A common symptom of midlife in men is to suddenly become more emotional. Men who have felt very little emotion for years find themselves moved to tears at movies, or find a lump in their throat when thinking about their family. A 50-year-old friend confided recently that he gets choked up at news stories about people being rescued.
This can be distressing, as we don't want to appear weak in front of our peers or family. But a key to feeling good about your life is knowing what you're feeling, and being able to express it.
I know, “getting in touch with your feelings” sounds cliché, but very little contributes as much to a feeling of satisfaction with life as knowing what you are feeling, and sharing your feelings with another human, pespecially your wife/partner.
Some research indicates boys are being conditioned by 2 years old to tune out their feelings. Meanwhile, girls are about 13 before this starts happening. That means by the time boys are men, they don't know what they're feeling a lot of the time, so how can they share it with others?
Learning my feelings
About 25 years ago, I took a time- management workshop based on “transactional analysis” and began learning how to know what I was feeling. It was difficult at first.
I began by working on becoming aware of having a tight feeling in my gut (solar plexus area). That told me I was having a feeling. I had spent so long practicing not feeling so I wouldn't appear weak that I eventually didn't even know I had feelings a lot of the time.
Once I recognized I was having a feeling, I would ask myself, “What kind of feeling would be logical under these circumstances?” I might discover that feeling hurt would be logical given the circumstances, so I'd tune into the feeling in my gut to see whether I was feeling hurt (or fearful, or resentful or whatever would be logical under the circumstances).
As I did this, I got better at discovering my true feelings.
The next step was the hardest — admitting to my wife, or whoever I had the feeling about, what I was feeling — especially if it was anger or resentment about some small thing she'd said or done. I was afraid she would think me petty.
Of course, the results of speaking my true feelings were always the opposite of what I feared. Still, it took me a while to trust the process. I also had to be sure not to blame the person I was having the feeling about (usually my wife), so I had to learn how to use “I statements.” We talked about I statements in the January issue.
Expressing emotions actually is manly. Anthropological studies report that in traditional hunter-gatherer societies, the fiercest warrior isn't afraid to show love, compassion or other “soft” emotions.
But the inability to recognize and express our range of feelings robs us of a great deal in life. It keeps us from telling people we love that we love them. I've seen this many times with farmers and ranchers in midlife who lost their fathers and wish they'd told their dads they loved them. They also wish their dads had told them the same thing.
So, if you want to increase your satisfaction with life, learn your feelings and talk openly about them. It's good for your heart and your heart health.
Edmonton-based Noel McNaughton lectures to groups on “Farming/Ranching at Midlife — Strategies for a Successful Second Age.” To learn more, call 780/432-5492, e-mail [email protected], or visit www.midlife-men.com.