Fear of Feelings

There is a big difference between being emotional and actually feeling things.

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.


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6 Responses to Fear of Feelings

  1. nomadd 18 July 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    Ruth, I am pleased that you like my views, not everyone does, because I am so realistic and down to earth.
    I think you would like this webpage as the writer uses the same sources as you.
    The webpage describes the life of an Australian woman attempting to make a life for herself in Portugal, and also renovate an old house.
    I consider it to be one of the best webpage designs I have ever seen, and her vivid stories about Portugal are breathtaking and filled with creative pictures, such yummy cakes presented.

  2. Ruth Ostrow 17 July 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    Thanks Nomad I always enjoy your stories and your opinions. I love India – and am very drawn to the Hindu gods. But I did find them in Bali too. I went to a Shiva temple and did a special ritual. Its all there if you get to know the locals. Ruth x

  3. nomadd 17 July 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    I visited Japan about three years ago, and being British I felt completely at home there. The country also reminded me of Switzerland. I adore discipline and love everything running like clockwork. My own life is similar and in my wardrobe at home all my socks and shirts are lined up like soldiers. I have to live like this.

    Even when travelling my backpack is filled with plastic bags, into which every item is marked, so I know instantly where everything is located. I always roar with laughter at younger travellers, who tear everything out of their backpack, because they cannot find any of their possessions.

    I disagree with John Cleese about big populations in Japan. The reason for Great Britain and Japan behaving in this manner, is because both nations are islands and have always been quite isolated from the way of life in other countries. In Japan’s case, the populations were isolated for centuries.

    In this environment people grow up suspicious. I know in my youth in England, most English people detested foreigners, and to a large extent, they still do so today.

    The English and the Japanese both visit foreign lands, live and work, and remain completely aloof from the local inhabitants. Look at India, where the British ruled for many centuries, but never mixed with Indians. True, the British privates, largely uneducated, married Indian brides and thus created Anglo-Indians. Who are still disliked by both nations.

    Nobody made me think and feel like I do. Right from an early age I mistrusted all people, and I am perfectly happy with my way of life, and I do not want to change the world, like so many of the young people today.

    I accept class distinction, poverty, homelessness. You cannot change a person, nor a country, that has to come from within. Many years ago I walked across Afghanistan and I know that the western forces will eventually be defeated.
    The Afghans have to want change themselves, and revolt accordingly.
    Outside forces will never change any country, which is why western military forces are dying for useless invasions.

    To me stress is wonderful. I love testing my abilities to breaking point. In my working life I sometimes had three jobs and liked to see how long I could work without sleep – its fun.

    In India I learned how to survive without food for days on end, and very little water. My mind thought. ” If Ghandi can do it so can I.” Also in India I met a yogi who could speak 17 languages, but had trained himself not to speak. A fantastic and difficult achievement.

    The tougher life is, the more I enjoy same. Today all this talk of feelings and emotions is an excuse to give up the struggle for life.

  4. Ross 15 July 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    Fear of feelings:

    Again I have had the wonderful opportunity to begin to unpack my suppressed feelings (our childhood conditioning ..boys don’t cry, not allowed to show anger etc)…thank goodness for the 6 Seconds Network, Peter Salovey, Jack Mayer, David Caruso, Chip Conley, Daniel Goleman et al..who are promoting emotional intelligence or ‘getting ini touch with our feelings’ . Our feelings are our greatest data sources, allies or counsellors..why on earth are we somehow taught as we grow up to ‘suppress’ them & keep them hidden.

    John Cleese in the BBC Series The Face goes to Japan to look at the Japanese culture which apparently makes the British ‘stiff upper lip’ seem quite mild…he surmises that it is a coping strategy imposed when there a big populations living in dense concentrations..suppressing anger or at least neutralising it helps maintain ‘order’ in the society…..so now the Japanese are learning to ‘smile’ and express feelings of joy & happiness at least………its a great series.

    Stay happy & laugh a lot (it relieves stress apparently)..

    Yours in health, Ross

  5. Sarah Hatherley 1 July 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    Sitting in a quiet room getting to the root of those childhood wounds can be bewildering and painful. But it can also be transforming.

    I know, I’ve done it. And for me it was such a revelation it has propelled me to devote the last five years to developing a whole range of tools to help others with the process.

    Understanding that adult fears are the most hardwired, I have skipped a few generations and am focusing my efforts on developing these tools for young people.

    The latest and most valuable tool is free. A dictionary of emotions app – emotionary.


    As an aside, as one screen writer to another, get out of the classroom, you already everything you need to make your films. Just do it. I did.


  6. nomadd 1 July 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    This a very true statement. I can honestly say that I hardly ever cry, and certainly not over actual events, losses of family or news broadcasts of war scenes and horror. The only time I cry is when I listen to or watch romantic stories of opera where the heroine is dying of consumption, or has been stabbed to death. This is because I always relate to the beautiful, story, music, singing and picture myself in that situation.

    All my life I have had a very strong will power and most realistic about every event in life. I don’t know why I have this will power. Nevertheless, in my travels around this globe it has protected me against all manner of strife.

    Whenever a drunken person approaches me I turn around and walk the other way, in the same light when anybody new approaches me, my mind is at once on its guard, and the thought passes through my mind. ” What does this person want from me. ” I don’t have this feeling of wanting to greet, nor throw my arms around a person.”

    My mind is highly suspicious and not once have I ever been mugged, attacked, or lost possessions in my travels. Many nationalities in all countries are very hospitable. However, I am always on my guard about them being con artists, who wish to rob me. In this way I have resisted all offers of alcohol and drugs, since I like my mind under control at all times.

    I have not purchased a newspaper for 15 years, and do not read newspapers as I don’t want my mind polluted with the utter drivel they are filled with. With television I only watch drama and shut down the TV when news broadcasts come on. I do not own a normal radio.

    Instead I read books by unknown authors, and in particular biographies. Through these books I gain the information that thousands upon thousands of people are fleeing from the West to escape the propaganda that is relentlessly thrown at them at every hour of the day. Large numbers of intelligent people are escaping to Portugal, Spain, India, Thailand, Philippines as they seek a life not driven by consumerism.

    In my childhood in England during World War 11 at night I listened to German bombers grunting their way across the skies, and then dropping their explosive and incendiary bombs, the night horizon would be turned into a fire inferno. The following morning I walked to school and observed many houses destroyed, also many corpses still lying there from the raid. Nonetheless, I took all this in my stride and confidently thought.
    ” You Germans will cop it one day.”

    Unlike the current times I didn’t sit down and cry. I don’t understand people who sob over such events. I am more realistic and think about what I should do, in a most cold heartless frame of mind. I don’t understand people praying. That won’t stop the bombs falling, only the fighter planes and pilots will do that.

    Apart from opera my happiest times are spent quietly sitting by myself in a room and thinking deeply about everything in this world, through this I find many solutions. However, I find it difficult to break through all the ” brain washing ” of the masses.

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