13 August 2009

Q&A: Stuffing Emotions

Q: Why do we learn, as a culture/society/nation, to stuff our emotions instead of honoring them? Why is it considered impolite to be true to what we are feeling?

For example, when we have an appointment with someone and they are 20 minutes late, and they finally come in and say, "I'm so sorry I'm late," and even though we're really annoyed, we say, "Oh, it's ok." Just like that. Stuff.

Or when the kid you invited over for a play date slugs your kid in the face, and the mom says (unconvincingly), "no, no, Jr.," without really disciplining her kid, even though your kid is bleeding all over, and we just silently clean up the mess and quietly promise ourselves to never invite Jr. over for another playdate. Just like that. Stuff.

Or when someone at work or church drops the ball and doesn't do an assignment, and their work falls on your shoulders, and we mumble and grumble and pick up their slack, but never confront them about it. Just like that. Stuff.

Or when you're having a terrible day, and you feel like any second you might burst into tears or kick someone in the teeth, and when you pass your friend at the mall and she says, "Hi! How are you?" With her perfect little hair, and her perfect little outfit, and her perfectly well behaved little Baby Gap models instead of children, and we just smile and say, "Oh I'm just great." Even though we are really on the verge of a breakdown. Just like that. Stuff.

I understand that there is a fine line between honoring your feelings and being flat out rude. I am not suggesting that you ignore everyone else's feelings so you can justify being a jerk. But I just don't see what is so wrong with saying,

"I am really frusterated that you are 20 minutes late! I have another appointment to be at, and now I am not going to make it."


"I am upset that Jr. slugged my kid in the nose. Can we talk about it for a minute?"


"Hi Perfect Lady Friend. I am actually not doing so hot at the moment. I'm pretty tired, and my kids are crabby, and none of my clothes fit, and I just got into a fight with my husband about his incessant need to spend money on dumb things like air fresheners and beef jerky. Sorry to lay all that on you. But thanks for asking."

I know that we can't spill our life stories to everyone on the street. And that many times it's just way more convenient to put on the happy face. But I also know that making it a habit of stuffing your feelings is a dangerous game to play. Pretty soon, in my opinion, you'll stop recognizing your feelings, and just find yourself being really irritated at your friend, but you can't figure out why. Oh yeah! Two months ago she ditched me and went to the movies with another friend of ours without inviting me. That really hurt my feelings, but I never told her because it would be awkward, so now it just sits inside me and festers.

I think we don't honor our true, in the moment feelings because it seems easier not to. It is uncomfortable to tell someone you are upset with them. It is anxiety provoking to tell Jr's mom that her son hits all the children so much that no one wants to play with him anymore. But guess what? If I'm Jr's mom, I for sure want to know if my kid is doing something inappropriate. And I also want to know if I could have handled it differently. And if I disagree, then I disagree. But disagreeing doesn't mean it has to be a fight, or a ruined relationship.

I don't know. I have a billion thoughts about this right now and I'm just rambling. What are your thoughts? Better to keep it to yourself so you don't hurt someone's feelings? Better to say what you think? Why are we raised to stuff our emotions? Leave me your thoughts.


Alyosha said...

I'm a firm believer in letting the little things go. I think it's good for you to be able to forgive without the other person even knowing there was anything to forgive, and I think it's better for the relationship--once things are said, they can't be unsaid. That said, some things (no matter how high the potential for conflict) MUST be said.

I think it's interesting that all the emotions you mentioned had immediate potential for conflict. Far more insidious, to me, are the POSITIVE emotions that we stuff. Why don't we compliment people more and tell them we admire them and love them? I often find myself thinking something good about someone else, but it's much more rare that I actually tell them.

Anonymous said...

I have a family member with some issues that need outside help and twice now, our 'helper' has not shown up. First, he said he was at the hospital with his daughter giving birth. What can I say to that, except, well let me make sure you have my cell phone number. Second time, yesterday, we waited 70 minutes for a VIP appt. that required this helpers assistance. No call, nothing. This morning, he tells me, I was with my wife at the hospital & I copied your cell phone down one number off.

