A Man’s Journey in Overcoming the Fear of Discovering his True Feelings

A Man’s Journey in Overcoming the Fear of Discovering his True Feelings

In this article, I want to share my journey on overcoming my fears of discovering my true feelings.

I share my story and my journey in the hopes of inspiring other men (and others) to consider the price we pay for locking our emotions, using generationally passed modes of behavior that result in so much emotional damage, and end up harming our closest and most loved relationships.

In this article, I talk about the following topics:

  • How boys and men are taught to lock their emotions and feelings
  • Defense mechanisms commonly used against feeling real feelings
  • Dangers we face in repressing our true feelings
  • How we are taught to repress our feelings from generation to generation
  • How to move from repressing true feelings to discovering them

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Boys and Men are Taught to Lock Emotions and Feelings

Often, men (including me, in my past) are described as inaccessible, repressed or blocked.

The image of a man with locked emotions is universal.

In fact, many of the world’s greatest myths and legends, both in the East and West, point to the journey a man takes towards freeing himself and others from fears and monsters; only to overcome grave, life-threatening obstacles to transcend, transform, and return a Hero.

Call it what you want; but it’s a universal and common cultural phenomenon amongst men to deny, fake, resist and repress their emotional experience. The repercussions of this are vast.

Men are taught, moreover indoctrinated, by cultural standards imposed at the earliest ages to repress their feelings. Furthermore, generational standards of behavior are imposed and passed down from grandfathers to fathers to sons and grandsons; and from our uncles, coaches, teachers, and friends.

Not only are we taught to fake or fudge our emotions, but we are also often taught that even having feelings of whatever kind is not allowed.

A malfunctioning form of Stoicism is often the result.

Defense Mechanisms Against Feeling Real Feelings

Ask a man if he even wants to try to feel his true feelings and he commonly says, “Heck no! Why would I want to do that?”

That was me. I was terrified of my own feelings. I realize now we are all terrified of our feelings.

We are terrified because we simply don’t know what our emotions are, how to feel them, how to process them and contextualize them (and thus, don’t know how to fix them, and you know how us guys feel when we can’t fix things).

We don’t know what will happen if we examine our emotions; maybe the entire world we have constructed will come tumbling down and we will be annihilated by them.

Will the emotions overtake us and run away with our lives?

Will I end up in a pool of tears with my friends, family, and loved ones pointing and laughing at me?

Will I be forever seen as weak, ineffective, soft, impotent?

Here’s another key truth, and I know you can relate to this: there’s a large part of us that just wants to be annihilated or disappear anyway.

That’s why we smoke, drink, gamble, take up adrenaline high-risk sports, escape in TV, watch porn, and the list goes on…

Because the pain we feel inside is SO great and because we are so afraid of what the truth of our being wants to say to us that we will distract ourselves with ANYTHING to get away from it.

Anything. Yes, Anything.

Dangers of Repressing True Feelings

As men grow older, these defense mechanisms become more entrenched, more refined, deeply ingrained, and unfortunately, they begin to have devastating consequences.

Studies have shown the repression of emotions can cause anxiety, stress, depression and can manifest physically as pain, loss of sleep, fatigue, digestive issues, and increases risk of death by cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Men feel a lack of creativity and lack of inspiration and start suffering from heart attacks, failed marriages, job loss, mid-life crises, and more, while they keep running from distraction to distraction.

And what do they fear the most?

Feeling the breadth and depth of their emotions.

Generational/ Inherited Fear of Discovering True Feelings

In my case, growing up, my father was a sensitive person, but I could never access him.

In hindsight, I have a ton of compassion for him as he couldn’t even access himself and he was shut down. When my father was 12 years old, he witnessed his father getting kicked by a horse. This happened during wartime and unfortunately, there weren’t doctors available to tend to my grandfather because the soldiers were a priority.

Sadly, my grandfather died in my father’s arms from internal bleeding. So began the block of deep trauma and unhealed emotions that my father suffered.

Isn’t it uncanny that my father then sent me away to boarding school when I was just 12 years old? 

That’s when the pattern began in me! Perhaps, because my father was so inaccessible, I pushed him away myself and in turn, shut down my feelings of longing to be closer to him.

Using Sports to Stop Discovering True Feelings

It may seem healthy on the outside when boys often throw themselves into sports. But, while sports may be great outlets for emotions, they are also perfect places for boys and men to escape.

For me, it was swimming. From the age of 8, I started swimming every night. By the time I was 12, I was a competitive athlete. At one point, I was number 1 in the world for performance and was on the French National Swimming Team. I was an Olympic hopeful. 

