When you are asked ‘how are you feeling?, it can sometimes be difficult to know how to answer. This not because men don’t have feelings; obviously we do.
When thinking about sexual abuse, sadness, shame and confusion are common emotions. These are normal feelings to have when treated in such an unfair, criminal way. Yet it is also quite understandable to want to avoid these intense emotions.
Distraction, ‘numbing’ or avoiding emotions are strategies for dealing with intense emotional pain that are sometimes useful in stopping us from feeling overwhelmed.
One emotion that men are often quite familiar with is anger. Anger can be useful in encouraging action against injustice, however, it can also lead to aggression and become a ‘cover’ for some uncomfortable yet important emotions.
What we hear from a lot of men, however, is that eventually these difficult emotions find ways to grab your attention, often at a time of crisis. We also hear that when shutting down has become a habit, it can make it more difficult to experience pleasant feelings or any sense of joy in life.
Tips for making sense of emotions
The idea of making space, room, or time for all of life’s emotions can be helpful. It is not about some emotions being good or bad, but being able to tolerate and experience a range of emotions as part of living life to the full.
You might be ready to start taking some risks with allowing yourself to really notice what you are feeling.
This can be extremely challenging, because it can initially feel like things are getting worse. Feelings that have been buried or ignored for a long time are starting to be noticed and experienced.
As we said before, this is why it can be important to have a reasonably ‘solid base’ that builds your well-being when doing this work. By building a solid that enhances your well-being on a number of fronts it becomes possible to experience distressing feelings without getting thrown off course.
As you get used to recognising and naming feelings, you slowly begin to realise that you can actually cope with them. Over time they will become less daunting, and you might even find that you experience other, more positive feelings, in a different way too.
Exercises to get to know your emotions
- Try to pay attention to your physiological responses to different situations. This includes your heart rate, breathing, sweating, shaking/trembling, tension in some muscles, ‘the hairs on the back of your neck standing up’…all these are clues to what’s going on emotionally.
- Start noticing what is going on in your body core and head. Is my heart beat fast or slow? Is my breathing deep or shallow? Does my face feel hot or cool? Then try narrowing it down with more precise descriptions (cool as tap water or cold like ice?), or making a visual scale rating how fast or slow (from 1-10), how hot or cold, etc.
- Once you’ve noticed and described these physiological sensations, try naming the emotion that goes with it. Again, start big (e.g. sad), and get more detailed (grief, regret, disappointment…).
- Emotions are sometimes grouped into four ‘BIG’ categories, ‘mad – bad – glad – sad’. Each category can be broken down into smaller groupings and descriptions of a range of different emotions.
- Once you have given it a name, ask: Is it OK for me to feel this? Why/why not?
- Are there social judgments about men expressing this emotion? Who with/where would it be OK to express this feeling without being negatively judged?
Getting to know your feelings and emotions in this way can gradually help with making decisions about whether to try and ‘stay with’ your feelings. We are not suggesting that there is a wrong or right decision, but that you can make your own decisions.