Give me a dollar for every recovering addict and alcoholic who “hates feelings” and I’d be a wealthy man. Life’s all about feelings. It’s not like a lack of knowledge has kicked our ass. It’s always about how we feel and what we’re trying to forget, run from, or compensate for.
Let’s break it down. We don’t mind positive feelings… unless they’re overwhelming. Incredibly, we find that we can have too much of a good thing. Feeling really good is scary to us. We become superstitious and start waiting for a shoe to drop. As Nickelback sings, “something’s gotta go wrong cuz I’m feeling way too damned good.” We don’t know how to be when things are go smoothly or when we find we’re temporarily free of pain. We’re pessimistic people. We say that we hope for the best and plan for the worst but that’s a crock. We script the worst and what hope we have is well hidden and usually terrifies us.
We look to be numb. We fly under the radar. We say we’re easy going but we often don’t know just where the Hell we are going. It’s just another day and as long as I don’t drink or use I’ll be ok. While this is true, we’re still surviving and not truly living. To be truly alive is to fully experience life and to truly experience it is to feel it.
Each of us has things we’re afraid to feel. While nobody likes to feel bad, people in recovery generally experience negative emotions with far greater intensity than most folks do. Obviously, we drank and drugged away our feelings for years. It turns out we only blocked the awareness of those feelings – they accumulated because we bottled them up and we carry them with us (baggage). When we experience things today we connect to what we bottled up and we know that what we feel is greater than what the situation warrants and so we tend to either shut down, implode, or explode.
Our most familiar feelings are usually pain, shame, and fear. We learned these all too young and all too well. We are very defensive people who assault ourselves.
Anger is many things to us. For some it is a default setting. We hide our vulnerable emotions with anger. We funnel sadness, disappointment, loneliness, and fear through an unhealthy filter and we express anger because there is no vulnerability in anger. This tends to be especially true for men as we were socialized not to express these feelings. Because we were taught not to express them, we generally did not learn to identify them or cope with them in any healthy manner. For many women the opposite is true. We were allowed to be sad but not angry. Many of us were taught that anger was not proper or ladylike.
Those of us with “anger management problems”, fear that we have too much anger. We must accept that anger never travels alone. There is always a secondary emotion present and we must learn to identify it, feel it, and express it. If we do this we quickly see that while few if any care to experience our anger; they are often encouraging and supportive as we share our other emotions.
Many of us are afraid to be genuinely angry despite the fact that anger is a normal, healthy emotion. We tend to associate anger with aggression, violence, or emotional harm being done to others because this is what was modeled for us. Because we are afraid to feel and afraid to express our true feelings, we tend to water down our emotions. We tell ourselves and others that we are not angry. Instead we say that we are irritated, aggravated, annoyed, frustrated, irritated, or upset. Worse still we may demean ourselves by saying that we’re “bitchy” or the ultimate in watered down words, “pissy.”
When we water down our emotions we guarantee that whatever we express and however we express it; we will not be satisfied. What we truly seek is release but we fear loss of control and so we minimize our feelings. In this way we treat our emotions and ultimately ourselves as if we do not matter. We rely on sideways sarcasm and act snippy, snarky, be a smart ass or worst of all – behave passive aggressively. Being passive aggressive allows us to express negative feelings in a way that makes it difficult for others to hold us accountable. When we behave this way we have plausible deniability and can hide while others take our true meaning. We remain capable of doing great harm to others with our words.
Many of us remain afraid of saying or doing anything that might evoke anger in others. We fear conflict because we expect confrontation. We walk on eggshells and repress our true feelings. We speak passively and carefully so as not to offend anyone. When we are uncomfortable we tend to use too many words and are consequently misunderstood.
We prefer righteous anger to any other type. We enjoy the certainty of knowing that we are right and that others are wrong. We tend to express righteous anger most often on behalf of other people or causes. We are generally intolerant when we express ourselves righteously. When we have a narrow focus we assert that anyone who doesn’t see it as we do is clearly and obviously wrong. This seems an important part of the “luxury we could ill afford.”
Finally, we tend to embrace black and white thinking. We reason that there are only two choices – we can express our feelings to the person who hurt us/treated us badly or we can continue to keep them to ourselves. We fail to recognize venting as something that can be more than complaining – it can be a release. We have the option of using sponsorship, contacts, and outside help to work through what we’ve bottled up and to learn how to experience, identify, and express out full range of emotions.