In hindsight, I recognize that in some ways, swimming was also a distraction from my emotions.

As I was looking at the Olympics at 17 years old, I suddenly quit as I also had a great fear of success. And, once I didn’t have swimming to distract myself from my feelings, I discovered pot, and soon that became my great escape to avoid discovering my true feelings.

What Hiding True Feelings Does to a Man

As I lived a very successful outward life, here is what I began to understand:

  • I couldn’t communicate.
  • I couldn’t tell anyone how I was feeling because I didn’t know.
  • I lived with an existential feeling of wanting to disappear.
  • I wanted to just check out… through anything possible: smoking cigarettes, drinking, and more.

While I was, and continue to be a very healthy person, I still wanted to disappear. I was in constant pain in my stomach. It’s like there was a secret wish to destroy myself, but without the desire to commit suicide.

My world was either black or white: I was either sad or happy and because I didn’t want to be sad, I often pretended I was happy even when I was sad… all the while not having any language for the complexity of my emotions and so I just kept finding ways to escape.

As life went on, I was honestly in a lot of pain.

I was married for 30 years, had 3 beautiful sons, and I still was in pain. I had a lot of opportunities come my way with business and work, and a lot of the time, I avoided them because of the pain.

And, I didn’t know why. I was just in pain.

Moving From Fear Into Discovering True Feelings

Then, I met my second wife. Because I trusted her so much and because she made me feel safe, I was willing to tell her how lost I was when she asked me, “How are you feeling and what’s happening?”

I was terrified because I didn’t have any answers for her. It was honestly her unconditional love for me and belief in me that got me to take the leap and walk the plank from Fear into Feelings. 

It was a lot of work but once I took the leap, I continued on this journey with therapy, workshops, books, and coaching.

Here are some of activities that helped break the barriers to my true feelings:

And, I also became a Certified Executive Coach and began to coaching others on their journeys!

Honestly, the best way to learn is to teach, and the coaching process has helped me internalize and live what I had learned.

I’ll admit, it hasn’t been an easy road.

Once I was able to access and name my feelings, I got way into my head. I started rationalizing and analyzing my feelings and I was in pain again. I needed to learn some new tools!

Active Dealing with Uncomfortable Feelings

There are many situations when I start feeling uncomfortable with my feelings. These are situations that could trigger my feelings, make me feel overwhelmed, or extremely uncomfortable.

Here are some techniques I use in each of these situations.

  • Triggered – I slow things down and be gentle with myself and take time to identify where it comes from
  • Overwhelmed – I create personal space for me to be with my feelings, sit and settle before I get back to the world
  • Uncomfortable – I let the feelings come without judging them and I find my way to feel and express them. 

I let the feelings and emotions come and I just let them be, I just let them go and don’t analyze…
or rationalize them.

Coach Charles Vivier

I treat my feelings like clouds in the sky just passing by.

Sometimes feelings stick around for a bit and then I give myself time to be with that emotion.

If, for example I’m feeling sad and I keep feeling it, I might take more time to be with the emotion but if it’s something transient, I now know it will just pass.

Benefits of Taking the Risk to Understand Feelings

Here are the tue benefits of taking the risk and getting to know the entire breadth of feelings I can have: 

  • I’m not in pain for nothing, every single day
  • I’m not in fear

Before I was in pain from any kind of trigger: where I felt abandoned, misunderstood, alone, different. Instead of feeling that feeling, I would have rather disappeared.

Now it’s rare that I feel those feelings… I realized those feelings were amplified because I was overcompensating with feeling good when really, I wasn’t feeling good.

I’m closer to myself because I can feel and express my feelings and then because I can communicate with my wife, I’m closer to her. I’m also closer to my wife because I can feel her love and I also love myself. 

Now when I don’t feel her love it’s not about her or her love for me, it’s not about me needing something, but instead, finding a way to accept my uncomfortable emotions around things that aren’t often permanent.

The benefit is that I’m not in pain.

And, I’m not pretending to be anything other than who and what I am, and I want to be here now. 

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Seven Steps to Surf Chaos in Your Life and the World (Part 1)

Seven Steps to Surf Chaos in Your Life and the World (Part 1)

In the last few years, so many of us feel that we have been unable to surf the chaos in life and the world.

We have lost so much — our dreams, our plans and loved ones — and as 2022 gets into gear, the waves of chaos have not stopped. Some of us have lost jobs and work for most of us has changed considerably.

