“Any time I [25M] vent to my GF [29F] about anything that is bothering me, I almost immediately feel embarrassed, especially when it is something I feel is small or trivial. My GF doesn’t say anything to make me feel embarrassed; she is very understanding and wants to help. But any time I vent, I can’t help but feel embarrassed for being upset. I feel embarrassed that something small bothers me. I feel embarrassed that I need her help. I feel embarrassed and immature for needing her. To make things worse, I feel even more embarrassed when she consoles me. Like I’m getting what I wanted because I complained, as if it isn’t genuine even though I know it is.
This causes me to want to stuff things down and not bring them them up. I know that that mind of mindset is not healthy. I know I shouldn’t feel this way. I absolutely love helping my GF when she is upset and making things right. Why can’t I let her do the same without feeling ashamed for being upset to begin with?”
Anonymous on /r/relationship_advice.
Your experience could be very different from mine since I spent most of my childhood in Korea. But I can’t recall a single cinematic or a real-life experience that told me it was okay for me to express my own feelings without being judged. Even during my own formative years living in the States, the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon shows I watched did everything to reinforce that it was not safe for me to express my own feelings without being judged. I have heard from many other men who also had a very similar type of experience as I had even though we all came from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.
We – as men – are conditioned that showing feelings is a sign of weakness. We are taught from early on that effusiveness and empathy are not masculine traits. Early childhood encouragements geared toward boys heavily reinforce the unfair stereotypes around men that we are supposed to be strong and stoic. As such, we often do not develop the same kind of capability to address our own feelings as we become adults.
The embarrassment that you feel for expressing your own emotions comes from that long-standing but unfair stereotype about men. We do have feelings. We just don’t always have the right way to express those feelings. So when you personally express those feelings with your girlfriend through venting, you get very self-conscious about feeling those feelings. Even though you are in this safe space to feel those feelings with your girlfriend, you get more in your own head about your self-expression, which in turn manifests in a form of guilt for receiving the support she thinks you need. This guilt then flows back into that initial embarrassment / self-consciousness you felt about feeling those feelings, which is why you feel like you want to stuff those feelings down even further. And when you push those feelings down, they don’t just dissipate; they simmer before erupting. Then you feel that even more guilt and embarrassment about blowing up.
It really is a vicious negative feedback cycle.
If you are interested in stopping this negative feedback cycle loop, first step is to acknowledge that you are safe to freely express the way you want in trusted company. At first, being wildly open is going to feel like skinny dipping in scalding water. So try little bit at a time and do your best to build your jar of marbles together.
Once you get accustomed to the level of safety you feel with your girlfriend, try expanding your network of trusted people to your close friends and family. You’ll be surprised to find that there are many folks like you who struggle to express difficult emotions in a healthy and sane way. Like how you built your jar of marbles with your girlfriend, start slow and build trust to be open with people who are also open to developing a closer connection with you.
I’ll leave you off with this thought.
Connection is a two-way street. If so, communication is the traffic on that street. It doesn’t matter if you have a six-lane street if there are no cars using it. In the same way, it doesn’t matter if you say you want to develop a deep and rewarding connection if there isn’t the ongoing commitment to communication to back it all up.
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