What can I do, except grin - well, no grinning going on here - but accept it because we NEED him. We need his good favor, we need his assistance to further the welfare of my family member, we need to be in his good graces. Very frustrating.

I continue to be civil, even gracious and will continue to work with this guy. I do my best steel magnolia and let it go. Does this mean I will get cancer someday or...explode? I don't feel on the verge of exploding. But I did cry. Ugh. One more chance then we're changing 'helpers', I guess, but there's not a lot of his kind of expertise available here.

The Big Chicken

Anonymous said...

Love, love, love this!! I find that whenever my neighbor asks how I am doing, I respond with the weather, haha.

"How are you doing?"
"Oh, great, it's a beautiful day."

It's actually just a really personal question, how are you doing, and we don't necessarily want to tell our neighbors that stuff, lol.

What we do in our household is good things are ALWAYS said immediately. I think hubby looks great, compliment. I'm admiring him for doing things around the house, compliment.

Negative things are saved for calm moments (because a lot of the time they are due to being hungry, tired, hormonal, etc.) If its still an issue when I'm calm, we make an appointment to talk about it.

Friends things should be talked about!! (but, if its serious or critical, def. appointments or at least, priming someone for a serious talk, so they can ready themselves to be receptive.

Acquaintances, I have no idea, I'm just lost with social etiquette there.

Loved the post, loved the examples.

Big Chicken, may I encourage you to tell the helper bluntly that your family member NEEDS him to either be on time or notify you and that you will be changing services if he can't do that. Then start searching, just in case. That could solve the whole problem.

Good luck!!!

Nikki (Have Joy) said...

I think you make a lot of good points. I think positive emotions should definitely be expressed, and I didn't address them bc as a society I'm not sure we stuff our positive emotions in the same way we stuff our negative ones.
The examples I gave had potential for conflict bc I think that is THE reason we don't share our negative emotions--because we are afraid of conflict. We think its bad. I tend to disagree. Contention is bad. Conflict is inevitable. And I think not saying how you're feeling could potentially create more contention down the road when you explode.
Lastly, I think you bring up a really good point about letting things go. I think we all could work on this one. And if you really can let things go, great. I think the problem comes when we don't let things go AND don't tell whoever how we're feeling. This leads us to feeling angry inside and can create major problems down the road.

Big Chicken,
I'm sorry you're in such a frustrating position! When you're getting a favor from someone its hard to express wants or needs, bc you feel like you don't deserve it. I love what the anonymous above said...if you're considering switching help, then maybe you should mention it to him. It's nice that he's doing a favor, but your time is valuable, and you can ask for that time to be respected by him showing up for appointments or giving you a call. I think it's perfectly reasonable for you to expect that. And I also think you can do it in a way that won't be attacking or demeaning or cause contention.

Thanks for all the comments!! I think this is a really interesting topic... :)

Take a wild guess :) said...

Anyone who knows me (which some of you do) know that I am not afraid to say just about anything. And part of that is because of this....

Let's say a neighbor friend says something that is hurtful or somewhat offensive. You don't say anything to them because you don't want to cause problems, but you are sad, and hurt, and need a friend, so you tell someone else. That new someone else has (even if it is just your husband) now been brought into something that is not their issue, but they have made judgments (either way) or gotten emotionally involved. And then that someone else mentions it to someone else, or you tell someone else, and all of a sudden, this problem between two people involves 4 or 5, and the two people it started with haven't even communicated!

This is my point, yes, there are negative feelings that you probably can just let go, but I guarantee you are going to tell SOMEONE about them. You can not control how that someone reacts, or what they do with it, but since you are going to tell someone, you might as well tell the person involved so that it has the opportunity to be resolved, or addressed, or ignored, but by the person that matters, and not a third party person.

We all think we can harbor feelings and let things go, but I don't think there is anything in life that we just 'let go.' Everything we do influences us somehow, and every experience shapes us. So when things go unreseolved, or are handled dishonestly, we have just set ourselves back.

