Emotion Blog Part 1: Feelings… nothing more than freaking feelings

One of the consistent themes of our mens group has been emotions and the need for men, and Asian American men in particular, to grow in expressing them and processing them.

One of the reasons that men may not be good at expressing or processing emotions is crappy songs like the above. But more seriously, in my men’s group, Craig talked about some of the Japanese cultural elements that discouraged emotional expression. He writes:

Culturally, Japanese American men did not wear their feelings on their sleeves.  There were Japanese words like, “Gaman” (Be strong.  Don’t show pain or disappointment.)  and “Shikata Ga Nai” (It can’t be helped.  It must be done.) that encouraged men (& women) to suppress or ignore emotions like sadness, anger or fear.  So, these emotions come to be seen as “bad” or to be avoided or covered up.

There are similar elements in Korean culture as well. When I cried as a child, my parents would stare at me and yell “DOOK!” which basically means “stop” but I’ve never heard that word used in a context other when ordering a child to stop crying. My dad always exhorted me not to be too loud or excited, he would tell me constantly, “Be cool. No silly billy.” Not that this is ethically wrong, but it does demonstrate a cultural bias against expressing your feelings.

I’ve compiled some of the various truths that have come up and will try to share some of my personal experiences with them. I’ll be sharing more in the coming weeks… I’m curious what you all think.

We all experience various emotions as we progress and respond to life’s circumstances.

This may seem obvious, but to be honest, I think explicitly thinking about this concept is a helpful starting point for me. We like to think that we are rational, logically, thoughtful people, in total control… especially us guys. But in reality we are not. We are far from it. We are emotional creates to the core. We are blown and tossed by the winds and waves of our feelings. Some are just better at hiding and justifying it than others.

What are the types of emotions that control us?

Some are fleeting emotions triggered by daily life. Here’s an example from my daily life: OH CRAP, my fly is open! How long has it been open?!?!! Oh crap, how many people saw my fly open? I am embarrassed. I am mad at myself for being so stupid and not zipping up my fly. Strong emotions, but probably gone in a few hours.

Others are enduring emotions that have roots in our past, like the emotions of sadness, embarrassment at being made fun of as a kid for being overweight. There were so many experiences I had to face as a kid, the name calling, being picked last in sports, rejections by girls, the self-consciousness thoughts about my body whenever I went swimming. These types of emotions are deep and long lasting. I can still remember quite vividly what it felt like to get picked on as a kid, even though some of those memories were from 10 or 15 years ago.

Whether they are fleeting or enduring, emotions are POWERFUL. They can elicit physical responses. After realizing my fly was open, I immediately start to breath heavily, I have the urge to groan in frustration. When I missed a flight a few months ago, I was so mad I screamed and punched the wall. It was so stupid and it hurt my hand, but I wasn’t in control. My emotions took over. Emotions can enslave us, control our behavior and cause us to make foolish mistakes that fly in the face of reason.

Here’s another real personal example: My self-consciousness about my weight has triggered irrational behavior on opposite sides of the spectrum. On one irrational extreme, I spend WAY to much energy thinking about my appearance. What to wear, what not to wear, what will make my body look thinner, what kind of haircut to get. A waste of time (and money I might add). But on the other irrational extreme, my emotions cause me to not care. Rather than deal with the frustration and pain, I’ll just eat what I want, when I want it and throw caution to the wind.

Taco bell created this campaign to prey upon my emotional vulnerability. I was like a lamb helplessly being led to the slaughterhouse of baja deliciousness.

Emotions can cause us to hurt ourselves, damage our relationships with others and miss out on opportunities in our lives. I can’t tell you how many times my self-consciousness was purely in my head and I projected my own frustration and self-loathing onto others. I assumed other people were making fun of me when they weren’t. I misinterpreted their actions and unfairly judged them. Can you relate?

