Show highlights include:
- The sneaky way your discipline devours your power and enjoyment of life (even if you think it helps) (1:08)
- Why repressing your emotions is the culprit behind your chronic exhaustion (1:47)
- How success blinds you of your deep-seeded emotional baggage which subtly cripples your happiness (3:50)
- The “Changing Goalposts” trap achievers fall into which keeps happiness forever out of reach (6:03)
- The “emotions mean weakness infection” which poisons your joy from the inside out (14:01)
- How toxic shame can make you happier, healthier, and sexier (26:36)
- Why treating your emotions like your biceps helps you attract unconditional love and joy (33:38)
- The weird way repressed masculinity disguises itself as toxic masculinity and imprisons pleasure (35:14)
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Note: Scroll Below for Transcription
Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast, where we answer key questions in dating, relationships, success, and fulfillment, and explore the psychology of masculinity. Now here’s your host, world-renowned therapist and life coach, David Tian.
David: Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast. I’m David Tian, your host.
This episode is all about your emotions, emotional control, emotional skill, emotional mastery. I’m talking about control over emotions that you don’t want to feel, as well as the emotions that you want to feel that it will be in your control to feel more of the emotions that you want to feel and less of the emotions that you don’t want to feel. Then the question whether there are even such things as good or bad emotions at all.
Also, as part of emotional skill or emotional control, is the question of repression or suppression, and when you suppress something long enough, it eventually becomes repressed. If you suppress your remote emotions long enough, it will be harder and harder to actually even access those emotional states. [01:07.2]
People who live with a lot of emotional repression, which is a lot of people who live according to discipline, willpower, the hustle and grind, and “grin and bear it,” a lot of achievers who live under that repressive energy have difficulty accessing the full rainbow of their emotions, the full range of their emotions, the full range of emotions available to them, and, therefore, the full range of their power and the full range of their enjoyment of life and the full richness of their lives. Instead, [they’re] living lives that are dull, monotone, dreary, and they will often feel exhausted and tired after repressing so much for so long. If that’s you or if any of this resonates with you, then this is the episode for you. [02:00.3]
Why are emotions so important? It’s because emotions are everything. It’s common for achievers to be mostly oriented and focused on goals and almost always these goals are action-oriented. They’re about getting the raise or making a certain amount of money, or winning the game or the season, or winning the trophy or something along those lines.
They never stopped to question why they’re doing that in the first place, “Why is this a worthy goal?” because a long time ago, in their formative years, often in early childhood, in order to get or keep—and keep—the attention, acceptance, approval, and love of their caregivers, their parents, mostly, they had to become a certain way, and many achievers are pleasers or rebels. [02:56.2]
Most of them are pleasers and achievers are kind of a subset of the pleaser. In order to get that acceptance, approval, and attention of the ones that they craved it from the most and were actually dependent on in many ways for even just for life, they had to become a certain way, and that way was often, for my audience, achievers, and that was my M.O. and maybe it’s yours as well.
Achievers and all of those who aspire to be achievers, like you could aspire to be or you could have decided “I’m going to be the achiever” as your main coping strategy and yet not be a very successful achiever, because maybe you didn’t have the tools or the mentors or the right resources to show you how to achieve effectively. But maybe you did. Maybe your genes, your genetic background, really helped as well and maybe you did.
Maybe you did succeed and often what that means is that you’re not going to be able to ask these questions until an extra 10, 20 years, because your outward success numbs you, distracts you, pacifies you for that period of time, until you finally realize you’re tired, exhausted, and the whole thing is endless and meaningless. [04:13.4]
Now, if you fell flat on your face earlier on, you might have been able to come to that conclusion earlier, but then you wouldn’t get all the success that you have. So, those goals that I mentioned, financial, economic, athletics, whatever that goal is of success and achievement, we think that that’s all there is, that emotions either get in the way of getting these goals or sometimes it can help you get these goals, so that emotions and even therapy, and especially life coaching and self-help and that sort of thing, are used as tools in the service of achieving these outer goals, these external goals, these achievement-oriented goals of making more money, getting a better body, getting the girls for some of you guys, whatever it is. [05:01.5]
So, unfortunately, achievers or aspiring achievers lose sight of the “why” behind their goals in the first place, and many achievers and aspiring achievers haven’t ever or have difficulty asking the big “Why?” question of “Why would I be doing this at all?”
