Thoughts, feelings and clear communication
Little boys are raised differently from little girls. It’s not just a matter of some children being given toy trucks on their birthdays while others are given Barbie and Ken. If a little girl comes into the house crying, an adult is much more likely to talk with her about what happened and what she’s feeling. A little boy in a similar situation is likely to be asked what’s wrong and given advice on what to do differently next time.
Girls and women are taught a language of emotion that is often not provided to boys and men. Girls are expected to feel and express emotions. Boys are taught control emotions. As a result, feelings and emotions are typically seen as a feminine realm, while males are taught to take action.
Of course, certain feelings are “masculine” in our culture and more acceptable for boys or men to experience. Anger is one; it’s perfectly acceptable for a man to feel pissed off. Horny is fine, too. Any man can admit to these feelings without loss of face.
Other feelings are much more difficult – fear, for instance. Or hurt. Anything that implies vulnerability of one sort or another puts men on shaky ground. Everyone feels these things from time to time, unless they live in a perpetually numb state. But feeling anxious or sad or helpless can be so threatening to many men that they are unable to identify what they are feeling.
This puts men at a serious disadvantage later in life. Something happens to us, and we have an internal experience…but can’t exactly tell you what it is. We are aware of being uncomfortable with the sensation, but can’t quite put our finger on it. We feel awkward or embarrassed, stupid or ashamed.
This is especially problematic in relationships. Heterosexual couples have an advantage over male-male duos in one respect: one of the partners is much more likely to have the sort of emotional vocabulary that facilitates communication between the couple. Gay male relationships may be more likely to feel stuck, or to have less range of emotional expression. The result may be that uncomfortable topics get avoided, and conflict remains below the surface. When that happens, relationships suffer.
Many of us get confused about the distinction between thoughts and feelings. “I feel like going to a movie tonight” is a thought, not a feeling. Thoughts are ideas, considerations, or reasons. Emotions or feelings are a sensation rather than a thought, and may be experienced in the body: the chest, shoulders, stomach. Most emotions can be reduced to one or more of the primary emotions, often described as sad, mad, glad and scared.
In intimate relationships, what we feel is often at least as important as what we are thinking. That’s because loving relationships are not intellectual encounters, but connections of one heart to another. Learning to speak the language of the heart – that is, to become more comfortable and familiar with feelings and emotions – enriches our capacity for communicating with our beloved, and that deepens our relationships. It also allows us to get more of what we most deeply want, because we have the language for making our requests and needs known.
I have been licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years. My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression. My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships.
I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems. My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate. If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.
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Whether you've worked with a therapist before or are exploring counseling for the first time, you probably have questions. It is important to have the information you need to make a good decision when selecting a therapist. I welcome your questions -- about your specific situation, about me or about my approach to therapy. Making things better can start with an email, or you can call me at (404) 874-8536.