Talking About It

Given the culture in which we've been raised, it's no wonder that many of us are challenged by the feeling part of life. We often can't seem to recognize and talk about the feelings we are having at any given moment.

So when someone asks us what we're feeling, and we say, "Oh, nothing,” we’re not lying.

For most of us, these patterns begin when we were boys. The story of Derek, now 44, begins during the end of his senior year in high school. This was a kid who had been in trouble forever. He was a middle child in a large and gregarious family. At this late date in the school year, it was doubtful if he would make the grades to graduate.

Then he got caught by the vice-principal smoking pot in the school parking lot. That was the point at which Derek literally shut up. He wouldn't talk to anyone–family, friends, school counselor, pastor, teachers, or police–no one. He'd just look at the ground and shake his head.

His story slowly moves forward with very little life. He had to do community service for using a controlled substance. He did not graduate from high school. He got an unchallenging job and just sort of existed. Only now, in mid-life, is he coming to his full emotional life.

The assumption I make about Derek is that he could have told us if he wanted. While I think that's true, I don't really know. That's the frustrating thing about Derek and so many like him. We just don't know what's going on in their inner life. They won't or can't tell us. He had no words for his feelings, which remained locked up deep inside him.

There's a name for this condition: Alexithymia. It's from Greek words meaning "No Words for Feelings." People with alexithymia cannot put into words the feelings they are experiencing. A few of us guys have it really bad; most of us have at least a light case of it.

The bad news is that it does a lot of damage to us, especially because it is precisely “talking about it” that women seem to love! The good news is that, in the vast majority of cases, it's fixable.

If you begin now to find ways to attach words–or some other healthy means of expression–to your feelings, you can avoid the sad situations like the one that Derek got himself into. It's never too late!

© 2008 David Kundtz

Related information: Issues, Feeling Books: anger, assertiveness, depression, fear, forgiveness, general, grief, joy, loneliness, shame

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We know too much and feel too little. At least we feel too little of those creative emotions from which a good life springs. - Bertrand Russell


David Kundtz is a licensed family therapist in Berkeley, California. He presents seminars, workshops, retreats, and conference presentations in the areas of men's emotional health, stress management, and spirituality. He is the author of Managing Feelings:  An owner's manual for men and has recently completed a second book, Nothing's Wrong: A Man's Guide to Managing His Feelings. He makes his home in Kensington, California and in Vancouver, British Columbia. You may contact David at E-Mail or visit his web site at www.stopping.com

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