It’s not an uncommon experience for me. This morning I sat in a group of women talking about how it FEELS when things are hard and how their FEELINGS can at times lead them astray. It was good to hear others affirm that sometimes you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes your feelings don’t match your knowledge and you just have to keep going in the direction of truth instead of getting pushed off track by misplaced emotions. And then my dear friend Renae said something like, “I imagine it must be so much easier for people who aren’t feelers.”
My first response was to be all, “Yeah, well. . . it isn’t! It’s WAY hard to not be a feeler! Thinkers have it rough, too!” But I just kept thinking about it. The truth is, we only ever experience life from behind our own two eyeballs. I don’t actually know how it feels to be a feeler. Sometimes I hear how they’re describing life and their own difficulties and it does sound exhausting. It must be hard to have all those emotions all the time! I feel like you could fit the extent of my emotions into a thimble and some of my sisters need a bucket. So for my friend Renae (and any of the rest of you feelers) I wanted to explain how it feels to be a thinker. What are the struggles? The strengths?
Of course, I’m only speaking from my experience. And for clarification’s sake—-I do have feelings. I cry at moving songs, I feel joyful when my kids accomplish major milestones (like playing independently for five minutes). I laugh. A lot. I am not without emotions, but I also rarely have the feeling that my emotions are controlling me or that they are difficult to manage. When Brian and I have conflict (which he hates) I often remind him that if he was married to an actual woman he’d be in for a rude awakening. Which is a joke. I am very much an actual woman, but I don’t have the same emotional responses I see in many of my friends, which helps keep our marriage pretty low-maintenance. Oh, and if you’re a Myers-Briggs person, my personality type is ESTJ if that helps you know where I’m coming from. While all of the things I’m going to express are my natural personality bents, it’s very true that I work against them when they contribute to sin in my life. Just because it’s how I would naturally respond doesn’t mean it’s right.
So here are a couple thoughts on what it’s like to not be a feeler in a world where it seems like that’s the norm for your peers and the general assumption about your gender.
–I think about my face a lot. So there’s probably a moment you can point to where you knew you were different from the way you thought you were supposed to be. For me, it’s when I was a little kid and realized that what I most wanted for my birthday was for everybody to let me unwrap my gifts in private. I have an understanding that people want to see a certain emotional reaction when they give you a gift and I am not very good at that. And it feels like a weird pressure to try and make the right happy/surprised face. I have also noticed this when I was dealing with infertility and people would tell me they were pregnant. My first thought would be “Is my face doing the right thing?” because I knew it should be looking happy for them, but that wasn’t an entirely genuine expression for what was in my heart. I’m very aware of the disconnect between how people expect me to respond and how I might naturally respond.
–There’s an emotions party and everyone is invited but me. I have an awareness that everybody else is feeling things that I don’t feel. That’s kind of a bummer. Friends are crying about dropping kindergarteners off or they’re anxious about an upcoming move or they’re thrilled for some vacation time. I feel like I experience these things, but in muted colors. I wonder if in heaven I will experience the full range of passionate emotions that right now aren’t available to me. It does make certain elements of coping with life simpler, but can also be a source of discontent.
–Why can’t you people just do the right thing? I get irritated (hey! that’s a feeling, right?) when people don’t do the right thing because it won’t feel good. I don’t get it. You just do the right thing because it’s the right thing. I am not at all saying that I always do the right thing, but it is satisfying to me when I do in a checklist, duty-bound kind of way. I may not do the right thing, but it is rarely because the right thing would have been emotionally difficult or because wrong makes me feel good. I don’t sin less. I sin differently. Like, the kind of sin where you decide people are dumb because they won’t do the right thing just because of the emotional costs.
–Conflict is humorous. I see you getting all mad about stuff. And I try really hard not to laugh. I view “The Real Housewives of Whatever” shows to be comedies and I enjoy them as such. I have a hard time taking people in heightened emotional states seriously (and while that’s true for conflict, I also struggle with having empathy for ANY extremes like super sad or giddy). This makes it hard to fight with me because my goal is to convince you of something and I don’t get swayed by emotions. Much.
