and more trouble than they’re worth. Or, they might be concerned that if they feel emotions they may again experience the pain they used to feel.
Nephew: Where is this leading?
Uncle: The trouble is, when we don’t allow ourselves to feel emotions, a big part of us doesn’t get to see the sun. It doesn’t get to blossom.
Nephew: It doesn’t get sunburn either.
Uncle: What doesn’t get sunburn?
Nephew: Never mind. What’s your point?
Uncle: I’m just saying that if you are asked how you feel about something, search for what you really are feeling, and say it. Don’t be a zombie. Don’t say something lame like, ‘I don’t care’ or ‘it doesn’t worry me’ or ‘no problem’. You are only telling the person what you don’t feel instead of telling them what you do feel.
Nephew: But what if I don’t want to say how I feel?
Uncle: Then say so. Try, ‘I’d rather not discuss how I feel’ or ‘I’d rather not talk about it.’ Be direct. To make sure you’re not being lazy, figure out for yourself the emotions you are feeling.
Nephew: Got it.
Uncle: The more adept we are at recognising what we are feeling, the more adept we become in dealing with those emotions. Then our confidence in ourselves grows and we feel safer, not because we are protecting ourselves, but because we have lost the need to protect ourselves.
Nephew: Yep. Got it.
Uncle: The next time you are tempted to say ‘I don’t feel anything in particular’, or ‘I don’t care’, or ‘I feel nothing’, search yourself for an emotion. Any emotion. Even if it’s just an atom of an emotion, say it.
Nephew: No problem.
Uncle: How do you feel right now?