David Kundtz is a licensed family therapist in Berkeley, California. He presents seminars, workshops, retreats, and conference presentations in the areas of men's emotional health, stress management, and spirituality. He is the author of Managing Feelings:  An owner's manual for men and has recently completed a second book, Nothing's Wrong: A Man's Guide to Managing His Feelings. He makes his home in Kensington, California and in Vancouver, British Columbia. You may contact David at dk@stopping.com or visit his web site at www.stopping.com

Buried Alive
Different Wiring, Different Schooling
Feeding the Emotions
Friends and Close Friends
Half A Life
Life: Feelings Acted Out
Step One Revisited: Run and Cover
Talking About It
Three Steps to Emotional Fitness - Step 1
Three Steps to Emotional Fitness - Step 2
Three Steps to Emotional Fitness - Step 3
The Way a Man Feels

Feeding the Emotions

One of the points I’ve made is that feelings just come to us on their own; we can’t control what we feel. And so it is. However, experience shows that while we have no control over a feeling arising, we can, to some extent, influence how long we experience it. So a certain situation occurs in which you do have to take responsibility for having feelings, when you have to take responsibility for which feelings you feed. I call it wallowing.

That's when you wallow in a negative feeling, so as to prolong it; when you enjoy your hatred so much that you intentionally hold onto it; when you take shelter in your jealousy and set up house there; when you cultivate your ability to fly into a rage. Or when you intentionally put yourself in situations that will ignite your violence.

The italicized words in the above paragraph indicate acts of your will by which you have brought on or prolonged the feelings. They may have first come on their own, but they have not grown to such proportions on their own. Your encouraging them becomes a behavior for which you are responsible.

Of course wallowing in positive feelings that everyone enjoys–like eager, satisfied, and enthusiastic–is no problem. It can in fact be helpful to stretch out these feelings, spread them around so to speak. Unfortunately for many of us, we often run from happiness and wallow in anger.

A story from the American Indian tradition gets exactly to the point I’m trying to make:

A grandfather explains to his grandson, who has just gotten into some mischief: “There are two wolves battling inside of you. One is ferocious and destructive and the other is gentle and very powerful.” When the child anxiously asks, “Grandfather, which one of them will win?” he replies, “Whichever one you feed.”

Friends and Close Friends

Another damaging result of our limited way with feelings is that we often find it difficult to have close friends. The women in our lives–girl-friends, wives, partners, relatives, and other friends–often look at us with wonder.

"My son has no friends at all." says one woman I know. "He seems to have acquaintances at work, but no real friends. The thing is his father has no friends either. I am my husband's only friend." She also expresses her sadness for her son and husband, as well as the pressure she feels to fill all her husband's friendship needs.

But you know what? This tendency to isolation, to be a loner, is something many of us feel from time to time. In fact we often go back and forth between wanting very much to be part of the crowd, and wanting the crowd to stay far away. The goal is to avoid isolation as an on-going state.

Of course, most of us do have friends. What too many of us don't have is close friends, "close" meaning one with whom I am able to be myself completely – vulnerabilities as well as strengths, seriousness as well as humor, caring as well as disagreement, anger as well as joy. What keeps us from achieving this kind of friendship? Is it not the fear I’ve mentioned before? Somehow this kind of intimacy with another guy is weak and suspect. (My book, Nothing’s Wrong treats the causes in more depth.)

"The problem with our Western culture," writes theologian Edward Sellner in a 1998 "Common Boundary" article, "is that a man's desire for…communion with other males is the source of much suspicion. While other societies acknowledge this need, [much of] Western culture…is fearful if not outright condemnatory of it." If this is so, what led us to this illogical and uncomfortable place?

Again, fear. And we came by it logically. Probably most of us can recall experiences of shame beginning in childhood and continuing perhaps even to today, experiences that taught us to fear and avoid the expression of care toward another male. When we showed strong feelings–especially gentle, kind, understanding, or tender ones–we were often mocked and bullied. We learned quick.

If there is only one change that you make as a result of reading these articles, please make it this one. Please! Determine somehow, some way, at some time to regularly get together with friends; that is, if you don't already do it. This simple decision may look innocent and common but it is a profound investment in mental and emotional health.

