I’m really bad at expressing my feelings, at least out loud. It’s not that I’m heartless – even though I try to present myself that way sometimes – it’s just that I suck with words.
(Funny to hear, coming from a writer, but it’s true. Out-loud words are much harder for me than on-paper or on-screen words.)
Most of the time, I handle this by just pretending I feel nothing. If I don’t admit my feelings, they’ll go away – right?
The truth is, we have a need to express our emotions, so for those of us who have a hard time with it, things can get really complicated, really fast. Sometimes they get downright impossible – especially once things start to pile up.
Those who don’t have difficulty expressing their emotions are likely to say, “Just talk about it – it can’t be that hard!” But they fail to realize that it’s a completely different world for some of us.
1. We find ourselves unable to cry when it’s appropriate.
I was raised in a household that treated crying as a shameful act. In my whole 25 years, I have seen my father cry a grand total of twice, and he refused to talk about it, either time. This same man taught me that crying should be done in the privacy of my bedroom – that it was unfair of me to burden someone else with my emotions simply because I couldn’t handle them on my own.
This led to an adult who is unable to cry at funerals, or when hearing bad news, or during a breakup. I can, however, cry during happy TV shows (grr) or two weeks after the funeral. You know, right about the time the metaphorical dam breaks from too much water pressure behind it.
2. The ones closest to us probably know what our “I should be crying right now” face looks like.
I’m told that my eyes lose their green when I’m sad, and instead they’re a dull, dusty grey. Whether that’s true or not I have no idea – looking in the mirror is the last thing I want to do when I’m sad. Most people have really ugly crying faces – if I’m already sad, why would I want to see myself with an ugly, dumb look on my face?
For those of us who are bad at expressing our emotions, the thing that “breaks the dam” could just be someone close to us telling us that they know we need to cry. Sometimes, this is a good thing, but it probably makes us mad at the time – especially if we’ve been conditioned to think that crying in front of someone is inappropriate.
3. Distracting yourself from your feelings is easier than it should be.
Those of us who are bad at expressing our emotions have often found ways to repress them much easier than “normal” people do. This isn’t really a good thing, though, no matter what we might have been taught. Essentially, this is practice in lying (and the only type of lying I’m good at).
For most of us, we are this way because we started learning at a younger age. Whether there was a person in your life who taught you that holding your feelings back was the right thing to do, or whether the anxiety around your emotions came out of nowhere, it can be hard to break the habit.
4. You’re a bad gift-receiver.
If you’ve been conditioned to hold your emotions back, you’re probably bad at getting gifts. The gifts you love and the gifts you hate often get the same reaction out of you, which makes it really hard for others to tell what you actually like. Since you’re secretly over-sensitive in disguise, you know how hard it is to hear “bad news” – so you do your best to soften the blow of everything, even the good things.
As much as we want to repress our negative emotions, it often carries over into our positive emotions, too. This makes us a pain to be around, because – other than the ones who are closest to us – it’s hard to tell what we’re thinking. If you have people in your life who are patient enough to deal with your issues expressing yourself, be sure you thank them from time to time.
5. After a while, most people stop asking how you’re doing.
You teach them that you’re just going to say you’re fine – whether you are or not. Just won the lottery? Stone-cold poker face. Just watched your dog get hit by a car? Same face. This sucks, because once people stop asking, your ideas that no one wants to see your emotions are “confirmed” even more – even though these people only stopped asking because they knew you wouldn’t tell the truth, anyway.
I’ve got a few people in my life who still ask how I’m doing – and for the most part, they insist on asking straight to my face. Like I said – apparently my eyes give it away. And I can’t thank them enough for taking the time to do this – I know it sucks for them, too.
6. You’re bad at comforting others.
I often come across as super insensitive. I have a really hard time being noticeably supportive to people, because feelings are awkward and uncomfortable – even when they’re not our own. While we usually mean well, we don’t always deliver.
People learn not to rely on us for emotional support. They might know that our heart is with them, even if we’re bad at showing it, but they don’t expect us to lift them up, because time and time again, we show them that we can’t. Then we get frustrated because they think we don’t care, when really, we care so much it physically hurts us. We just don’t allow ourselves to show it.
7. “Resting bitch face” is a serious problem.