I mentioned one small annoyance with a neighbor to a friend. Next thing I know, another friend's husband is telling his hair stylist about it who then tells another neighbor who then tells the person I was annoyed with (and really, only semi-annoyed with). That person was devastated because she had 6 people talking about her and it was all because of me. Had I just told her in the first place, it may have hurt her feelings, but we would have laughed about it, and moved on. Instead, she was more hurt that i would tell someone else and that it was passed around (and TOTALLY exagerated and inaccurate by the time it got to her) and it ultimately ruined our friendship. We are still nice to each other, but she no longer trusts me or thinks I like her.

Geez, that was long, but honesty is ALWAYS the best policy, from the very beginning. By harboring feelings, you lose control because they boil inside. Expressing feelings not only takes control of the situation, but it gives you some freedom and passes on the control to the other person. At that point, you have been honest-how they react is their choice.

And MOST importantly is that you have to do it with the right intent. I don't think any of us WANTS to hurt someone, If you do, than you have some problems to take care of before you go talk to them.

On a side note: The most ironic part of the example above was that at the end of the whole situation, I went and talked to each person involved on an individual level and just let them know that I was sorry that I put them in a situation where they felt they needed to passon that information. Everyone was a little annoyed that I "confronted" them because it was awkward to admit to gossiping and throwing someone under the bus, but ultimately, the chatter stopped and nobody could say anything else about it because the neighbor I was annoyed with in the first place and I had already taken care of everything and there was nothing more to say.

The end.

Cardalls said...

I'm totally stuffed! I do not like conflict but I am getting better at it. I can let little things go unless it deals with my children being hurt by your children etc.... I don't tell people how I am doing always because it is private...I won't say "I'm great!" if I"m not, I will say, "I'm okay...how are you?" because I don't want to talk about how I'm doing with everyone on the street (especially with Mrs. perfect although I'm sure her life isn't as perfect as it seems :). I think sometimes we do need to get over the petty and trivial things and only introduce conflict when it is over something truly important.

Anonymous said...

I used to speak my mind more but people think my honesty was too blunt so I am a stuffer now in certain respects but I wish sometimes I could tell certain people how I and others feel about them or their actions but I am too chicken! I especially have a hard time with lazy people and I have a few friends who do or do not do things that are pretty inconsiderate but I think why it makes me angry is the fact that I personally would never to such a thing. So sometimes our opinions are shaped by own personal habits that really have nothing to do with the person need to be stuffed because they don't matter.

HeaTheR & ChRiS said...

Ok, I'm totally guilty of stuffing my emotions, but I must say being married into Chris' outspoken (not a bad thing) family has helped me be more open with my emotions, which I am happy about. It does seem easier to just stuff them but it's so true that when we do that, it just builds up and then we're just annoyed with our friend (or husband or whoever) and we don't even know why anymore....so stupid! I do think that in some situations it is better to just not say anything, but I loved your post because it's so true! I'm working on being better about not stuffing my emotions.

Alyosha said...

Whoever Take a Wild Guess is, I love your story. Something simlar happened to me once. I do think a spouse should be able to keep things to himself--sometimes you need someone to confide to.

Also, I like the idea of waiting for a calm moment to express a negative emotion, because it does give you a chance to let it go.

I keep thinking of instances when I couldn't keep my mouth shut and there is probably only one instance that I don't completely regret saying anything, and even in that one case, I regret a lot of what I said. In a few cases it has taken me months to get over something, but when I finally did, at least I didn't have to work so hard to earn back the trust and love I lost when I said things in anger. Of course, I have been lucky to have relatively small conflicts in my life that I could pretty much get over on my own.

I guess my point is that in all the examples given, I think the right choice is to stuff, except for the friend in the mall, which isn't really a conflict situation.

The Dobrons said...