  • This getting-together can take many forms. Find one (or more) that is just right for you. Here are some examples:
  • Sports: Have a regular time and place to meet your buddy–or several–for a game of racquetball, golf, bicycling or whatever.
  • Food: Meet with a group of friends for a regular meal at one of your homes or a restaurant.
  • Group: Join or start some kind of group that meets regularly: book group, support group, investment group, hobby group, etc.
  • Poker: Gather a group of guys who love poker or any other game and meet on a regular basis to play and drink some beers.
  • Church: Join a group of friends in your church which meets regularly around some topic of interest to you.
  • Clubs: One of the many service clubs (Kiwanis, Rotary, Toastmasters, etc) or other kinds of clubs offer opportunities to get together regularly with other members.

Did you notice the word that is in every example? "Regular." The emphasis is on regular connecting, rather than on habitual isolation. The movement is away from feeling competitive with other guys, toward feeling connected with them socially. And this isn't just fun, statistics prove it's healthy. Social interaction improves health.

Buried Alive

In the last column we talked about not running from a feeling and not covering it. When we run from or cover what we’re feeling, the feeling gets buried. Much of the trouble we get into happens when we bury our feelings – when you are feeling angry, for instance, and you say to yourself, "No, I'm not angry! Who? Me? Angry? Naah." Why does this lead to trouble?

It's troublesome because if you do not stay with the feeling, if you deny it, or run from it, the feeling won't have a chance to tell you how to express it, how to get it out. And if it doesn't get out, it's buried. And if it's buried, it's always buried alive.

"Buried alive" means that the feeling is never expressed. To be expressed is what a feeling craves; it's a feeling's reason for being. A fish swimming, a bird flying, and a feeling expressed are three things that are alike.

When the feeling is buried alive, it never finds its own life. Rather, it's stuffed away and ignored before it has the chance to do what it was meant to do, get expressed.

The energy created by that buried feeling, like any energy, cannot disappear; it has to do something or go somewhere. Because the feeling is frustrated, the energy it generates is strong and desperate. Have you ever held a fish out of water or kept a bird from flying? That's what the energy is like. The feeling is literally fighting for its life. The only difference is that the feeling never dies. Never.

What happens when feelings are not expressed in a healthy way by their owner, in other words, buried? They do damage. While it may be true that very mild or minor feelings tend to fade away on their own, the important ones don’t.

This damage can take at least three possible forms, none of them desirable: The first possibility is addictive behavior, like problem drinking or eating. The second possibility is that they turn on their owner in a bodily way, like a mad dog, and cause physical sickness. The third is emotional or mental illness.

Am I saying that unexpressed or buried feelings can actually cause serious afflictions like alcoholism (addiction) and cancer (physical illness) and depression (emotional illness)? Yes.

And too often these buried feelings are the root cause of more than one of these illnesses in the same person. It is not unusual to see a guy suffering from symptoms of physical illness, addiction, and depression.

The solution, as we’ve seen, is the Three Steps to Emotional Fitness: Notice what your feelings are; Name them with a specific name; Express them in some way to the world. These steps keep the gears humming and the guy healthy.

Step One Revisited: Run and Cover

This column might better be called “What Not To Do.” There are some times when running and covering will save your life, but when it comes to your emotional life, running and covering bring death. Unfortunately it’s what a lot of us do a lot of the time.

For a moment, let’s go back to the first step, Notice the Feeling, because if this step is not firmly in place and mastered, the whole process is doomed. Recall the first step: when a feeling comes to you, notice it. You don't have to do anything more. But there are two really important things not to do: Don’t run, don’t cover!

As I mentioned in step one, running from a feeling is often done by distracting yourself, with work or television for example, or with any one of a million things that need to be done. Running from a feeling can happen so fast–instantaneous and automatic–that the runner has no idea that he is running. This kind of response is often a deeply engrained habit.

Running from a feeling can be as obvious as physically moving away from the situation.

You can refuse to talk about a subject, you can avoid, confuse, and bully. You can get sick or have an accident. Or you can suddenly remember a phone call you have to make, a friend you have to visit, or an errand you forgot. Yes, really, none of this is an exaggeration. You can do anything at all to avoid noticing the feeling.

Covering a feeling is similar to running but not as effective. A common cover I mentioned before is joking or other types of humor. Other forms of covering: changing the subject, shifting the blame, denying the problem, pretending not to hear, blaring the radio, getting something to eat or drink. Even though some of these things can be normal parts of life, check closely to see what they might be covering.

The key idea in the first step is “notice.” That’s what we have to do with the feeling that’s there, just notice and accept it, experience it, just let it be.