The look we have on our face 90% of the time is not particularly friendly looking. We’re deep in thought, but our face says we hate everyone. This is a real problem for us, and in some ways, it’s our own fault. (Although most people don’t make a conscious decision to repress their emotions without someone important to us suggesting it, either subliminally or outright.)
We tend to look mean, because we’re trying so hard to not care. But we do care. A lot, actually. So we hide that, put on our best poker face, and try to look happy – the only problem is that we don’t know how to look happy, and if we do, it seems fake to us. (I used to have this really stupid smile when I was a kid, and after several years of hearing that it looked stupid, I think part of me forgot how to smile.)
8. You spend your time hoping someone will see through your lies and your lines.
We’ve got rehearsed answers to all the serious questions, and we use those scripted lines religiously. But what we want more than anything is for someone to read between the lines and hear the things we can’t say. This type of thinking is doomed from the start, because no one (or next to no one?) can read minds. We’re setting ourselves up to be misunderstood.
We take advantage of the fact that some people can see through it, and we assume that everyone will be able to. But they can’t, and it’s not their fault. It takes a very intimate knowledge of someone to understand when their words and their feelings don’t align, and we destroy their power to do so by making it every single time.
9. Drinking is a bad idea.
Most of us with emotion-repression problems tend to avoid drinking, because it can make all the difference between “everything is fine” and “nothing is OK, please hold me”. As people who don’t like showing our emotions, we hate falling into the second category, but alcohol tends to bring it out, every time.
I’ve had exes who I absolutely could not drink with. I didn’t trust them with my sensitive side, because they were all too happy when I held my feelings back. They might have even contributed to my emotional secrecy, whether intentionally or not – and almost without fail, these women felt incredibly offended that I wouldn’t let them see me drunk.
Hello, how can I drink with you if you’re going to shame me for my feelings? These feelings that can’t be held back anymore as soon as we start to feel a little fuzzy… It’s hard for us in the first place, and when we’re at a particularly vulnerable point (aka drunk) it’s even worse. We’re emotional because we’re emotional. It’s a vicious cycle.
10. Everything somehow turns into anger.
This is because it makes us so mad when we can’t hold back our emotions, and it seems like turning it into anger is easier than letting it be sadness or happiness or whatever it really is. This just makes us seem even meaner than people already think we are – especially when the wrong person usually catches the anger.
It’s pretty important that we remember to thank the people who put up with our outbursts, especially if they put up with our shut-downs most of the time, too. As hard as it is for us, it’s even harder on them, because we won’t let them see the reasons behind things.
11. We talk about a lot of nothing.
This is because it’s easier to talk about nothing than it is to talk about something. So we talk about the things that don’t matter, the things that don’t make a difference to anything – because at least we don’t have to share emotion. We’re more likely to share memes than to share our feelings – even if a little bit of feeling is hidden inside the things we repost.
This is, of course, a coping mechanism. Just because we’re bad at expressing ourselves doesn’t mean we want to be alone. If we talk about things that have nothing to do with us, hey – at least it counts as socializing, right?
12. It’s probably anxiety – and there are ways to treat it.
If you’ve been struggling for years to find a way to express your emotions, there’s a good chance that it’s not a conscious decision (no matter how much you want to tell yourself it is). Chances are, you have at least a mild anxiety disorder, and there are things that can help fix it – but only if you’re ready to fix it.
Many people jump to medications as the first option, but for most people, medication is neither required or advised. Our society has a tendency to treat all conditions as a means to benefit the pharmaceutical industry. But for some people, natural remedies or alternative medicine might be a better option.
I like to color to keep my anxiety at a minimum. It won’t help me open up, but it can help to relieve some of the pain of bottling things up. On days when my anxiety is really bad, there’s something beneficial about coloring really hard on the paper. Other days, I write my emotions out in a journal. While it’s not healthy to rely solely on some paper to get your emotions out into the world, it’s better than keeping them bottled up.
For others, meditation may be a good choice – although exactly what that means is bound to vary, from person to person. Not everyone can handle the idea of chanting ohm mantras and deep breathing. If possible, you should try seeking a professional opinion – but don’t hesitate to get a second opinion if your doctor wants to prescribe harsh meds right away. You are allowed to take your mental health into your own hands, and it’s actually a really good idea. Just make sure you’re being fair to yourself and those around you.