With rampant misinformation, social unrest, tension within families and mid-term elections this year, it feels like there is no end in sight. Therefore, we asked the MMSNorCal Collective coaches to share tips and practices they use to surf chaos in their lives and the world in this three-part series of articles.

Dealing with Loss and Fear

Some of us have had to deal with days and days all alone and most of us have missed celebrations and we have missed being with loved ones. Some of us have fallen out with, and lost relationships with family and friends as different people reacted with fear and had different risk tolerances to COVID.

During this time, our community of coaches dealt with fearful family members who refused to meet with other family members, faced travel restrictions that kept fathers from seeing their sons for over two years, and at the height of pandemic, daughters risked travel to be at the side of their dying mother.

Just as we were getting ready to put COVID-19 behind us, here we go again with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, spiking gas prices, tornadoes, snow storms, travel delays, power outages, stock market swings, political turmoil, the list goes on and on.

And, with each unexpected setback, waves of fear wash over us again and again and languishing as been identified as the dominant emotion of 2021.

Step 1. Accept We Live in Uncertain Times

“When I think of acceptance,” says Coach Brandi Richard Thompson, “I think of the ability to embrace the totality of your experience, good and bad. During the past couple of years, I have seen clients and colleagues experience distress in ways they haven’t before.”

Coach Brandi adds, “As someone who has experienced trauma, the pandemic was similar to so many other times that I felt helpless, alone, and unsure of what to do next. The distress of those traumatic situations in my life made me want to push the experience away, hide from it or stuff it.”

Embrace Negative and Positive Emotions

Coach Brandi says that she has learned that it was far better to embrace her negative and positive emotions and this shift in thinking helped her to process them more fully.

Accepting her circumstances allowed her to express her emotions, and feel all the feels associated with the pain of the trauma as well as the pleasure of the new things she learned through the experience and even the blessings that materialized.

Acceptance of the bad actually made room for Coach Brandi to experience the good that was happening at the same time. And whether you see it right now or not, there is always good right there with the bad.

Accept all that comes to you as an opportunity to grow and learn more about yourself.

Coach Brandi Richard Thompson

“Life is unpredictable,” adds Coach Michelle Hayden-Marsan. “I find that resisting the undesired things that come into my life brings me my greatest challenge: anxiety, aggravation and disequilibrium. Accepting what comes my way, regardless of whether I like it or not presents an opportunity to let go of things that are out of my control. Being able to do that brings me peace and unexpected opportunities.”

What if Acceptance is Not Easy for You

Acceptance isn’t coming easy for Coach Charles Vivier either! 

Coach Charles says: “I have had to learn to focus on how fortunate I am that my daily life except for traveling wasn’t changing so much. I had to dig deeper, identifying my feelings, discovering their significance, defining what was important and reframing my purpose. Acknowledging and celebrating my progress and anything and everything contributing to my wellness. Learning what surrender really means has been one of my biggest lessons.”

Coach Michelle Mueller Ihrig notes that there is a saying – the only certainty that exists in life is change. And, she adds, “When we can fully step into the flow of life, and accept that it is constantly moving and changing, we live with more ease and less resistance. Becoming comfortable in the uncomfortableness of uncertainty, creates space and opportunity for flexibility, growth and renewal.”

“When life feels unclear, uncertain or stuck, take the opportunity to focus on the present moment and raise your awareness. Awareness then acts as a lighthouse, shining on the path forward, allowing our lives to unfold as we respond to the present moment. Allowing ourselves to be fully in the present is a calming and grounding acceptance.”

Coach Michelle Mueller Ihrig

Step 2. Nurture Your Body and Cultivate Routines

use dance to nurture yourself

Coach Muriel Murphy focuses on exercising regularly, eating healthy and nutritious foods, listening to music, meditating, stretching and attending to her body’s needs daily.

She also values connecting with loved ones and strangers with a smile on her face and listening to them with her heart centered attention, which can be difficult for many of us when we are agitated and upset with the world around us.

According to Coach Muriel, “slowing down and not rushing from one thing to the next, allows me the space to sense and feel my groundedness and be present with each task I am attempting to complete.”

Dancing is another way for her to release any negative stressors that may be holding in her body.

And, lastly Coach Muriel suggests dancing like nobody’s watching!