So don't run away and don't cover. Just take a few deep breaths and feel whatever you’re feeling. Let it come, let it be there. Notice it. Be aware of it. The first step says, "Oh, it's you" to the feeling. It is an acknowledgement, a recognition that something new is there, something that wasn't there a minute ago.

At first you might not know what the feeling is, what to call it. That makes no difference at this point. What is important is that you know something is going on in you.

If at times you realize that you have run from a feeling or have covered it, don't worry. Go back to the feeling again. It will probably still be "there."

The amount of time you spend with the feeling does not have to be extremely long; a few moments are often enough. You'll find other feelings are with you for hours, weeks, years, or a lifetime.

It is important to make this first step a conscious step, because you can often miss it. You cover the feeling so quickly, or you run so immediately, that the feeling never has a chance. That is why so many of us can sincerely say I don't know what I'm feeling.

This three-step theory is built, in part, on the idea that the feeling "knows" what's best for it–and for you. The feeling can help you know just what to do with it. But it can only do this if it is allowed to stay around for a while to build a relationship with you, its owner. Your emotional well being depends upon the successful completion of the crucial first step.

Three Steps to Emotional Fitness - Step 3

Step Three: Express the Feeling

Now–and only now after the first two steps–are you ready to move on. Only now are you in a position to play the whole game of life and not just half of it. Only now do you welcome both the logical, thinking moments, but also the spontaneous, feeling moments.

The third step is, of course, the next logical step: It is the expression of the feeling. By "express" I mean to externalize, which means to get the feeling out of the internal world of yourself and into the external world of everyone else. Give the feeling outward expression. Tell it in some way to some part of the world. Get what's inside, outside.

Years ago when I was teaching English in high school, I had a student, Ben. He was generally a good student but he always had a hard time with writing. One particular writing assignment really got his interest and he got an A+, the first Ben had ever received on a writing assignment.

After all these years, I can still picture it: Right after class Benny was doing what I can only describe as a wild and crazy dance down the hallway. Arms and legs flying in every direction, head bopping up and down, now jumping, now running, hands waving and circling. Everyone just stopped and stared. What in the world is going on with Benny?

In our terms, Ben was doing the third step. He was getting out the feelings that were inside him: happiness, success, fulfillment, and satisfaction; and doing it in a spontaneous and memorable way.

Up to this point in our process, you could have done steps one and two in a crowd and no one would have necessarily known that you were up to something. With this step, you go public. It can be public in a small, quiet way that draws no attention at all. Or it can be public in a big, noisy way that draws a lot of attention.

Examples of the successful externalization of feelings cover the spectrum from the petty and pitiful to the magnificent and mystical. It can be the snapping of your fingers in the feeling of frustration or the writing of a song from a feeling of passion. You can wail your agony or yell your enthusiasm. You can speak your concern or you can jump for joy.

You can tell a friend you're excited or mad. You can write poetry to someone you love, moved by loneliness; or letters to your senator, moved by anger. You dance for happiness (like Ben); sigh from contentment. You defend your country from a feeling of patriotism; mow the lawn as an expression of pride. You demonstrate on the capitol steps as an expression of a deep conviction.

The expressions are: snapping of fingers, writing a song, wailing, yelling, speaking, jumping, telling, writing poetry and letters, dancing, sighing, defending, mowing, and demonstrating. All are external, discernible acts. Some last a moment; others may span a lifetime.

Whatever the mode of expression, it must be external to you. The feeling must be moved out, put in the exterior. And that has to be done in some physical, perceptible way.

Think of the people you admire, perhaps sports or civic leaders (like Tiger Woods or Abraham Lincoln or Lou Gherig) or those closer to home, maybe a teacher, neighbor, relative, or friend. At least part of the reason you admire them is because they found really good ways to express what they were feeling.

The third step is the part that makes these the steps to emotional fitness. Why? Because it allows feelings to do what feelings were meant to do. Psychologist James Pennebaker puts it bluntly: "If you don't talk out your traumas, you're screwed. I think that's the scientific term for it." Pennebaker has shown, reports a recent Newsweek, "that when people regularly talk or even write about things that are upsetting to them, their immune systems perk up and they require less medical care." The talking or writing is the third step. It externalizes the feeling.

You are free to externalize in ways that are noble and honorable or in ways that are dirty and mean. What we see and understand of each other's lives is the way we do our three steps. An autobiography is telling the world how you have lived the three steps: This is what I felt and this is what I did about it.