I remember one of my favorite classes in my last semester at BYU...(which was like a glimpse into what the MFT program was like) addressed this. It was interesting to see how much we STUFF OUR EMOTIONS! One thing I did learn from it is even though it is difficult and uncomfortable to openly express our feelings when someone has hurt us or was inconsiderate of our time or whatever....that when we communicate with them and resolve the conflict...our relationship with that person goes sooo much deeper than it previously was. I think so many of our relationships could be strengthened by addressing those things instead of stuffing them. We could all use some skills training in communication so that we don't immediately get a defensive reaction from the other person. But who teaches us those? (For me I feel like one of few who actually got some training in those skills...my mom is a Parent Effectiveness Training instructor and has taught effective communication skills that WORK!)I'd say...a lot has to do with the delivery of your approach to a situation that effects you emotionally.

Nikki (Have Joy) said...

Love all these comments!! Alyosha, I think it's interesting that you think in all the examples the best choice is to stuff, because I feel exactly the opposite!! Haha. Yay for differences of opinion. They make life way more interesting. :)

The Dobrons, I loved your comment. I also believe that our relationships become so much more intimate and less superficial when we can genuinely be true to our emotions. I also think it's really important to not use this as an excuse to be a jerk to everyone around you, or to pick at the petty things in life.

Interesting things... :)

Nikki (Have Joy) said...

P.S. Heather, I really liked your comment, too! I'm glad you're learning how to be more vocal about your emotions now that you're a Pack. :) I think you nailed it right on the head when you said that it gets to the point that you're not even sure why you're mad at the person anymore, you're just mad! That is what I think I'm trying to avoid by being more in the moment with how I'm feeling. Thanks for the comment. :)

Suz said...

I love everyone's thoughts, and this is really hard for me because I am usually that person who says too much.

But, I have a personal experience that I think validates the reason for the post.

In-laws create a crazy dynamic. Even if you love your in-laws, I think it would be safe to say that there is always a little adjusting from the family you were raised in. EVERY family has their quirks, comforts, etc. and it is always interesting to see another family in action.

When I first met my in-laws, they seemed like such a happy, fun-loving family. They never fought (my husband yelled at his mom for the first time in his life over ME! I'm sure they were thrilled about me being around)and they just seemed to always get along.

My family, on the other hand, was different. We aren't all lovey dovey, happy go lucky sort of family. At times we seems a little rough, and we do not really have a problem calling each other out. But, we still enjoyed to be around each other and did not really let it ruin our relationships. My husband used to get so annoyed because he said there was always so much contention, but the reality was, we didn't feel it because we were just so used to agreeing to disagree and then move on to the next debate.

Fast forward six years. My family is still rough around the edges, but we have been dealt a lot of challenges, and we still are not scared to call each other out and we love each other more than ever. My husband's family still never fights. They still act like everything is fine when face-to-face. they have also faced hard times, but don't really talk about it, and behind the scenes, there is a lot of contention and hostility and it creates distance between them.

What we have both realized that the difference is while my family may seem somewhat rude and maybe awkward, we are honest with each other. And when is all is said and done, we can love each other unconditionally without these hidden feelings. My in-laws, on the other hand, are not honest with each other because they are too scared to hurt feelings, and then it drives them apart because conversations have to be carefully navigated through without offending each other while sacrificing their own happiness.

My family has a lot to work on, we are not perfect, and maybe when we get mad about something we need to communicate it in a less abrasive way, we always are able to face the issue and come to some resolution and move on. My in-laws still have not addressed things from YEARS ago and there are still hurt feelings, and contention (which I can understand) but they don't want to cause problems. Instead, they just act like everything is fine while it eats away at them and they eventually just avoid talking to each other at all or about certain things.

Suz, again said...

Just one more personal experience.

I will never, ever forget a time in my life where things with my mom were really, really hard, Every conversation ended with tears and yelling and crying and the terrible aftermath. I was mostly trying to just defend myself, but as children and young adults, we are told to respect and obey our parents. My therapist explained to me that as we get older, parent/child roles change, and crossing that bridge is different for everyone, but usually it is very difficult. I was trying to fight against my mom who was ultimately abusing her power as the "parent" even though I was now an adult. My therapist told me I had to start being honest with her about my new set boundaries.

