What makes you powerful? I propose it isn’t your biceps; it’s your emotions. Your power derives from you expressing your emotions. I’m not talking about the rants we can go on, I am talking about those feelings that are difficult to express. In the expression of your vulnerability, you are powerful.
When you reveal your emotional liabilities, you risk judgment and rejection – but power lies in the risk. Telling your friend that you don’t want to help her, or your spouse how much he means to you, feels dangerous.
Think versus feel
Who taught you to communicate emotionally? If you’re like the rest of us, no one taught or modeled clear emotional communication. We were taught to be logical. Our religions and culture stands on Descartes’ proclamation, “I think, therefore I am.” Taught to lead with our minds, we come to believe the feelings will solve themselves if we figure the situation out.
You might be smart, but are you getting what you want? The passion that moves change comes from your belly. It comes from living a life of expression; I learned this the hard way. Growing up with dyslexia, I tried everything to be smart like others but it didn’t work. I had to resort to another strategy so I just started expressing what I felt.
In the course of leading more with my feelings and less with my thoughts, I stumbled. Yet, I also discovered I was happier and more powerful. I went from a timid, overly self-conscious kid to a man who has no problem opening his mouth.
One concept that helped came from neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a way to understand communication and behavior. I learned that even though we might use our visual and auditory capacities to process information, it is our kinesthetic sense that tells us what is true for us. We gather the information, and then we run it by our feelings to know if it is good for us.
How many times have you made a decision based on logic only to later realize that while your deduction might have been correct, the decision wasn’t right for you? Our cultural training to make decisions based only on facts causes you to function as inefficient computers.
Train yourself to feel
Your feeling abilities are just underdeveloped skills. Like with any skills, you can significantly improve them with deliberate practice. There is no gym for feeling, so how do you get in shape? Here are some of the practices I give to clients and students:
- Mindfulness. The growth of the practice of mindfulness in the last ten years has exploded. Virtually every community has someone teaching Mindfulness Stress Reduction courses. I used to teach these eight-week courses and there is no quicker way to develop a level of mastery with being aware of what you are experiencing. The bonus is that your stress level goes way down as you increase your awareness of your body and emotions.
- Express. When in doubt – speak. This is just like any activity in which you’ve become out-of-shape; you’ll be a little rough at it in the beginning but let yourself screw up. Your self-judgments will be worse than what others might think. If the only thing you say in the beginning is that something doesn’t feel right or that you’re a confused, you’ve taken a large step.
Speak what is true for you in the moment. Another method to prime this emotional pump is to begin your speaking with a physical feeling. “My stomach feels tense,” can be the beginning of an honest conversation.
- Release the past. This doesn’t mean you need to enroll in ten years of therapy. It might mean taking a page from 12 step programs where you make amends for past actions. We all have done things we regret. I know when I called an old girlfriend to own how I betrayed her and listened to how my actions affected her, we both opened up and let go of held feelings.
So much of your charge about a current event often comes from similar previous events that often for valid reasons didn’t get expressed. So, when possible, feel and express even if it is small.
Every week in our men’s groups, we see how a small expression of past held actions or feelings set men free to be more alive and more powerful. After hundreds of these meetings, I have always left the meetings feeling more powerful because I made sure I spoke what I needed to speak. I still might be shy and screw up some of my communications, but I don’t hold back my feelings, the cost is too great.
Focus on your feelings; start speaking them, find venues that you can work out your feelings, play with emotional expression. Let us know how this works for you.