Three Steps to Emotional Fitness - Step 2

Step Two: Name the Feeling

Now that you and the feeling have had some time together, you can move on to the second step, which is to name the feeling. In this step you call the feeling by whatever name seems most accurate.

You can do this naming quietly in your mind, or aloud, but be sure to use a specific name. Call it anything, but call it something! You might think, for example, Okay, I'm feeling cheated right now or What I'm feeling is overwhelmed or This makes me feel uncomfortable.

Even if you are not sure exactly what the feeling is, name it anyway. The very process of naming it will help you know if the name is accurate. I feel good. I'm feeling happy right now. This might lead you to Actually what I'm feeling is satisfied and proud. You gradually zero in on specific feelings.

You accept ownership of the feeling by naming it. You say, This is my feeling. Naming is the acceptance of the feeling (even though you might not like it) and your ownership of the emotional state (this is my feeling, not yours, nor his, nor hers.) There's no other just like it. Feelings might share names, but, like their owners, they are unique.

Note the shift in power that the second step gives you. By giving the feeling a name, you have shifted the power from the feeling to the feeler, to the part of you that has the capacity to choose what do to about the feeling. Until you do this, the hidden emotion is like a guerilla hiding in ambush, and it has the guerilla's advantage: it sees you, but you don't see it, so it can have its way with you. This step turns the tables.

The names of feelings used in the above examples are: cheated, overwhelmed, uncomfortable, good, happy, satisfied, proud, foolish, sympathetic, embarrassed, anxious, scared, angry, and resentful.

Art was feeling really good, and it was mostly because he just had a great conversation with a fellow worker, a woman he was interested in dating but did not know very well. They spent several hours at lunch talking about things they both like. It was a real high for him since he had never really talked to her that deeply before. The next day at work he sees this same co-worker and as he approaches her smiling, she gives him a scathing look, turns, and walks off in the other direction.

And he is left there bleeding. Hurt! Confusion! Frustration! Of course he is hurt, confused, and frustrated. Anyone would be. He has no explanation for what happened and he doesn't know what to do. So he throws up his hands and mutters something about the unpredictability of women.

As he noticed and named (first two steps) his normal feelings about this situation, Art gained enough confidence in what he was feeling to follow it up. He asked her about it. It turned out to be a misunderstanding based on office gossip.

So what I am suggesting to Art is–that's right–the first two steps: Stay with the frustration for a while, just feel it. Don't run, don't cover! Then call it a name: You are that $%^&* frustration (or hurt or confusion)!

Can you see how these two steps give Art some power and control over what he’s feeling? With these two steps he is also giving himself more time. And time is always a necessary ingredient to resolve confusion and frustration.

So now you have the first two steps in place: You noticed the presence of a feeling that exists in you because you have not run, you have not covered. You stayed with it and looked at it, that is at yourself, and at what you are feeling at the moment.

Then you have given that emotional state a name–sad, mad, glad, frustrated, etc.–and thus changed the balance of power in your favor.

Three Steps to Emotional Fitness - Step 1

Step One: Notice the feeling

Now the rubber meets the road. What do you actually do with feelings? What is the solution to having “no words for feelings” (Alexithymia)? What are the practical steps for a man to take? The answer is: the Three Steps to Emotional Fitness. They are:

First: Notice the feeling. Stay with it.

Second: Name the feeling. Pick a name to identify what you feel.

Third: Express the feeling. Get the feeling outside you.

I want to emphasize at the outset that human emotion, its origin and its expression, are very complex and these three steps are not intended to be magic bullets. They are not a simplistic answer to a complex question. They really are not an answer at all, they are a practice; a practice for life, a process for health, an exercise for emotional fitness. They can begin to open the way, grease the rails, and establish the habit of a healthy feeling life. The three steps can give you an immense advantage on your road to integrating your astronaut with your man-in-the-moon. Let's look briefly at each of these steps.

First Step: Notice the Feeling. This first step can seem too easy, almost self-evident, and quite unimportant. But too often we skip it without knowing that we're skipping something. We just don't notice that we're having feelings. We avoid or ignore them or convince ourselves we don't feel anything. We simply do not notice.

Manual is a 42-year-old divorced airline pilot who was in a custody conflict with his ex-wife. When he lost the case and his two children went to live with their mother in a distant city, he said he felt "nothing," that "everything is OK, they're probably better off with her." But he quickly slipped into a deep depression.