So, the minute she would start abusing her "superior" power, I would calmly tell her I am really sorry, tell her I love her, and then explain to her that I was an adult, I was not going to be treated like this, and if she would not stop yelling at me, I would hang up.

And I did it.

A couple times.

And soon, we stopped talking because my mom knew she wouldn't get the reaction out of me.

And believe it or not, no conversations was far better than hostile, unproductive, crazy conversations.

And a while later, we started talking again, but we had really, really awkward conversations because we had never experienced a mother/daughter relationship that was honest and open.

And, a miracle later, we have no problems communicating anymore. I can tell my mom things she may not want to hear because she knows that I am not trying to get under her skin or get a reaction. We are not only honest with each other, but we have an honest relationship becaue we verbally set boundaries as to what is ok to say and what is NOT ok to say.

And we respect that.

Suz, thrice said...

P.S. That was SOOO long, sorry guys. \

Anonymous said...

I'm usually really good about communicating what I feel even if it's awkward. The area I find so difficult is how to communicate with other parents about their parenting or about their child. I believe that everyone is doing the best they can and I totally don't agree with saying something just to say it or because you think you are right. BUT, there are times when it's dangerous because a parent is allowing their kids to do something that is or could easily hurt your kid physically. Also, I find if I have a rule for my kids like they can't watch a certain show or they can't do something that another Mom allows their kids to do, my friends think I am judging them. I'm not judging them at all, it's just every Mom has their things that maybe they were inspired to keep their kids away from. My kids can take a swig of my Diet Coke and it's no big deal to me but I don't allow them to jump on trampolines because my husband did a million ER rotations in med school and was on duty during several spinal injury cases. We feel that for our kids, the no trampoline rule is the way WE should go. But my friend who has a trampoline thought I was saying she was a neglectful parent.

So my question is how do you raise your kids the way you feel is right for your family but communicate with your friends that it's not a judgment on the way they are parenting? And when they do feel judged, how do you have these conversations? And then in the worst case...how do you tell your friend that you guys can't have your kids play together because of safety issues like violence or the fact that she is okay for her kid to be super disrespectful to both her as the Mom and you as the friend. It's all so touchy and hard for me and I wind up avoiding play dates and friends because I'm too scared to deal with it all. Help!

Nikki (Have Joy) said...

Ooh, anonymous. You bring up some really good questions. I'll get back to ya... Stay tuned. :)

Anonymous said...

I have loved reading all these comments. Too much to say...I am looking for another 'helper' for my family member. I thought at the time, my judgement about all the excuses - sounds like a cheating husband, to me - 2 hospital excuses and a cell # written down wrong? I give 2nd and 3rd chances, but this is starting to get silly.

I do feel, however, in agreement with another poster that a positive and private response is generally in good taste with all but my most intimate of friends or family (my daughter, my husband, my sister, maybe 1 sister-in-law, maybe 3 friends). As president 5 times of different 'stuff', I grow really tired of women just looking for me, waiting for me to say, how are you? and then they pounce and cry and moan NO MATTER WHERE WE ARE, poor me, woe is me. I have a dear friend who I so admire who has had tremendous challenges with her children. She handled it all with so much grace and dignity. I never recall her 'throwing up' emotionally on anyone - at least not on the woman in the hall, not on the woman at Walmart.

That's good, I think - don't some of you agree?

As to families handling this differently - totally agree. My first time to meet my husband's family, I was shocked - I had never been around a family that teased, sometimes unmercifully. Not really 'calling out', that sounds too Sopranos for me, ha! but more like - nope, you are not getting away with that bit of uppity/smug/pretend trash around here. My family never laughed at each other - only at the tv; things were serious and then the police were called. Not kidding. My husband's family are certainly more free-wheeling, but WAY more healthy and way more close and way more honest (also, interestingly enough, non-drinkers, non-partiers - whereas the police quite often intervined in my family and extended family 'dinners'). Too long! 'Nuff said.
The Big Chicken is done for this topic

Jordanfam4 said...

Amen to the post sister!! Good post!! I often feel the same!

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