Most guys don't like to talk about feelings, right? Well, that's part of the problem.
Our society taught many of us as boys that "real men don't cry" and that guys need to "buck up" when life gets tough. The most widely portrayed male emotions in popular media have traditionally been "macho" emotions like anger, rage, and revenge - or showing no emotions at all. You may have never had a positive male role model who showed emotions in a healthy way.
At the same time, addictions provide a temporary escape or "self-medication" of difficult feelings. If you've been living with an addiction for years or decades, you've become accustomed to "numbing out" difficult or painful feelings, rather than feeling them and processing them in a healthy way. Some of these things that we numb out originated in trauma or abuse suffered as a child, others are the day-to-day stresses of life that we didn't develop healthy coping mechanisms or resiliency to address.
It's been said that when we try to numb our negative feelings (consciously or most often unconsciously) we numb out the positive ones too, so we're not able to fully experience the joys of life either.
Many of us have self-medicated with addictive behaviours so immediately, so habitually, and for so long that we don't even realize we're doing it. Before getting further into recovery, we may have difficulty even identifying what our emotions actually are. If our addictions began when we were children (as is often the case with sexual addiction), we may be severely emotionally under-developed -- almost as if our emotional development froze when our addiction took over.
Several guys in Men's Group have shared that early in their recovery, they could only identify a small handful of feelings. By the way, if you're asked how you're feeling and your answer is "okay", it may come as a surprise to learn that "okay" isn't a feeling at all. That's not unusual.
It is important to start to identify your emotions as you are experiencing them. "What am I feeling right now?" and "where do I feel it in my body?" is a good check-in you can do with yourself. You can also build in how you're feeling into your daily check-ins and weekly meetings.
Being in recovery means you will start to increasingly experience your feelings without self-medicating them. That can be difficult and is why you need to develop healthy ways for processing difficult (and positive) emotions. Awareness of your feelings and sharing them with others is an important aspect of staying clean.
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
God made us in his image. The Bible talks about God having a wide range of emotions, including love (1 John 4:7), compassion (Matthew 14:14), joy (Psalm 104:31), pleasure (1 King 3:10), sorrow and rejection (Isaiah 53:3), hatred (Proverbs 6:16-19), sadness (John 11:35), anger (Numbers 11:1), regret and being troubled (Genesis 6:6), and jealousy (Exodus 34:14), to name a few.
Jesus understands what it is to be a man because he was fully man, and fully God. He experienced the love of close friends like his disciple John, the sting of betrayal by Judas Iscariot, the compassion of seeing throngs of people in need and without a shepherd, the anger at the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the physical pains of hunger while tempted in the wilderness, and the excruciating agony of being tortured and crucified.
If anyone can understand the painful and difficult feelings you experience, it is Jesus Christ. There is no other faith or religion that has dared to even imagine a god like that.
"He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain."
"Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice."
Rather than going to your idols when you feel strong emotions, God wants you to come to him -- no matter how big and difficult those feelings might be.
If you read the Psalms you see King David crying out to the Lord in agony in some of them, and jumping with joy in others. Through it all, he keeps going to God with his feelings no matter what they are. Not all of David's prayers were positive like Psalm 55:17 (above). Contrast that with Psalm 22:2 where David says the exact opposite: "My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest."
The point is that David is coming to God regardless of how good or bad he feels, and whether he feels like God is listening to him or not. Trusting in the Lord with all our soul means trusting him with our emotional well-being and having faith that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
The book of Job is an example of an upright man who lost every earthly thing and lamented it all before God, crying out to him, expressing incredible pain, sorrow, confusion and even anger. Yet, through expressing it all to God, God said Job did not sin and he blessed him greatly after enduring such trials as losing his wealth, family, and health.
Some questions to think about and journal on:
Are there emotions that I find difficult to bring to God?
What is holding me back from expressing myself fully to God?
Do I think it is okay to express confusion, misery or even anger to God?
Is it easier for me to express positive or negative emotions to God? Why do I think that is?
The "Feelings Exercise" is a really helpful tool that Dr. Doug Weiss has developed for couples to begin to develop emotional intimacy and is a really great way to start learning more about your feelings. If you're unmarried, you can still do the part of it on your own that we share below, and benefit from it.
First, download a copy of the Feelings List - you can print it out and add it to your journal, or make it an appendix to your recovery plan. There are hundreds of feelings listed, which may come as a surprise just to read them all.
Second, each day you select at random a feeling from the list. Then you go through this exercise, filling in the blanks for yourself for that feeling:
I feel _________________ when ________________.
I first remember feeling _______________ when _________________.
Dr. Weiss recommends (and it is very good advice) that if you're doing this with someone else, the examples must NOT be about that person, and that the other person not provide any feedback. If you're doing it with your wife, he suggests you maintain eye contact as well.
Here are a few examples:
I feel EXHILARATED when I go scuba diving. I first remember feeling exhilarated when my parents taught me how to ride a bike.
I feel REJECTED when I lose a grant application at work. I first remember feeling rejected when I didn't get invited to a birthday party of someone I thought was my friend.
This simple exercise may seem silly at first, but it can really help you over time gain a greater and greater catalogue of feelings that you can identify as you go about your day afterwards.
For instance, initially, when you share how your day went with someone, you may only be able to identify that you feel "sad", but in time that may become more in-depth and precise as you unpack that sadness and see that it, perhaps, is really a combination of confusion and rejection, or anxiousness and futility, or something else entirely.
You get better at identifying your feelings the more you do it, so practice lots. Sharing your feelings with those around you will help you build emotional intimacy with them over time too.
If you're married, check out "the Dailies" as a way to build this into your time each day with your wife, including affirming each other and praying together.
Update your recovery plan based on what you've learned about feelings (suggested additions to consider appear underlined below):
MY RECOVERY PLAN
(Version: [Today's Date])
Prayer (share your feelings with God), Meditation & Reading the Bible
"The Dailies" with wife (if married)
2) DURING THE DAY
Journal (identify your feelings)
Daily-Check In Call (share your feelings)
Worship and Praise
No screens 30 minutes before bed; set alarm to be up at least 1 hour before usual; get to bed at least 7 hours before I need to be up; Pray before going to sleep (share your feelings with God)
Attend Men's Group(s)
"RAW": Renounce, Announce, Worship
Lock down devices (e.g. filtering & accountability software, "dumb phone")
List your boundaries
24-Hour Tell Policy
No boundary changes without first consulting with wife and group leader
List your self-care plan
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