He did not notice what he was feeling and so practically ruined his chances of dealing with this difficult situation in a successful way. This not-noticing, while understandable because the feelings he avoided are no fun, is just plain disastrous.

So: when a feeling comes to you, just feel it That's it–just feel it. You don't have to do anything more. But there are two important things not to do: Don’t run. Don’t cover.

Don’t’ Run. Running from a feeling is often done by distracting yourself, with work or television for example, or with any one of a million things that need to be done, that need your attention, and are often worthy things to do. Running from a feeling can happen so fast–instantaneous and automatic–that the runner has no idea that he is running. This kind of response is often a deeply engrained habit.

Don’t cover. Covering a feeling is similar to running but not quite as effective. It's easier to spot. A common cover for many men–young and old–is joking or other forms of humor. The joker is almost stereotypical; we all know guys like this. He just can't seem to get serious, to tell you what's really going on for him. It's always a joke. Now a sense of humor is one the really likeable traits of neat people; it's what makes us fun, life funny, and other people enjoyable. But there is a time to be serious.

This three-step theory is built, in part, on the idea that the feeling "knows" what's best for it–and for you. The feeling can help you know just what to do with it. But it can only do this if it is allowed to stay around for a while to build a relationship with you, its owner. Your emotional well being depends upon the successful completion of this first step.

Talking About It

Given the culture in which we've been raised, it's no wonder that many of us are challenged by the feeling part of life. We often can't seem to recognize and talk about the feelings we are having at any given moment.

So when someone asks us what we're feeling, and we say, "Oh, nothing,” we’re not lying.

For most of us, these patterns begin when we were boys. The story of Derek, now 44, begins during the end of his senior year in high school. This was a kid who had been in trouble forever. He was a middle child in a large and gregarious family. At this late date in the school year, it was doubtful if he would make the grades to graduate.

Then he got caught by the vice-principal smoking pot in the school parking lot. That was the point at which Derek literally shut up. He wouldn't talk to anyone–family, friends, school counselor, pastor, teachers, or police–no one. He'd just look at the ground and shake his head.

His story slowly moves forward with very little life. He had to do community service for using a controlled substance. He did not graduate from high school. He got an unchallenging job and just sort of existed. Only now, in mid-life, is he coming to his full emotional life.

The assumption I make about Derek is that he could have told us if he wanted. While I think that's true, I don't really know. That's the frustrating thing about Derek and so many like him. We just don't know what's going on in their inner life. They won't or can't tell us. He had no words for his feelings, which remained locked up deep inside him.

There's a name for this condition: Alexithymia. It's from Greek words meaning "No Words for Feelings." People with alexithymia cannot put into words the feelings they are experiencing. A few of us guys have it really bad; most of us have at least a light case of it.

The bad news is that it does a lot of damage to us, especially because it is precisely “talking about it” that women seem to love! The good news is that, in the vast majority of cases, it's fixable.

If you begin now to find ways to attach words–or some other healthy means of expression–to your feelings, you can avoid the sad situations like the one that Derek got himself into. It's never too late!

The Way a Man Feels

What are some of the specific ways that the world sees men as different from women in the expression of feelings? We might begin with an overall description of men as feeling “from the gut” and women as feeling “from the heart.” That begins to set the stage for the differences. “Gut” carries feelings of spontaneity and power; “heart” of caring and gentleness.

There are many ways of describing these differences and every commentator seems to have favorites. Here are eight characteristics of “feeling from the gut” that I have culled from many. These seem to be the dominant qualities of the way men–specifically–deal with feelings. See if they ring true for you:

1. We tend to be aggressive, rather than passive, favoring what many see as the "typically masculine" approach.

2. Related to that, we favor competitive feelings with firm expression, rather than cooperative feelings with gentle expression, a tendency that certainly has deep roots in the culture in which we were raised, and perhaps an historical remnant from the ancient male role of hunter/provider.

3. We like to be literal, rather than symbolic. So while we sometimes miss symbolic or non-verbal emotional expressions–a sigh, a smile, a gesture, an absence–we’re good at picking up literal and physical signs.

4. We favor logic rather than emotion as a motive for acting, and thus will often be moved to do something based on a rational, not an emotional, process.

5. We often get to an emotion by way of a thought, rather than directly to the emotion. Often our first response to anything is thinking about it or acting upon it. Feeling follows.

6. Similarly, our preference is to express a feeling by an action–doing something, like enjoying an activity together with a spouse or a friend–rather than by talking about it.

