Talking us out of our emotions

Friday December 7, 2012

"People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that's bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they're afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they're wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It's all in how you carry it. That's what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you're letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain." -- Jim Morrison


Jim Morrison might have very well been onto something and perhaps if he were alive today, he just might be disappointed with our vigor in covering up our emotions. Case and point, some time ago, someone asked me a genuine, "How are you?" I responded with a smile, "I am OK, no need to really complain it could always be worse." The other person answered wittily with a knowing chuckle, "Yeah but for how long can ‘things always could be worse.'" She was indeed right. How many times have we all repeated that statement in reference to ourselves or as an invisible finger shaking to others, "Things could be worse." This piece is about acknowledging that which is underneath the surface of the quick responses to the question "How Are You?" Now, perhaps more intense than most other times -- we have officially managed to talk ourselves and others out of our feelings and emotions.

In a literal sense, if we look at the trend in use of pharmaceutical drugs, it is clear that we are emotionally and physically medicated. Anti-depressants like Celexa or Zoloft have become household names also known as "happy pills." This is not to say that there is never any reason to use anti-depressants but we have come to see depression as something to medicate as opposed and naturally move through. One of my acquaintances commented that within moments of being in her doctor's office and mentioning that she "felt down" how they were ready to give her a prescription for the magic happy pills. In addition to depression, mood swings or personality traits like shyness alongside many of our other human quirks are on the most wanted list within our communities as things to be regulated or control.

We don't even need to look at the trend of pharmaceuticals to see the ways in which we have become emotional eunuchs. Take our current fascination with zombies -- yes, I brought zombies into this conversation. In many ways, the use of zombies in the writing and re-writing of literature or in Hollywood has become more comical than scary. However, take a moment to dig beneath all of our zombie apocalypse jokes/fears and think about what zombies represent. As I watched this trend in the resurrection of the zombie within pop culture I began to have my own thoughts around why this fascination with this particular creature at this moment. I have many speculations on why, but one that came to mind in regards to our emotional castration is that zombies are beyond the threshold of human emotion. In a way, they match where we are at this moment with facing ourselves and many of the things taking place around us that we can't control. So what's left to do? Move forward in jerky, uncontrolled, uncomfortable movements -- yet move forward to some target all the same.

Why fear a zombie apocalypse when we may already be living in one especially due to how we have medicated our feelings literally and metaphorically? As we move to and fro boxed within our silos, we do the usual greeting dance but never giving truth to a fellow man/woman who inquires about how WE are. Instead of honoring the moment when the roof feels like it has caved in on our lives, we like to stay immured by a delusional state and we try to place others there with us in an attempt to numb our feelings. We have been programmed to repeat things like: You will get through this, What does not kill you makes you stronger, You will get over it, Everything happens for a reason.

And of course there is a collection of quotes about not holding onto your sadness, anger, and any other emotion that is not happy. I have noticed that many are uncomfortable with extreme expressions of sadness or anger so we look for ways to either try to make it stop through gestures or words. Only in rare and discreet pockets, perhaps among cherished friends or loved ones, is the expression of emotion allowed in absence of clumsy words.

In many ways, these things might be viewed as sign of our human resilience or our seeking of hope. One person shed light on the "How are you question" stating that perhaps we are looking for others to shine a light and give us a sign that things are alright with them and can therefore be alright with us as well, even if it is not true. During the late summer, a dear friend changed it up for me when we were discussing an emotional hardship I'd encountered. I said, "What if I never get over this?" Instead of feeding me a cliché, she looked into my eyes and gently yet firmly said, "You may not," and allowed silence to comfort both of us within that moment. Perhaps this is the way we break ourselves out of the emotion-less prisons we have built.

Shanta Crowley writes from Brattleboro. You can follow her writing at


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