-I want to solve your problems. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true. When you’re crying about how hard something is, I’m going through a checklist of how to make it better. This is not likely to make you feel better. But along with wanting to solve the problem of the friend crying in front of me, I want to SOLVE ALL THE PROBLEMS. I see a problem in any environment I’m in and I can’t turn off the need to fix. I feel like most of my life is problem solving and the other part of my life is sleeping. This is how I have ended up in a couple state senator’s offices arguing for changes in how foster kids are treated. It’s a great trait to have when you can point it in the right direction. I also get frustrated when I can’t solve a problem (hey! another emotion word!).
-You look naked to me. Emotions are awkward to me. When people are really emotionally raw, I have the same gut reaction as you might have if somebody just started taking off their clothes in front of you. I want to avert my eyes out of respect for the other person’s dignity. I’m working on this and it’s not always a problem, but at times it has meant that I shy away from certain people or situations if I know there’s likely to be big displays of uncomfortable emotions. And I want to clarify—there is a difference to me between “big displays of emotion” and “honesty”. I love and value honesty. I want to be where there is honesty and I can handle it and will even deal with the emotions that come with it, but let’s not kid ourselves that all emotions are honest.
-You don’t overwhelm me. Okay, so I might feel awkward about your big displays of emotion and not be sure how to handle them, but they also won’t pull me under. I can listen to you and think about what you’re going through without getting emotional about it myself. I enjoy asking questions and listening to people’s problems and have a good bit of patience since it isn’t emotionally taxing for me. I got a degree in psychology and I remember telling one of my professors I didn’t think I’d go on to do more school so I could be a counselor because I just didn’t get as passionate about stuff and didn’t feel all the empathy other people felt. He told me that that’s why I NEEDED to be a counselor- people who are struggling emotionally may need somebody who is more calm and rational to help them work towards a solution and it helps to not be a person who will carry that emotional burden home from work with you. Sorry Professor, I decided to be a mom instead. . . and that same skill has proved pretty useful.
-I will burn bridges. Happily. If I have conflict with you that seems unresolvable or we have a difference of opinion on an issue that is nonnegotiable to me, I can be fairly quick to cut off contact. And it doesn’t really hurt me much. It’s really important to me to know I am being treated with respect and if I feel like that isn’t happening, I’m out. I don’t tolerate. . . well, there’s a lot I don’t tolerate. This is an area where I very actively feel like I’m being sanctified. Without the compassion of Jesus I wouldn’t keep investing in people that are difficult for me, but I am learning to see the value of working past those conflicts and being refined.
-I can be an unintentional troublemaker. Because I want to SOLVE ALL THE PROBLEMS, I will put myself in awkward positions to try and do that. I will meet with people in leadership, offer critiques, write letters to the editor—whatever I feel like will get my point across. Obviously, this can be alienating and can hurt people’s feelings. I hate that. Sometimes I forget about that part until after the confrontation is over because in my mind it’s just two people trying to fix a problem. In reality, there are emotions and egos involved and that doesn’t make it easy.
-My own deep emotions have to be handled seriously. And maybe privately. I do have really genuine deep emotions, but happy or sad, I prefer to have them privately. They feel very vulnerable and unmanageable and it takes some effort to sort them out for me. I have seriously had moments where I wasn’t even sure what I was feeling because having a feeling felt so foreign. In those really intimate, vulnerable moments I need for those close to me to understand how unusual my emotions are for me—that they signify something big. If somebody handles those rare moments of emotional expression in an insensitive way, it can have major longterm repercussions on my ability to have relationship with them (see above regarding my love of bridge burning).
So maybe writing this out seems entirely self-indulgent, but I bet there are a couple of you out there that have felt weird when it seems like everybody else is having all the feelings. And for my friend Renae- here’s a peak into my head. I hope we can still be friends (winky face). Much love to my mentor Kerri who taught me that even a woman whose children jokingly refer to her as “mostly dead inside” has much to offer the women around her.
I leave you with a quote from “Better off Ted”, a show cancelled all too early. Enjoy!
Veronica: It’s like my feelings are itchy.
Linda: Oh, it sounds like something human is trying to find its way out of you.
Veronica: Yes, I think it’s an emotion. Like joy, or spicy food.
Linda: Technically spicy food isn’t a . . .
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Linda: Maybe that itchy feeling you have is guilt. Guilt is a powerful emotion. Every Thanksgiving it makes me take three planes just so I can visit my racist Aunt Cookie.
Veronica: So this is guilt, huh? In the past I’ve always just counteracted this feeling with other emotions. Like sugar. Or drunk.