7. We typically express feelings infrequently, rather than often, leading some to judge wrongly that sometimes we don't have feelings.

8. We tend to favor feelings that foster a sense of independence, rather than a sense of connectedness to others.

But do you see the problem here? The traits mentioned are stereotypes. For every one of those eight traits, I–and surely you–can name people in whom they are reversed. It's the very nature of a stereotype to be oversimplified and uncritical. I know of relationships in which the man has more nurturing energy than the woman; in others, the woman has more aggressive, competitive energy than the man. There are same-sex couples whose combined parenting skills, for example, cover all the bases.

Also, please don't see the characteristics listed above as negative; nor as positive, for that matter. I'm sure I indicate my own attitude when I use many qualifying expressions in this section, such as "perhaps," "tend to," "often prefer," "favor," etc.

So what does all this mean? How does a man feel? I believe it comes down to this: The way a man feels is the way you feel right now, in this situation, with your background and your experience. That's how a man feels. If it's different from a women, fine. If it’s similar, fine. That is not important. It's what you are in fact feeling that's important.

American writer Robert Jensen seems to have this idea in mind when he says, "I have never met a man who didn’t feel uneasy about masculinity, who didn’t feel that in some way he wasn’t living up to what it means to be a man. There’s a reason for that: Masculinity is a fraud; it’s a trap. None of us are man enough." In other words, the popular idea of masculinity is not based on reality, but on, perhaps, a collective and oversimplified wish or an unrealistic and historically influenced dream.

There is no hidden and pre-determined form of masculinity waiting in some dark corner for us to find it. There is no "secret way" out there that you need to discover, or an "eternal practice" somewhere that you must constantly seek in order to know how to feel like a man. No. What you feel is what and how a man feels!

Different Wiring, Different Schooling

The popular stereotypes are that women are really good at understanding and expressing feelings and men are terrible. Furthermore, women seem to really enjoy this whole feeling process and we are supposed to hate it.

I believe that at the bottom of these stereotypes is an old argument: Are we born this way or does life make us this way? Nature or nurture? My answer is Yes and Yes. Our brains are “wired” differently. And our culture has schooled us differently. Consider the following (from Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence):

  • Women experience all emotions, pleasant and unpleasant, more strongly than men. (p.50)
  • Men are more often than women oblivious to the feelings of others. (p.96)
  • Social isolation is harder on men than on women. Isolated men are two to three times more likely to die than men who were not socially isolated. For women, it is only one and a half times greater. (p.178)
  • Women are naturally more skilled at articulating their feelings and using words about feelings than men. (p. 131) (A future column will talk about Alexithymia, a condition in which one cannot talk about one’s feelings.)
  • Males tend to take pride in independence while females lean toward seeing themselves as a part of a web of connectedness. (p.131)
  • Women are more responsive to another’s facial expressions than men. (p.133)
  • Men are more prone to “flooding” – which is being so overwhelmed by strong emotions that one looses self-control and is more prone to violence. Goleman calls this process “emotional hijacking.” Physiologically, the pathway from the feeling part of the brain (amygdala) to the thinking part (neocortex) gets short-circuited and an out-of-control response follows. (p. 138)
  • This “flooding” effect leads to “stonewalling” – that is becoming stoic and imperturbable (think Clint Eastwood type) in order to protect ourselves from the effects of flooding and thus avoid really bad behavior. (p. 140)
  • “Good communication” is the key to satisfaction in a relationship for women. For men? “I want to do things with her and all she wants to do is talk.” (p.132)

What are the implications of these physiological and social differences? Too often they are disastrous arguments and fights between men and women, with regrettable results.

What can we do? The first thing to do is to understand the differences, to identify them, and acknowledge that they are not moral, social, or personal weaknesses of faults. They are simply differences.

  • We can learn not to sidestep conflict and argument, which are much more difficult for us than for women. When a woman brings up some criticism of us, we can allow that it is not us that she is criticizing but what we do, a distinction that is, in fact, difficult for men to make.
  • “Be on guard against ‘short-circuiting’ the discussion by offering a practical solution too early on,” says Goleman. She wants to know that you have heard her.
  • Lastly, we can educate the women in our lives about how we “do” emotions as well as they educate us about how they “do” them. Ask them to be careful not to attack you personally, but to be clear what is the specific issue or action that they don’t like. A personal attack is likely to bring about the “flooding” and “stonewalling” responses mentioned above.

