Emotions as a topic of conversation tends to get, well, emotional. People have a lot of feelings about how and when it is appropriate to express emotions. I've grown to be acutely aware of the social norms we have around masculinity and emotions, but the universal truth is that we all have emotions as human beings. As much as we might dictate rules surrounding them, we all feel things all day, every day. We all want to be happy and feel safe, and we all want these things for the people we care about. We all are also going to react to things that happen around us, and we are all going to cope with our feelings in our own ways.
I have come a long way personally in the past several years through challenging my perceptions of what it means to be a man (and a geek), and more specifically in terms of accepting my own feelings, expressing those feelings in a healthy way, and being more empathetic of others. These three pillars make up this humble geek's guide to being emotional and they go in a sort of sequential order. Emotions are what connects us all together, and they are important for success in both life and work.
Accepting My Own Feelings
When I was younger, I tended to keep to myself pretty much all the time. I didn't have a lot of friends and we didn't talk about feelings or emotions at all. I didn't really talk to my family much about this sort of stuff either. Nevertheless, I was in my head a lot and had feelings about great many things, mainly feeling lonely and frustrated about not being able to connect with people. I also didn't really ever cry or get emotional, which confused me especially when it seemed like I should. I give a good bit of credit for my "emotional awakening" to my first major girlfriend, who helped me feel safe acknowledging the feelings I had, and secure even while being vulnerable with her. She was the first person who wasn't a family member who I cried in front of, which looking back, was a big moment for me. This was a pivotal first step on my personal journey in understanding my own emotions, and better understanding the emotions of others too.
Expressing My Feelings
I've always been thoughtful, but this trait only does me so much good in life, especially when it comes to sorting out my feelings on things. It helps a lot to talk with others to get understanding, support, and advice. I went to therapy for the first time when I was in college at my campus counseling center. It really helped me build skills to connect with others, helped me be more confident, and helped me verbalize feelings I had never given voice to. Specifically, I talked about my "catastrophizing" negative self-talk and where I thought that all came from. I still struggle with this sort of stuff, but being aware of it and having some skills to deal with it are a big help. A big shout out to my campus counseling center for being a huge help to me!
Being More Empathetic
Having all of this understanding of myself has helped with my dealings with others, be it students, friends, or family. I can recognize where others are coming from emotionally, pass on some of the skills I've learned, and in general just be more patient with people. We all have emotions, and we all have reactions the things that happen around us. Simply validating that in people, even if they're being rude or unruly, can go a long way in diffusing a situation. I can think of several interactions with students or parents that have been subsided by being respectful and empathetic to their emotional state in a given situation.
The more we can all authentically share and connect with our emotions, I think the better we'll all be. We can be honest in how we're feeling, how it is impacting us, and what others can do to best support us. Too many problems come out of this stigma we have attached to talking about our feelings. We all feel like we have to just grit our teeth and take it (or worse, the only emotion that does get expressed is anger). A colleague once said to me that crying isn't a show of weakness, it simply shows when you have been strong for too long.
Hope this geek's guide has been helpful to you in some way. I'd be happy to discuss anything in more detail in the comments or elsewhere.
Check out some other related posts I've written about emotion: