I originally started this site as a place to put code snippets and things I’ve been working on, and I’ve realised already that it’s also a place to put my thoughts and open up a bit on what’s going on in my head.
This is my first post, hopefully not my last, but I’m going to start by talking about how feelings and emotions affect me personally and professionally.
I’d like to preface this by emphasising that though I’ll be talking about my subjective emotional state, I suspect that my experience reflects that of a lot of men. This isn’t to say that I don’t believe women and others don’t also face similar issues, or that mine are the worst issues to have. But they’re there and I think that making some headway in untangling them could only mean progress.
The Wind Telephone
I’ve just listened to a podcast episode of This American Life called One Last Thing Before I Go, originally airing in 2016, where the first section is about a place in Japan called The Wind Telephone. This is a place where people can go, enter a phone booth, and pick up the phone to talk to their dead loved ones. It was made originally as a place for one man to talk to his dead relatives, but after the 2011 tsunami many others came to visit and speak to theirs, as a private place with no-one around to hear. An interesting statistic which is mentioned in this is that most of the people visiting are men, talking about their feelings, opening up in a way that wouldn’t normally happen, and generally telling their loved ones how they feel in a way which is only possibly for a large number of men when there’s no-one else around.
When I heard this I instantly got it. I understood. I’m a man who has a very difficult time talking about my emotions and feelings at any given moment. This has cost me relationships, caused me to accept things which I didn’t want just to “keep the peace”, and has ongoing effects over how I live my life. I think this is a problem that a lot of men deal with due to social pressures to “man up” and repress emotions in favour of action, regardless of whether or not that action is justified.
Somewhere in the middle?
Don’t get me wrong, I think in general a lot of people overthink thoughts and feelings to the point of detriment, and I think as well a lot of people ignore thoughts and feelings to the point of detriment, and that there’s a healthy balance somewhere in the middle where people should be comfortable to talk about their emotions with friends and family without feeling like they’re exposing themselves to ridicule or being overly dramatic. Personally whenever I think about what I’m feeling I feel that I’m being dramatic, other people manage to get past worst issues with less support in an open way, my problems aren’t that bad anyway, why should my feelings be more important than anyone else’s? And this line of reasoning goes on until I just ignore them completely.
I’ve rung my sisters before with the idea of asking specific questions about who I am, or about my current state of mind, only to revert to “Oh yeah I was just saying hello, fancy a coffee soon?” and not revealing anything. I’ve done the same with friends because I get worried that my own feelings aren’t really justified or important enough to talk about.
This is why I understand the idea of the Wind Telephone. It’s a place to openly talk about these feelings, thoughts and emotions without the fear of judgement or that they’re not significant enough. It’s a place where it’s possible to speak your mind with a person you care about who even though is already gone, the blanks can be filled in and you can release some pressure from your own emotions out in to the world.
At the start
My emotional repression comes from learning to deal with a high functioning alcoholic father from a young age, where any emotion other than anger was a weakness, and anger was a challenge, so I learned how to discard a lot of the emotions and feelings I had as a survival mechanism. These days I’m able to look at a situation, figure out if it’s important to get upset over, and discard it if it isn’t, but at the same time if I feel that is is important enough to get upset over I find myself unable to express this to anyone. Multiple relationships I’ve been in have likened me to a “robot” due to this, I refuse to get drawn in to arguments, and I refuse to talk about my feelings when I’m not comfortable to do so, which is a large amount of the time. In these relationships my partner has tried to get me to open up in a lot of ways and I’ve been reluctant, sometimes I’ve opened up and had a break down over my past with my father who I’ve not spoken to for years now, and afterward I’ve felt weak and ashamed for it. In my mind I’ve felt that my partner now respects me less or feels like I’m weaker for it as well, which has made it harder for me to open up again. I understand that this isn’t really the case, but the feelings are still there.
Another side of my own personal emotional repression is that I still have a lot of difficult with the word “love”. I can use it objectively, sure, but with people I struggle to use the word. I’ve used it when I’ve been with partners, and I fully meant it, and I know I love my family, but I struggle to use the word with my family because of my history with my father. It wasn’t a word that was commonly used when I was a kid (At least as far as I can remember, I only really remember a small amount of actual memories from my childhood, mainly I just remember themes) and as such I have a hard time saying it back to my siblings or my mother even though I do love them.
Professionally all of this culminates in me feeling that I’m not good at what I do when I’m unable to understand something or implement a new technique quickly. Overall I understand the concept of my job pretty quickly, and when I don’t I’m fine with asking about it and drilling in to my misunderstanding. But when I can’t implement my understanding I quickly jump to this being proof that I’m not adequate, that I’m pretending to be better than I am or that I probably shouldn’t be in my profession as I’m not good enough. When in reality it’s that the theory needs to be put into practice quite a few times before I actually understand it and that it’s fine to struggle with new concepts or techniques in the beginnning, it’s only repetition of application of these concepts and techniques that it’ll become easy.
Again this brings me back to thinking about the Wind Telephone, a space where someone like me would be able to walk into, pick up a phone to anyone alive, dead or imaginary to talk through these feelings and emotions and have some sort of peace with it.
In programming we have a technique called “rubber ducking”. This is where we have a problem in front of us which we can’t solve and so we explain the problem to a literal rubber duck which sits on our desk in laymans terms. The entire act of talking through the problem out loud helps our brain to digest the issue and come up with a deeper understanding of it, followed by a solution. We don’t need another person to help come up with a solution, we just need a place to direct the problem out loud so our brain can hear it again in different words and work on the solution. To me the Wind Telephone sounds like the same thing but for feelings and emotions, where another person isn’t required, but we just need to hear the problem out loud in our own words for our brain to process it and start working on a solution. This might happen the first time, or the hundreth, but the point is that each time we get closer to a proper solution where we are able to move on and leave the problem behind us.
As far as I can tell a lot of men have similar issues with feelings and emotions that I do, maybe we all could do with a Wind Telephone nearby as a way to let these issues out into the world and move on from them. Repression never works, and you can’t force someone to open up against their will. Giving people a space to let their thoughts out without judgement or witnesses could be another helpful step for a lot of people who struggle to do this with other people. We could even put a rubber duck in the booth and bring about “Rubber Duck Therapy” for us lot who just need an ear without the feedback.
Just a thought.