How You Feel

I really wish our society were better at teaching itself how to properly express emotion.

Expression of emotion is far more than just "showing the exact degree to which I feel (enter emotion)". There's an element of self-awareness that goes along with it that I think is actually why we, as a society, don't express emotion well.

Last night, after getting my fill of positivity by watching Black Girls Rock on BET, I switched over to watch the re-air of Real Housewives of Atlanta. towards the end of the episode, Nene and Sheree had a classic Nene and Sheree altercation in which they both started off in a very "I'm better than this" manner and quickly descended into "I will return to my 6 year old self and say every bad thing I know about you in an attempt to hurt your feelings." I've talked about how people -- black women -- tend to argue with each other, especially when they're of a certain (perceived) status. This scene was both classic Nene and Sheree as well as classic inability to say what you're really feeling.

Later in the episode, we see Nene literally crying on the shoulder of a friend about how upset she is that Sheree believed another person before coming to her. It was kinda sad, but definitely bewildering, to see Nene crying like that after she had just had quite the shouting match with her (sometimes) friend.

What came out of Nene as anger and/or irritation, it turns out, was actually hurt and sadness and either she didn't know how or didn't feel safe enough to express the hurt and went for the anger.

While reviewing a lesson plan intended for 5th graders where you talk with them ab out emotions, I asked my professor and classmates about one part where the lesson plan suggests that if, when appropriately prompted, a student said they would be angry at the given situation, to go with that instead of re-directing them to the "surprised" emotion the lesson actually was trying to pull out of them. (the set up was that you're playing soccer and suddenly trip and fall over a hole in the ground, twisting your ankle). "Doesn't that do them a disservice?" I asked. "Don't you want to help them understand that the anger they think they feel is really surprise and maybe irritation?"

We just aren't good at saying how we really feel both because we sometimes don't know how we really feel and also because we don't always feel safe to share it.

But you know what emotion is always safe? Anger. People fear anger, people comply with anger, people seem to respect anger. It's amazing to me how easy it is for the same person who can't show their hurt, to show their anger. I get the vulnerability piece, and so I guess what truly amazes me is that we don't see anger for the vulnerability it causes. If you just take a second to think of all the dumb things you've ever said or done simply out of anger, however, you'll probably get the vulnerability piece I'm referencing. I myself can easily think of situations where I let anger or apathy takeover because I just didn't want to "go there in my feelings..."

All of this would be well and good except that it hinders our ability to really communicate. If Nene had either known how or felt safe enough to tell Sheree, "listen, I'm really sincerely hurt that you would believe this man having never checked with me" and if Sheree felt that sincerity, their whole conversation would've gone differently. Both of them wanted an apology from the other and neither of them knew how to extract it in a healthy way.

I'm reminded of an exchange I had with a friend one time where I think I was just frustrated with their backwards ass way of showing affection. So many times I've heard people say "I wouldn't (enter annoying/harmful/stupid thing) if I didn't love you..." and think that was ok. This friend was one of those people, though they weren't even keen on saying that much. I was just supposed to know that when it felt like they were mentally and emotionally poking me over and over with a pen, it meant they trusted me and cared about me. It didn't help that they were miserable at the time, themselves. In any case, one day I had had enough. I was having a bad day and here this friend comes needing me to support them through yet another day of self-imposed bullshit and I literally didn't have it in me to go there, so I shut down, as I'm apt to do when I feel something but either don't know how or don't feel safe enough to express it. They picked up on my shutting down as anger (an emotion everyone is really good at expressing) and fell apart in my little hands. Just about anything I'd ever wanted to hear them say, I got out of them that day. Not since then, though.

That emotional inability -- both my friend's to really just tell me that I was appreciated and mine to adequately express that I was feeling smothered and annoyed -- is like emotional blackmail. If you're not expressing your real feelings in an attempt to extract a particular emotion from me, that's wrong and you need to cut it out.

I'll end with an example I think we can all see in our own lives: A man meets a woman he's really interested in. He thinks she's great, maybe even the one. His only problem is that he's already got a boo-thang who he thinks he might be in love with. He's pretty sure if he tells either about the other, they'll both tell him to kick rocks and so he doesn't tell either about the other. His inability to choose means two women think they have something real and one of, if not both of them, are in for a rude awakening. This is the same thing that happens when you can't express your emotions adequately. I'm thinking you feel one way and I respond to you accordingly only to find out you feel another...

Not the business, yo.

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