I’ll keep it short for now. I haven’t been blogging often, but if you do read this, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Over the next few weeks, I’ll write more about this topic, and I think there will be some dialogue on my men’s group blog, <http://theslantedview.wordpress.com/&gt; Check it out!


4 thoughts on “Emotion Blog Part 1: Feelings… nothing more than freaking feelings

  1. how funny that feelings seem to operate so separately from the truth…Let me clarify. As you stated, feelings come and go in varying shades of intensity. Also stated, sometimes they are realistic reactions, and other times they are not. How interesting that our Creator made us in a way that we could feel so deeply. How interesting that there is such an expanse between the height of our elation and the depth of our heartache and despair…and how seemingly dangerous, the fact that these tempests are often not inline with the reality of the situation.

    I do think that men are put in a precarious position, especially as the culture around us changes…women are no longer expected to be stereotypically feminine, chicks can be tomboys, they can be tough, they can wear men’s clothing…so while the field of acceptable for women expands…the field for masculinity narrows…What does it mean to be a man? There is so much focus on how the media effects girls, and their body image, their self worth…but where is the acknowledgement that this same media also wreaks havoc on men, their body image, and the way they process the world…

    I have wrestled with a lot of these same thoughts, frustrations and reactions…and while I think that it is important to plug through the culture, the expectations and the conversations, I think it is also so needed to search through the God factor. what does that even mean? hmm. If we were modeled after God, made in his image, then maybe it would be a good idea to take his example..
    When Jesus’ friend died, he wept. When he was afraid in the garden…he cried out. When he was with his friends, he loved. When he saw brokenness, he expressed compassion…Jesus wasn’t just a man…he was THE man.

    How do we define ourselves? What parts of our story do we identify with? And these questions are not at all aimed at belittling the brokenness of the past, or the things that we fight through…but it is about asking the questions…do I define myself as the world defines me, or do I let go, and define myself as God defines me? Because I believe that in finding that identity there comes a new level of freedom…to be as God created… feelings, brokenness, overweight, balding, fumbling, or whatever the perceived issue may be…and all. No matter what we are. No matter what our culture or society calls us, or tells us we SHOULD be…God has the ability to redefine it all…

    I have some other thoughts…but I think that is it for the night. God bless.

  2. Thanks for the great thoughts.Jesus was THE man. I like how you put it!

    “so while the field of acceptable for women expands…the field for masculinity narrows”

    I think that’s a fantastically interesting point you raise and I’d be curious to hear how women have experienced that and if they’d agree or disagree. I continue to struggle with what it means to be a man in a 21st century, global society.

    What I Definitely get after reading your great comment is that all people, including men, must learn how to offer their WHOLE selves to Christ, feelings, emotions and all. Our society is set on defining, boxing in men, and I think God is trying to free us from that bondage. The question is, what does that look like? We have a great example in Jesus, but I’m not sure how that exactly plays out day to day, year to year, season to season, life stage to life stage.

    I guess that’s the adventure we’re on, huh?

  3. The above stated actually is a woman’s perspective for starters

    “so while the field of acceptable for women expands…the field for masculinity narrows”

    This looks like a lot of things in our society these days. Women are working towards equality in the work place, there are still jobs that are predominately male dominated but…Women are dressing differently, becoming independent, and stepping out of the normal roles that we have been pigeon holed into for centuries…This is not to say that this process is always easy, there are still some expectations for femininity that are quiet or unspoken…

    look at the advertising, look through any magazine I can almost promise you, that you will see a few things. 1) the OVER sexualization of women 2) look at how many of the women in the ads are covering their mouth in some way…there has been research done…and it is a rather large proportion…this symbolizing the place of women..silent…3) The sexualization of violence 4) mixed messages of sex and innocence, all the pig tails, school girl like outfits…all portray innocence while the way that they are taken…is often provocative…what a dichotomy…5) the whole thin is the only beautiful thing.