Half A Life

Too many guys of all ages don’t have about half the information we need in order to achieve success in life. You could say we live half a life.

The part that we have is the thinking part. That's the half that deals with facts, figures, procedures, and information. Largely, we men do really well when we're dealing with this kind of factual stuff—really well.

The part we don't get is the emotional part. How do all the things that happen to us make us feel? You could say that many of us lost this half before we ever got it. Something in us—something urgently important—never gets life at all. It remains asleep, as good as dead. There are reasons for this but the smart, successful guys will get this information. And the sooner you get it, the easier your life.

Don't get the wrong idea. This is not touchy-feely stuff. Many of us don't much like that (although some of us do like it). This is about learning a skill and developing a process that most of us never got a chance to do.

The key to success here is honesty, or maybe a better word is accuracy: On a one-to-ten scale, how well do you manage your emotional life? A lot of us look at that question and really have no idea what to answer. If that’s you, read on! Some of us do really well with our feelings (8-10); some of us do really lousy (0-3); most of us are on the high or low end of muddling through (4-7). We get to a certain point, especially if it involves strong emotions—fear, anger, love—and then we get stuck. “Now what?!” we seem to say to ourselves.

Women are generally understood to be better at feelings than men. Experience tells us that. What’s important to understand is that in order to live a complete human life, both men and women must have developed skills in both thinking and feeling. We must have intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence.

Furthermore, women’s brains are wired differently from ours, and that makes them not better equipped, but differently equipped, to handle the emotional life.

So the first thing to understand when it come to a man’s feeling life and how we handle it, is that we are not deficient in some way, faulty from birth, somehow damaged goods, even though we are often perceived that way, by others as well as by ourselves. Our problem comes not from some essential flaw, but from a lack of recognition of our particular way to do feelings and our lack of training and encouragement in the way that is natural for us.

The lack of recognition and encouragement of a man’s way to do feelings is deeply ingrained in our cultural assumptions, so much so that the “unfeeling male” is a stereotype, a cultural joke, often accepted by both men and women.

So there is nothing wrong with the way men do feelings, if–and it’s a big “if”–we are given the chance to know and affirm the way that is natural to us, the way nature has equipped us to do feelings, so that our half-life can become the whole life we long for.

Life: Feelings Acted Out

The Three Steps to Emotional Fitness really do work; there is no doubt about that.

They are effective because they are based on the actual ways feelings operate. They are nothing more than doing what comes naturally. What is described in these steps is just what people naturally do; people, that is, who have not been short-changed in their training about emotional health.

By following these steps, your feelings will not become buried alive and then attack you in the form of addictive behavior, serious illness, or striking out at someone else physically or verbally. The three steps allow the feeling to do what it was born to do: put you in contact with life by getting expressed in an acceptable way.

In other words, your life can be understood as all of your feelings acted out.

The very word "emotion" helps us here. It is from two Latin roots: e means "out" and movere means "to move." An emotion is born precisely in order to move out.

But beyond the satisfaction of being able to "move it out," the three steps will lead you to live a whole life, a life built on a balance between thinking and feeling.

In the give-and-take of everyday living, the steps are not always so clearly separated, one from the other, as they are on these pages. As you are in the process of step one, you might also be beginning step three, and then move to step two. They overlap and intertwine. But they are always three distinct processes: noticing, naming, and expressing, and in most situations they stay pretty much in order.

Remember as you become more aware of your feelings, especially if this is a new experience for you, that the first feelings you become aware of might be negative ones. The experience could be menacing and make you feel out of control and thus hesitant to continue this process of emotional growth. Try not to confuse the experience of negative feelings, like fear or grief, with the process of becoming a more feeling person. The experience will pass; the process will endure and serve you well.

At the very first sign that your long-buried feelings might become violent toward yourself or anyone else, be sure to get help. At the very least, talk to a trusted, competent friend. If you have any doubt at all about the possibility of your own violence, do get professional help. This is an area where it is important to be safe, not sorry.

Remember, you deserve to achieve what you want. You certainly deserve your birthright: an opportunity to live life fully, including the ability to express effectively the whole spectrum of your emotions.

I wish you success.

©2008 David Kundtz

Related information: Issues, Feeling Books: anger, assertiveness, depression, fear, forgiveness, general, grief, joy, loneliness, shame

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We know too much and feel too little. At least we feel too little of those creative emotions from which a good life springs. - Bertrand Russell

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