One of the great Man Rules™ is: Don’t feel. Of course, it is actually men aren’t allowed to feel anything other than anger. It is not manly to express the “softer” feelings. We learn it very early and often brutally and that training lasts a very long time. And takes a very long time to unlearn. Some people even think it is just how men are: we simply don’t have those feelings. I fundamentally disagree with that and the men in recovery I know and love have shown me otherwise.
In the last few years, I have discovered an important fact. In recovery we talk about how feelings are not facts. This is true. Feelings are also genderless. What does that mean? Assigning gender to specific feelings is something I was guilty of in my first book, and is something that our culture does to boys and men starting at a very early age. It is the essence of the Water I talked about earlier. Unintentionally, I perpetuated the idea that feelings such as hurt, sadness, and fear are feminine. But if men and women and boys and girls all have those feelings, how can they be masculine or feminine? Feelings are universal; they have no gender. You may not be aware of them right now because you have been trained through the Rules not to recognize them. And if you do recognize them, you are prohibited from acknowledging them to others. But as we continue to evolve as humans and grow in our recovery, we become more aware of all of our feelings. They are part of our life experience. As Ed said previously, “To feel is to be alive.”
My challenge, and the challenge of a lot of the men I spoke with for this book, is accepting and expressing my feelings. How comfortable are you telling your partner that your feelings are hurt? I had specific patterns of interaction in my romantic relationships when they did something and my feelings were hurt. All I had to do was say, “That hurt my feelings,” or “That hurt,” or even simply say, “Ouch.” Instead, how did I behave? First, I acted offended. Then, I began to raise my voice. I would attack them with criticism. Were they guilty? Absolutely, but mostly guilty of being human. I felt hurt and I could not bear to admit it. The discomfort and shame I felt would not allow me to simply hold the feeling. I would start a fight rather than admit my feelings were hurt. How many times have you done something similar?
So that is a big part of the work in front of us. Our partners do not necessarily have any idea of the emotions going on inside of us when all we show them is stoicism, sarcasm, and anger. Yet, we have not only not learned how to show those emotions but we have learned not to show them. They are a sign of weakness. They will lead to our being taken advantage of. Hurt. Abandoned. We come to believe that they will lead to our undoing. And so we hide them deep away inside of us. The truth is, however, they are the key that unlocks not only our hearts but the hearts of all of those we love.