    So while the scope of acceptable is growing for women, there is still a lot to overcome. Men however do no have the leeway that women have…What does it mean to be a man? The media would show you, that being a man means having a great body, muscles bigger then the next guy, being a guy means you are strong ALL THE TIME and never need to express emotions. Being a man means you can fix things, solve things, and protect people all while doing all the manly things like being a sports fan, drinking beer with the guys and going to strip clubs. WHY are these the things that are put on display to quantify manliness?? I think that these expectations damage women right a long side damaging men…I have a friend that I was talking to the other day…and she was talking about an ideal guy…she described him as someone to swoop in and save her, be her knight in shining armor, a person to fix things, make everything right, be strong and stable, someone who will take control…I think that is dangerous. And a lot of women harbor those expectations…I don’t think that this is how we were supposed to interact…forgive me for pulling the dating aspect in but I think that it fits to prove a point…I don’t think that women should be looking for that man they see on the telly, because men are not knights in shining armor, they are simply men. With feelings, with shortcomings, and with questions just like everyone else. I think that a large part of the damage done to men is one of unreal expectations.

    How do we come back from that? You asked the question about giving our WHOLE selves to God…what that looks like day in and day out…I think that it look like laying a lot of things before the throne…and I don’t mean that in a simple cliché Christian way…because they are things that I lay down daily….some things that I have to put before him multiple times a day…but what that means…is that I am recognizing the places that are broken, and that I am willing to put them before my King…maybe He will break those through patterns in a day…maybe He will do it in a year…maybe I will lay them down all my life…but either way…I know that because Christ died…He knows that brokenness…and he is no stranger to it…so if I suffer…I do so in good company…Last thought…I think that another way to walk through that day by day and season by season…is to be in a good community…a place of honesty…because that is one of the very tangible ways that God loves on us…and brings healing…sharing our stories, the brokenness and they joys…the doubts and the questions…because the ways we are raised, and socialized will just continue into the next generation if we are not willing to call them to light now..

  4. I apologize! I think I assumed the use of “us” and “ourselves” meant you were saying who do guys identify. My mistake!

    Let me start off by saying I agree with just about every single thing you said and take things in a slightly different direction.

    I think your comment about comparing acceptable male and female roles caught my attention because I think in our society any type of distinction drawn between the genders is virulently disapproved of. I’d also say the same thing for distinctions between races as well.

    I think most of the revulsion is with good reason, because for so long racists and misogynists have abused biology, anatomy and the social sciences to advance their agendas.

    I remember when Larry Summers, as president of Harvard, made the comment that men were “naturally” better at math than women. Now to me, a layman, this sounds like ridiculous garbage, but was it right for people to plug their ears and cry “Chauvinist pig!!!” — especially if he claimed a scientific hypothesis? http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2005/01/17/summers_remarks_on_women_draw_fire/

    Or take it a step further… when DNA evidence starts to suggest differences between the races, are we supposed to stop pursuing those scientific answers for fear of Eugenic malevolence? http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/11/us/11dna.html?_r=1

    Are there some scientific inquiries that are too insensitive to even be pursued?

    Anyways, I know you didn’t talk about this at first, but I bring up this chain or thought mostly because I think our conversation and some of your fantastic discipleship conclusions predisposes some assumptions of gender differences. My point being, I think the church at large has a hard time with this fundamental primary logical base, for 1) fear of seeming intolerant makes all races and genders are in fact one ambiguously similar blob or 2) ignorance, misogyny, racism or all three nefariously mixed together.

    So I think for us to get people to ask the question, “HOW CAN I OFFER ALL OF WHO I AM TO CHRIST?” We must first pose the question… what are the challenges men and women face in knowing themselves? What is similar? What is different?

    I think the discipleship journey of following Christ and leaving behind “our nets” requires us to first name what “our nets” exactly are. And in one sense, “our nets” (among other things) could be our socially conditioned views of gender identity. We can’t leave them behind if we are in denial about what they are, or assume that every single person’s nets are exactly the same.

    What do you think?

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