It’s probably true that we are in a progressive Age of Feeling. Whether or not we feel
more than we ever did is unlikely, but it seems to be the case that we show our
feelings more. We’re urged to do so because it is deemed to be a healthier
alternative to the stiff upper lip. It’s conventional wisdom that has gained traction
over the past decades: expressing our selves is of far greater benefit than keeping
things pent up and unspoken because this leads to internalising our pain.
This, in turn, causes depression and even more pain. When emotional pain builds
upon emotional pain without being expressed, far more damage can be done.
This is the conventional wisdom and I for one believe it to be true. If only it were as
easy and straightforward as that.
There are feelings - rage, bitterness, envy, fear among them but by no means
confined to them - that often don’t feel safe to express, let alone honourable. If we
have been brought up in an environment that didn’t approve of those feelings, we
can all too often feel guilty or frightened of them. If any such feelings were acted out
and resulted in violence or pain to others, then it’s not difficult to understand how that
example could leave us wary and fearful of what our own, similar feelings might do.
There are other, less obvious scenarios where it was unacceptable to hope, wish,
risk, laugh, be happy or ambitious. We may well have substituted such forbidden
feelings with others that were more ‘decent’ or ‘rational’. In addition to this process of
self-protection, we might also have buried them so deeply that we convince our
selves they don’t exist at all. Eventually, we will come to believe that, and this ‘story’
becomes an integral part of who we think we are - and who we want others to
think we are.
Under these circumstances, the simple exhortation to express our feelings doesn’t
of itself cut it, because the feelings that are really eating away at us are those we
deny even to ourselves.
Perhaps it’s not the feelings that we know we have but those we don’t know about
that sometimes matter most and can yield the richest returns when they are finally