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.

© 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


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 E-Mail or visit his web site at www.stopping.com

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