On our podcast ‘Tales That Tethr’, tethr Founder & CEO Matt Zerker interviews entrepreneurs, experts, thought leaders, and regular people about what is means to be a man, the challenges that modern men face, and how to overcome challenges and live life in a more connected and authentic way.
Who isn’t grieving something or someone these days? We’ve all had so much we love torn from our lives this last year.
Unfortunately, many people aren’t actually grieving. They are shoving their feelings of loss down and acting tough. They are hardening around justified heartbreak. They are suffering silently instead of reaching for support. My professional guess as a licensed psychotherapist of 16 years; based in 26 years relentlessly studying healing after the devastating suicide of my first boyfriend when we were both 14, is that those most commonly unable to grieve their losses and access the pain these “unprecedented” circumstances have created are the people most likely reading this article: men.
It’s not your fault. You came to it honestly. We’ve all been conditioned out of difficult emotions from well-intentioned parents shushing us and telling us we’re fine when we were melting down. Let’s face it — tasks like grocery shopping and making dinner are easier without small children screaming and crying on the floor.
We run away from the discomfort inside. Since none of those “drugs of choice” actually relieve us long term, we keep at it until our relationships, health, wallet and lives are truly bankrupt.
Additionally, we’ve all been exploited by our economy which profits from us believing we can consume our way out of painful emotions like grief and fear. Most people have some “drug of choice” that they turn to when they get the stirring of an uncomfortable feeling within, whether it’s an actual drug, alcohol, or just our favorite distracting activity such as online shopping, internet porn, or hustling for validation through non-stop work at the office or the gym. We run away from the discomfort inside. Since none of those “drugs of choice” actually relieve us long term, we keep at it until our relationships, health, wallet and lives are truly bankrupt.
How did we get so confused? Well, simply put, none of us were taught to relate to emotions (which I define as intense physical sensations rolling in squads) the way we were taught to relate to the sensations we feel when we need to drop a deuce.
When we sense a rumbling or cramping in our guts, we know what to do. Do we smoke or take something? Do we seek relief by buying or watching something on the internet? Do we rush to imbibe food or drinks? Or do we go to the nearest bathroom and take a shit. Of course, we do #2. Literally. Because we were potty-trained. So we know that ONLY the act of taking the shit will make us feel lighter, brighter, and less full of shit.
we weren’t emotionally potty-trained so you, like most people, are likely seeking these short-lived externalized sources of relief instead of actually understanding how to interface with your emotions, those similarly intense sensation based experiences in the body
Unfortunately, we weren’t emotionally potty-trained so you, like most people, are likely seeking these short-lived externalized sources of relief instead of actually understanding how to interface with your emotions, those similarly intense sensation based experiences in the body. Similar to pooping, emotions are meant to move through our bodies leaving us lighter, brighter, and less full of shit. Take the E off of the word emotion and you have the word motion — to move. When we get out of the way, stop judging ourselves, and thinking we are supposed to be above feelings, they move through us quickly like a good poop and we are better for it.
This is where we come back to you: the men. In addition to the forces that all of us were subject to, you were also told that to be manly, you shouldn’t cry.
“Don’t be a wuss!” Men should be like rocks; solid, impenetrable, unshakable. So you’ve hardened to get the love of your father or maybe even your mother. You don’t trust that partners and peers want to see your vulnerability. Will they still respect you? Still find you sexy? Will they think less of you, or mock you? Hardening and denying emotions was a logical strategy, originally, to the unbearable pressure this conditioning into manhood put on you. But, to keep with our metaphor, it’s hard to move something through you when it’s hardened. And as aforementioned, there are terrible consequences.
No matter how much someone loves you, they can’t digest your burger for you. Similarly, they can’t move your feelings through your body for you.
Let’s say you are lucky enough to want to connect with your emotions and become skillful with them. You reading this particular blog suggests you're interested. After one, two, three, or five decades of trying to get away from emotions, it can be very confusing HOW to face them. That’s some seriously back-logged shit.
While it wasn’t your fault that you learned this maladaptive strategy, it is your responsibility to shift. No matter how much someone loves you, they can’t digest your burger for you. Similarly, they can’t move your feelings through your body for you. But, there is help!
