Fear of Feelings
ONE of my lecturers said something interesting the other day, certainly food for thought. We were told to create a film scene with real characters doing what people realistically do and say. And he cautioned us to be careful not to let the actors emote or express too much. ‘‘People in real life find it really hard to let themselves feel things. It’s often painful and embarrassing to feel.’’
I thought, this doesn’t apply to me or many people I know. I was figuring maybe it’s a cultural thing, the difference between, say, hot-blooded Latinate versus Anglo-Saxon behaviour?
Then I realised it’s actually a statement full of truth. A therapist once said to me that there’s a huge difference between feeling things and being emotional. I’m like a box of firecrackers. I can fight or yell quite happily in public, I can sob without fear in a public place. I re- member having an almighty spat with my ex-husband in a furniture warehouse one Christmas (well, who hasn’t?), but the fact people were staring mattered not.
However, I can’t watch anything on television that elicits heart-wrenching pain, like animals suffering or children being harmed. The feelings that come up for me are too excruciating, almost intolerable.
I still find it almost impossible to watch anything on the Holocaust, even though my daughter’s family on her dad’s side were annihilated at the hands of the Nazis. I keep photos of my late father to a minimum.
I would break a thousand times a day if I had to be exposed to the pain of that loss.
Other people can look at these things. But perhaps they can’t allow themselves to feel their own feelings: their anger or childhood grief, love, sexual feelings or existential panic. And to compound matters, they are ashamed or fearful that their feelings may become out of control. We all have different ways of stifling feel- ings; mine relate to the outside world, for others it’s their inner dialogue they want silenced.
One way or the other, my lecturer is right. People are frightened to feel. In fact, people such as me, driven to passionate expressions, are often the most pain- avoidant. Our hissy fits and outbursts are cathartic, whereas sitting in a quiet room getting to the root of what are often deep childhood wounds, feelings of abandonment, lack of love or terror at the state of the world can simply be heartbreaking and intolerable.
Yes, being feeling-avoidant is part of the human condition; and probably a inbuilt defence mechanism to preserve the species. Thus, any character truly feeling something on screen would show more courage than if slaying a dragon. But then feelings are the proverbial monster or dragon we most fear.