Consider a Challenge

“I have been struggling to find a way to have my outside match my inside, meaning having my outside body match my inside spirit,” says Coach Lindsey Taylor-Vivier. “My inside is clear, joyful, calm, purpose driven, grateful and healthy but on the outside I have been injured, overweight, tired and often sick. This year I decided to really give it a go and give my body a reset and put a stake in the ground and make a pledge I will not just talk about it, or wish that things were different, I would actually MAKE things different. SO, I took on the 75 Hard Challenge. No alcohol, drink a gallon of water, go on a diet program, and workout twice a day for 45 mins for 75 days…oh, and no cheating or you have to start over.”

Coach Lindsey, like many of us, had preconceived ideas about what my body could or could not do, so she took the Challenge to push back on her old belief system. She is amazed at how strong she is, how her body is showing her that it can rise to the occasion, even after all of her past injuries.

She finds that giving herself the space and time to put her health on the top of her to-do list has been empowering and provides some measure to be able to surf chaos in life and the world.

Show Yourself Love and Grace

Coach Brandi says “I nurture myself by showing myself the same love and grace that I show to those I love the most. I stop working when I am tired, set boundaries that support my health, and give up the need to control everything.”

nurture yourself with love

“I have a sense of control when I take time to be in tune with myself”, says Coach Michelle. “When we take time to listen to what our mind/body connection is telling us in the form of emotional and physical feelings, we can take time to respond. If I am feeling down or my body has some aches or pains, I ask myself, what is this? What is this trying to tell me? What do I want to do now? And perhaps my response is simply taking a moment to pause, catch my breath, or make a cup of tea.”

Coach Michelle finds that sometimes simply acknowledging the feelings can make her feel better.

The only thing we have control of is ourselves and our chosen response which is key to be able to surf chaos in life and the world with grace and control.

Consider Reviving a Hobby or a Passion

Some suggestions offered by Coach Sarah E. Spencer include engaging in a hobby you love. She says, “I have always loved crafts from childhood, and I seek yin energy almost every day. Currently this includes hand applique quilting, easily done while watching favorite TV shows, as well as planning future quilt projects.” (If you are looking to build a creative practice, check out this excellent read on our blog: Intrinsic Benefits of a Creative Practice.)

Coach Sarah also suggests building a routine that can help ground you, for example:

  • A daily morning routine that could include a short meditation session, perhaps lighting a candle, drinking a hot beverage. She likes to read a printed newspaper; you could read a printed book or journal for a few mins before planning your day.
  • A walk at lunch time, even for 10 – 15 mins around the block can center you.
  • An afternoon break for tea and a pause away from work could refresh you.

Continue reading the next two articles in this series: Seven Steps to Surf Chaos in the World and Your Life (Part 2) and Seven Steps to Surf Chaos in Your Life and the World (Part 3).

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Building a Gratitude Practice: What We focus on Grows

Building a Gratitude Practice: What We focus on Grows

In the last blog post from the MMSNorCal Coaching Collective, on 21st December 2021, the longest night of the year and the beginning of winter, we shared practices on how to Reset, Reflect and Rejuvenate for 2022. In this post, on New Years Eve, we will share our thoughts on a buidling a Gratitude Practice – one of the most powerful practices to reflect, acknowledge, mark endings and beginnings  – and a wonderful way to start a New Year.

Importance of Gratitude

In fact, research now shows that practicing gratitude – intentionally taking time to count your blessings, making note of the good things that are happening in our lives and in the world, acknowledging micro accomplishments that happen every day and looking for opportunities for mini celebrations – increases feelings of happiness and well-being and reduces negative thoughts that can spiral into anxiety and depression.

In the words of Coach Michelle Ihrig, “Gratitude has proven to help us calm our minds and create focus. The practice releases balancing hormones from our pituitary gland which in turn gives us a sense of peace and creativity. It enhances problem solving and resolve.”

As the saying goes, what we focus on grows.

She continues: “It is a great practice to start by looking back at all the things that went right last year, including all the small things that we may overlook, items we accomplished, new learnings, being kind to ourselves, friendships we made, opportunities we took, goals we achieved. Then look at the things that did not turn out as we hoped or are challenging; ask yourself – what has this experience taught me? What lessons have I learned? How has this shaped a better version of me or made other opportunities available? How has this experience made me wiser, stronger?  When we look at any mistakes or regrets as lessons learned to apply to the next phases in our lives, this contributes to growth. And with growth, we are constantly evolving.”

Tips on Building a Gratitude Practice

Michelle likes to end each day with at least 5 things she is grateful for.

On New Year’s Eve, Michelle writes down everything she has been grateful for that happened that year and this gives her perspective on far she has come.

She adds, “For those items which I may still regret, I allow myself to breathe into forgiveness, knowing that I did the best I could, and with my awareness of what happened, allow myself to move into full awareness into challenges moving forward.”

