Minimalizing Feelings 11/26/19

Opinion by Richard Bleil

Once again, the “Holiday Season” is among us. It’s the season of giving, and being disappointed with our gifts. And the season of family, and old family squabbles. It’s the season of togetherness.

And loneliness.

It’s especially the season of emotional minimalization. How often have you heard things like, “It’s Christmas, you should be happy” or “It’s a time of togetherness” or “Everybody loves the holiday season”? If this is true, why are suicide rates highest at this time of year?

Maybe, just maybe, the problem is that these are all statements that minimalize the emotions of the target. I am here to tell you, though, that anything you are feeling is fair, and legitimate, and it’s okay.

I’m a boomer (yes, get the “okay boomer” jokes out of your system) and a man (yes, get the “men” jokes out of your system). This means that I was raised to bury my feelings, and put on a strong stone face for the world to see. Any of my regular readers can tell you that by this definition of what a man should be, I’m an abject failure. I also spent several years going to therapy twice a week to come to terms with this failure as a man, and I’ve come to an important realization: it’s more difficult to face your emotions than it is to bury them.

Yes, this boomer said it. People who can acknowledge their feelings are stronger than those who can hide them.

What’s more, anything that you feel is fair and legitimate. You’ll likely hear many people minimalize your emotions, but it’s not because of you, but themselves. They are not comfortable dealing with the emotions of others, and just to witness these emotions means they have to deal with them.

When I worked at a medical arts college attached to a major medical center, I would periodically, for one reason or another, find myself walking past the surgery waiting room for the loved ones of patients. On a few occasions, I would glance into the room and see the familiar face of a student. Invariably, I would walk in and sit with them. Maybe it was a breech of confidentiality, and maybe the policy said I shouldn’t have done it, but I would always ask if they are okay, and what was going on. If they had asked me to let them be alone, I would have, but nobody ever did. I would sit with them, often in silence, and just wait with them. If they wanted to talk, I would talk. If they started to cry, I would grab the tissue box for them. I was just, well, there.

I think we need more of this. If somebody is struggling, just be there with them. Avoid minimalizing feelings. And if you are the one struggling, just remember, if somebody is minimalizing your feelings, they’re just trying to protect their own feelings. Maybe it’s best to avoid those who would minimalize the way you feel. Step away and spend time alone if that’s what you need, or find a more sympathetic person to be with. Heck, it doesn’t even mean finding somebody who will listen, or encourage. Sometimes, all you need is the company of somebody who just lets you feel the way you are feeling.

Many times I go into a depressive funk with no understanding of the reason. If there is no obvious reason for it, when I sit and think about it for a while I can usually recall some emotional trauma that occurred in the past around the time of the depression. Of course, the question then becomes if that past trauma is the cause of the depression, or if it’s just my mind seeking to explain it. But, either way, I think of depression as an emotional voyage. For some reason, my mind needs to take this trip, and whether I want it or not, I’m going along with the ride. If I try to fight it, usually it just prolongs the voyage and makes it worse as I try to minimalize my own feelings. “I shouldn’t feel this way,” I often say to myself, or “What is wrong with me now?!?” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to embrace these depressive episodes. Whatever is dragging me down, I just decide that it’s okay to be depressed, and reassure myself that when my heart has dealt with whatever the trigger was, I’ll come out of it on the other side. It’s not always easy, as these bouts can be very deep, and last for quite a bit longer than I would like, but eventually, it works out. And life goes on. And that’s okay, even if it’s not great.

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