Emotions are one of those things that I used to think were for other people. I didn’t understand them, and I didn’t know how, why, or when it was appropriate to show them. For the most part, I showed almost nothing on my face, and my voice was relatively flat; there were times when I was compared to a robot, and I was OK with that. I had no idea how important they were, or how much not being able to express them messed up my life.
To some degree, I guess I kind of enjoyed it. I knew that some people around me found my lack of affect somewhat disturbing, and thus avoided me as much as they could. I had friends who were probably pretty worried about my lack of expressive capacity, but mostly we were young, in our teens or early twenties, and strange stuff was just kind of expected.
But one of the things treatment at Menninger taught me (and life, in a much more unpleasant manner) is that emotions need to be expressed. If you repress them for too long, they will eventually just bubble up – often at an inopportune time. They just sit below the surface, influencing all kinds of other things; if you repress anger, you’ll just be angry at everyone and everything, all the time, for no apparent reason until you confront it. The same with sadness, fear, guilt, anxiety, and a whole host of other emotions.
It’s hard, if you don’t have a lot of experience expressing your emotions, to start letting them out. Sometimes they’ll come out in uncomfortable situations, and they might be embarrassing and really foreign to deal with. Case in point – when, in my late teens, I worked out that I had feelings for a girl I knew, I had a lot of trouble expressing my feeling to her. Part of our relationship not working out was the fact that I had such trouble expressing how I felt.
Now that I have some degree of knowledge of how to express how I’m feeling, I feel so much better. Granted, it is still hard to tell sometimes – it’s only been a few months, after all, and the lack of affect was an expression I had for years. But at least I can tell what I’m feeling (most of the time). And when people ask me how I’m feeling, or what I’m feeling, I can tell them, and sometimes even show them. And now I don’t have this undercurrent of anger all the time, or a constant low level of anxiety (including low-level anxiety attacks). I can go to sleep at night without worrying that I’ll be grinding my teeth all night, and I don’t have to concentrate to unclench my jaw during the day.
I’m not saying you need to shout your feelings to everyone you see, but knowing what you are feeling is important – if for no other reason than it can help make you feel better. Knowing that you feel guilty, or sad, or angry might not be fun to know, but knowing what you feel lets you confront your feelings and work through them.