By Adam Dorsay, PsyD
In May 2016 at Santa Clara University, I gave a TEDx talk I titled, “Emotions: The Data Men Miss.”
Prior to giving the talk, people asked me, “What’s the talk about?” I answered, “It’s about men and emotions.” By far, the most common follow-up question was, “Men have those?”
The answer, of course, is a resounding “Yes!”
Men have emotions circulating through them all day, every day, whether they like them or acknowledge them. Emotions serve as data—signals that inform us that something is happening. And emotions can be anything from a false alarm to life-saving information.
While much of this text applies to both men and women—and although some men won’t relate to this and some women will—as a group, many men have become particularly adept at hiding their emotions and hiding from their emotions.
This is not a big surprise to most. However, it may come as a surprise that research shows that young boys are more emotionally expressive than girls. Later in life, boys lose this ability (likely due to socialization). And, sadly, they lose access to the rich data emotions provide.
Emotions must be:
I use the acronym FIP:
F is noticing the Feeling.
I is Identifying and accurately naming the feeling. Men have trouble identifying and naming feelings. They can often say they’re stressed or annoyed, but those are “cover-up feelings” for more basic, vulnerable feelings like sad and scared. Men struggle with being precise, partially because they’ve learned it’s more socially acceptable to say, “I’m stressed,” instead of, “I’m scared.” Precision is of utmost importance.
P is Process. How do you process the feeling? How will you use the info? Do you need to write about it or go for a run? Do you need to talk to a friend or therapist? Do you need to have a difficult conversation with someone?
Based upon my work with clients, I developed a 7-step roadmap illustrating a hierarchy of stages that let us know how we’re relating to our emotions:
1. Estranged. This is the letter F in FIP. Here, feelings may be foreign and frightening, and they can’t be easily named. The clinical term for the inability to put emotions into words is alexithymia. You can bust it out at a cocktail party and sound super-smart! The work in this step is to reconnect with feelings.
2. Naming. This is the letter I in FIP. In this stage, the dictionary of emotions is expanded upon with precision as the goal.
3. Multiplicity. In my clinical experience, emotions seem to be social things; they tend to hang out with other emotions in pairs or trios at least. Here, we describe multiple emotions, as they would appear in a pie chart percentage-wise. For example, “At this moment, I’m feeling: 60% excited, 30% terrified, 10% hopeful.”
4. Real Time. This is where we are becoming pretty comfortable with emotions. We can name them in real time, quickly and efficiently, and we can name the multiplicity as well. We can do it in a variety of contexts including in the safety of a therapy office and out in the real world.
5. Discretion. This skill involves knowledge of timing and context, as well as discretion. Here you can answer these questions: What do I need to do with this feeling? Does the feeling need to be revealed to another person? If so, how much and where and when would be optimal?
6. Truth. This stage is also known as “The willingness to remain in truth.” Holding an unpopular feeling can be terrifying. Some feelings must be shared with a significant other, which can be tough because we’re trained to be “team players.” While being a team player is generally a good thing, the solo sport of staying in your truth is important as well. We can’t be genuine without it.
7. Articulation. Articulation is the ability to do all the aforementioned steps as well as to word your messages relating to emotion in clean, kind ways that increase the likelihood of connection and relationship growth.
Building a relationship with one’s emotions will take practice and patience. The data will be worth it!
If you’d like to see the TEDx talk, please go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqDCnOmyA88
© 2016 Adam Dorsay, PsyD.
1120 McKendrie Street, San Jose, CA 95126
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