We live in a gloves-on society.
We can sue someone for spilling coffee, call the cops when our neighbor plays music too loudly, but Bob forbid we tell a coworker “I find you annoying.”
From our earliest days in school, an implicit fear of conflict is embedded in us under the guise of “niceness” with phrases like “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That ingrained fear of conflict stays with most of us long after we’ve graduated from safety scissors to create the default preference to say nothing rather than risk someone an emotional boo-boo.
The truth is, it’s not even the nice thing to do.
Withholding irritations have serious negative consequences for us, the other person, and dare I say it, our entire society. When I work with clients to improve their relationships and sex lives, we often must start with identifying truths the client hasn’t expressed. Not expressing our “negative” emotions has a huge impact on our relationships and ability to feel.
Here are some of the reasons we ought to let it out.
1. Not doing it makes people around us dumber.
We’re pretty arrogant as a species.
Just because we can recognize our reflection and read a listicle on a website doesn’t mean we learn implicit behavior much differently than dogs or monkeys. We develop our behavior from the feedback we get.
If a dog gets a biscuit every time he pees in your shoe, guess what he’s going to start believing is good dog behavior.
If we force a chuckle when someone makes a dumb joke, we positively reinforce behavior based on false pretenses. That’s not being nice, that’s being cowardly.
The kindest thing is to educate people about how what they do actually affects us. While it may not feel particularly good to hear “hey your stories are boring” or “your open-mouth-chewing drives me nuts” it feels way worse to find out later that we’ve been operating on the wrong beliefs. Telling the truth gives people the opportunity to adjust with reality.
2. We will feel more in control over our experiences.
By not saying when and where we are pissed off, we make it impossible for anything to change. That way, we can remain silent martyrs and continue to blame others for the awful things in our reality. We then get to play a victim to the world rather admit that we have the ability to change any situation we’re in.
Telling people off when they bother us has us switch from an external locus of control, where we believe our life is dictated by external circumstances, to an internal locus of control, where we believe that we are responsible for what we experience. Studies have shown greater happiness and leadership abilities in those who possess the latter, and greater depression in those with the former. The switch can be made by simply calling things out when we feel them.
3. Unexpressed feelings traumatizes the body.
When we silently brood over something or against someone, we call that thing “resentment.” Re- as in “again,” and -sentment (sentiment), “feeling.” When we are resentful we are feeling an old feeling over and over again. In my work in sex and relationships, resentment is a key culprit for all communication breakdowns.
When someone is re-feeling the past, they cannot feel the present. Resentment can literally prevent a couple from feeling each other’s physical touch because they are stuck on old feelings.
That’s the the basic definition of trauma. In Waking the Tiger, trauma specialist Peter Levine defines trauma as a neural activation, such as throwing a ball, that gets interrupted and therefore the neurons get “stuck” in activation. In physical trauma that’s a muscle that never releases from contraction. When it comes to emotions, it’s feeling that was stuffed down before it could be felt. Therapies like Gestalt are so effective in healing trauma because they allow people to express the feelings from past situations that never could be completed.
4. Emotional outbursts allow natural connection.
Choosing to be “nice” is essentially a way of artificially doctoring our relationships. “Appropriate” is never what’s natural. Imagine if babies didn’t cry because crying was rude…we’d have a lot of dead babies. Conflict is a necessary part of any relationships cycle. If we avoid it, we prevent the relationship from taking its course.
When we do share our true feelings, we open ourselves to fully feeling and therefore connecting to the other person. That’s essentially the secret behind make-up sex. In the heat of an argument we allow ourselves to drop the appropriate facades and release raw emotion. The result is a extremely potent physical chemistry once the smoke clears.
5. It’s fun. And that’s more important than you think.
How often do you imagine telling people off? If the answer is anything from “once” to “all the time,” congratulations! You’re a human. We get a lot of joy from emotional expression. Conversely, we get a lot of anguish when we can’t.
While anger may not seem “pleasurable” in the moment, the physical sensations associated with it aren’t that much different than any form of excitation. The adrenaline rush we get from conflict can be equated to the feeling of aliveness one gets on a roller coaster. We pay money and wait hours for minutes of simulated danger because it’s a human need. If we starve ourselves, we become more likely to binge for it later (in this case a possibly violent outburst.)
When a person goes too long without getting to express his or her frustration, they are far more likely to “go postal.” Do yourself a favor and let out your rage in small natural doses.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Ruwan Meepagala
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: Lucy Maude Ellis/Flickr