I lovingly refer to myself as an emotional potty trainer for grown-ups. If you want all the how-to's on moving your feelings through your body like a poop, I have a podcast called the Healing Feeling Sh*t Show, and season one will lead you through a free step by step guided transformational healing journey. I even have the TL/DR version on youtube under the same name for those that just won’t spend hours upon hours becoming skilled emotional ninjas (or if you just like funny videos).
I thought I would give a few tips right here, focusing specifically on grief, since I believe it is the least “allowed” feeling for men to feel and the most pressing one during this global pandemic. I’ll add numbers so you immediately feel like you’re being productive:
1. Grief is the backside of loving. It’s the cost of a human heart. It alerts us to what we care about and ultimately is deeply connected to our values and our love.
2. Grief, like all emotions, has an energetic template that needs to move in the body. In contrast to how explosive (upwards and outwards) anger is, sadness or grief is collapsing, implosive, pooling, swampy, and heavy. If we allow it, it takes us down.
3. So, you need to sloooooow down. Try to get yourself somewhere cozy and safe, where you might allow yourself to collapse or implode. Swaddling yourself in a nest of blankets is great for this as is soaking into a warm bathtub.
4. Once situated, move your attention and awareness out of your thoughts, where you may hear voices that you should hold it together, and not be sad. Instead, move your attention down into your torso. Grief and sadness can often be felt around the heart, in the chest. They don’t call it heartbreak for nothing! It’s your ability to attend to/notice/sense/observe ahem….. (feel) this ache in the chest that opens the doorway for the sadness and grief to emerge and flow downward.
5. Tears are the organic way that grief and sadness move. People have different abilities to cry, but if tears come, allow them. There are few releases as satisfying, and centering as a good cry. I know you may not know the deep peace and acceptance possible after crying, but you will eventually. If you can’t yet cry, be patient. You don’t want to force your emotional movement. Weirdly, our bodies will sometimes yawn or even burp when we have blocked the channel of crying. If things start getting weird, just trust it!
6. Placing a hand on your heart during this process can feel supportive. If you are having trouble being kind and compassionate toward this feeling within you, think of a small child or animal that you love. How would you treat them if they were the ones sitting with this sadness or grief? Give that kindness toward yourself though your touch and words, whether in your head or spoken aloud.
7. Lastly, sometimes, to lube up the massive backlog of sadness that you haven’t yet allowed, you need help. It’s great to make a sad playlist. If you are grieving or missing a person or situation particularly, use photos, read texts or emails to connect to the sadness in your body. It’s even smart to use sad cat videos when necessary!
These tips should give you a good starting place for approaching your grief, the beautiful human emotion that ideally you would have always felt free to have. Feeling the freedom and lightness from releasing the backlog of pain you’ve been carrying will be so helpful and pleasurable for you. Moreover, as a human collective, we want you to have your pain. It will open you up to your joy and love. Only through our willingness to feel our own pain can we truly have empathy toward another’s. In conclusion, you being a sad man, at least sometimes, is good for you and good for all.
For those who want more of my emotional potty training help, I’m starting my next guided journey through the EmotionalSh*t Show the first week of May, 2021. And the podcast, season one is waiting for you. Let’s flush this shit out together!
Rachel Kaplan, licensed psychotherapist and creator and host of the podcast The Healing Feeling Sh*t Show has dedicated the last 25 plus years to relentlessly studying healing when she lost her first love to suicide at 14. After scouring the world's technologies ranging from the spiritual practices of East Asia to the cutting edge trauma resolution techniques of Western Psychology, she found that the true secret to healing is as simple as going to the bathroom. She offers her loving and lighthearted but precise and effective approach, what she calls Emotional Potty Training for Grown-Ups, through her acclaimed New and Noteworthy podcast HFSS, group courses through the emotional Sh*t Show, and is working on publishing the book version of season one. Rachel is honored to bring this approach specifically to men who have suffered the deepest burden of the cultural conditioning out of emotions. She invites you to join the feelings movement to collectively reclaim your natural ability to feel and have emotional resilience: the new happy!