She believes that being grounded in the present with gratitude, builds positive momentum forward.

According to Coach Lindsey Taylor-Vivier, “even from hard knocks, illness and loss, we can find something to be grateful for. I broke my neck on my wedding night in Crete. I felt sorry for myself, stupid and I was in constant pain, but in the end I can honestly say: I was lucky it wasn’t worse. Our bodies have amazing healing capabilities and the biggest gift was that the injury made me vulnerable and I learned to ask for help.”

“I keep a dedicated Gratitude Journal,” shares Coach Muriel Murphy, “which can sometimes get slightly repetitive, but it’s always fruitful to look back on what I am truly grateful for. I realized that since Covid hit I was operating from a place of fear and not from the heart centered place that is usually so familiar to me. As I shared with my yoga students on Monday, I am seeing how this fight, flight and freeze response was running through my world, and I did not like it one bit. This is where my spiritual rubber hit the road, and I had to come to terms with my shortcomings over the past 20 months. I apologized to others, forgave myself, cried a lot and stepped forward to sense my strong and loving heart once again. It’s such a journey to witness myself in those uncomfortable zones and course correct. Of course, always with a little help from my friends and family. Thank you, from my heart to yours!” 

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Gratitude by the Quarter, by the Year

Coach Sarah E. Spencer lives in a part of the country with four distinct weather seasons, so she gives herself quarterly New Years to pause, reflect and recalibrate, something she found especially invaluable the last two years. One of Sarah’s foundational practices is to “understand my sphere of influence and what I can control and not control. Especially in these ambiguous times, I realize that that gratitude is usually centered within the local community, friendships and supporting my clients and my professional colleagues – things I have engagement and connection with.”

Sarah’s personal practice starts with reviewing writings of visions, aspirations and goals. ”I create space to be thankful, celebrate progress, note additions or those things that I can’t believe actually happened, and to sit with topics that I still yearn to have happened. And to welcome each ‘seasonal New Year’, I plan a meal for friends that celebrates the best of the upcoming months.” 

“I welcome the New Year by taking time a day or so before, to find a quiet stretch of time with no distractions during which I meditate with the intention of gratitude for the blessings of the year that is coming to a close” says Coach Michelle H. Marsan. “I let all those blessings sink in and fill me with a sense of peace. It is usually quite a beautiful experience and I am left feeling open, centered and calm.” 

Journaling can help set intentions for your life

“Next, I sit down with a cup of tea and my notebook. I start fresh, with an open mind; writing on what I would like to bring into my life. I make sure to hit all the targets: personal, family related, creative and career goals. If I am feeling particularly ambitious, I journal about my goals as if I already have them in my life. I write about how much joy I am experiencing and all the good things that are happening as a result. I know that on days when I am feeling depleted, or depressed, I can take the journal entry out, reread it and feel all that positive energy. 

On New Year’s day, I go back and look at those goals that I set for myself and I come up with an action plan to jumpstart and get the energy moving in the right direction. I also like going back to my journal and finding my previous year’s goals. I review what I wrote and see what came about during the year as a result of writing those goals. It is usually quite moving to see how the simple act of writing is the first step in the manifestation, and how consistently this practice works!”

Michelle shares a New Year’s ritual you can do with yourself or with friends and family – “hold a ceremony, perhaps by gathering around a fire pit and sharing one thing that you are grateful for from the past year and one thing that you admire and appreciate about the person sitting next to you. Next, write down one thing you would like to let go of for this coming year and burn it in the fire, releasing the hold that it has on you. Then finish it off by singing Destiny’s Child – Survivor or Alicia Keys – Girl on Fire or The Roots – Now or Never.”

Registering Gratitude Every Single Day

Several years ago, I myself, made a decision to start every day by registering gratitude – thankfulness to be alive, thankfulness to having the opportunity to make better choices in satisfying my needs and wants and being happy, and thankfulness to be able to support my loved ones to do the same.

For my gratitude practice, I clear my mind every single morning, make a list of the important areas of my life like health, family, work etc, reflect on what is working and what can be improved in each area without any kind of judgement. I make a list of what I want to keep doing and how I might do it better. I make a list of what I want to stop doing and how I can get out of that habit or obligation.

I think about what I have learned from things that were not positive and remind myself that they happened for a reason, which often is beyond our understanding.

Charles Vivier

This New Year, why don’t you take a little time to celebrate yourself and all the people in your life, the everyday blessings that give us hope and strength to live, love and share peace and light in the New Year!

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