Happy Independence Day! Traditionally, this is a day to celebrate America’s freedom from the rule of other nations. Flags fly high, parades are held, picnics are eaten, and fireworks are launched.
My message today is also about freedom, but a different kind of freedom. I want to talk about emotional freedom.
Too often, we men are slaves to our emotions. The problem begins when we are raised in this culture that encourages boys and men to suppress emotion. When we are hurt and cry on the playground, we are called “sissies” and “babies” by our peers, and the adults tell us that “big boys don’t cry”. Thus we learn to suppress our sadness and not show pain. As boys, we learn that expressing our anger through yelling and hitting is bad, but we are not taught healthier ways to express that anger, so the anger gets suppressed as well.
Little by little, we learn to suppress each of our emotions, like throwing them all in a big box in the shadowy corner of our soul and clamping the lid on. We hope they’ll just stay there nicely. I think you already know how well that works out for us.
Under normal circumstances, we can get away without expressing emotion, but every once in a while, some very intense or dramatic event occurs in our lives that busts our emotions out of their hiding place. Because we never learned to deal with powerful emotions in healthy ways, our tendency is to be very reactive, which means we feel like we need to do something — anything! — to get rid of the emotion that is causing us discomfort. We act in irrational ways because we are being controlled by our emotions, instead of the other way around.
Have you experienced this? If you have, it’s time to learn a better way.
It’s time to learn to feel and express emotions like a healthy, authentic man. It doesn’t mean bawling to everybody when you’re sad, or hitting people when you’re angry. In fact, that’s the opposite of the principle I want to share today.
That principle is: Emotions are okay just as they are, and you don’t have to do anything about them.
It’s a very difficult but empowering thing to be able to feel strong emotions without feeling the urge to react to them in any way. It’s like being a mountain in the midst of a hurricane. This emotional resilience is extremely manly. You become the rock that everyone around you can rely on in times of crisis and chaos.
How do you learn to do this? Like any other of the manliness tools, it takes practice.
The next time you feel a powerful emotion, STOP! Stand still and don’t do anything for a few seconds. Acknowledge the urge to react in some way, but don’t actually do anything yet. Just close your eyes, breathe, and count to 20. Remind yourself that this emotion is a good, healthy thing, and you don’t have to do anything to make it go away. It won’t hurt you. If you need to, find some solitude until the intensity of the emotion subsides. I don’t like to make any decisions on anything when I’m in the grip of intense emotions, because I don’t trust my judgment. You may be the same way. It’s helpful to take a few minutes to just sit and breathe before deciding on a course of action, one that will be more healthy and rational.
The irony is that only by fully embracing your emotions can you find emotional freedom. That doesn’t mean freedom from your emotions, though. It means freedom from the unhealthy reactiveness that most people fall into.
Start practicing today, and begin celebrating your freedom.