For many people, at the beginning of achieving goals, a lot of it has to do with certainty or security, so the most basic need that’s being met by making money, by reaching a minimal financial goal, is the security that you’ll get and the feeling of security and the feeling of certainty that you’d get from having enough to pay the bills, pay the rent and the electricity, and so on, and just knowing that that’s there, so you’re not living on the street. But even if you end up on the street, you get certainty if you discover that there’s a place that will take you for the night. [06:00.0]
Now, that’s on the low end of things, and on the upper end, for anyone who has been an achiever for a while, you’ll notice that your goalpost keeps changing, keeps moving. It is never enough because you’ve probably bought into this whole thing about growth, how you’ve got to keep growing, and the competition keeps moving with you, so you’ve got to keep improving and it can never be enough.
In fact, it never is enough for achievers and that’s why they get exhausted and can never really rest, because they’re always beating themselves up to get to the next level, even when they don’t really want to do the thing anymore, the activity that will take them there. Maybe they’re burnt out or they’ve lost their zest for it.
At the upper end of these goals, it’s not just for security anymore, though that still plays a big part in it, but it’s also for significance, for this feeling of accomplishment, and these are all. These are all emotions, the feeling that you are somebody, therefore you’re significant, therefore you’re worthy, therefore you are enough, and the feeling of accomplishment, even feeling flow when you’re in flow, doing the activity. These are feelings. There’s a feeling of happiness and joy at the end of that and, hopefully, during it. [07:18.3]
But no matter what your goals are, for the goals to get off the ground, for them to motivate you—even motivation, of course, is a feeling, right, to even have that activity get off the ground for you to start it—it starts with emotion and what it’s aiming at is some emotion.
When you’re making money, you are not actually motivated to do it just to get little pieces of green paper or whatever color paper your money is. It’s what you hope to be able to do with that money that you’re hoping will give you certain feelings. Even just having the money, if it’s just to have it, it’s this feeling of security, or it’s a feeling of accomplishment because you’ve earned it in some way, and so it’s not just the paper money. If it was about earning that feeling of accomplishment, if you were just to get the paper or the trophy without actually earning it, you wouldn’t get the feeling of earning it. [08:11.2]
No matter what, how you cash it out, it ends up becoming about feelings all the way up and down the whole spectrum of human and decisions, and, in fact, there’s a great term for this from philosophy. It’s called Buridan’s ass, and I’d like to use the word “ass” instead of donkey because it’s easier to remember and it sticks in your memory. Buridan’s ass.
Buridan was a 14th-century French philosopher, so it’s named after him, but this point was made by Aristotle and many other philosophers before him. Buridan’s ass and this is the image. The ass, the donkey, is at a crossroads and the way it’s usually played out is he’s at a fork in the road and one road is water and the other road is food, and he’s equally thirsty and hungry. [09:00.5]
He’s standing at the crossroads and he’s looking at an equal distance from the food and the water and he’s equally hungry and thirsty, and, therefore, this Buridan’s ass can’t decide which way to go. “Should I go for the water? Should I go for the food?” And he’s caught an indecision and he stays in indecision because there’s no motivating force to push him in one direction or the other that will top the other direction. They’re equidistant and they’re equally motivating because he’s equally hungry and thirsty, and he just stands at the crossroads and then dies.
How this applies to emotions is that we, especially those of my generation, Gen X, and I know many of you are millennials and millennials, I think, generally speaking, it’s considered to be born 1980 to 1995. I was born in the ’70s, so my generation especially bought into the sort of modernist myth that rationality was everything and was the most important thing, that emotions merely cloud rationality. [10:02.8]
The belief that we bought into for those of us born in the seventies and earlier is that, if you can just get clear of your emotions, then you’ll be able to make perfectly rational decisions, and then you’ll finally find happiness, joy, and peace. Of course, that’s bullshit and maybe you don’t realize this yet, but like I’m showing you, all the way up and down, it’s all about emotion.
To get yourself out of Buridan’s paradox or to get yourself out of that stuck place, you have to start from wanting something. It all starts from emotion. There’s a great illustration of this in Star Trek. Now I might be dating myself again, I’m Gen X, but it’s a great illustration. I haven’t found anything better.
The first generation had Spock who was this ultra-rational, very physically powerful soldier, and he comes from a race of people, Vulcans, who repress their emotions and do so in an extreme way so that they can be ultra-rational and can control all of their cognitive and physical faculties at a much higher level than the emotional humans represented by Kirk, and that was Spock. He was this sort of ideal and he was also a foil to the main character of Kirk. [11:18.6]
In the third series or version of Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, starring Patrick Stewart, in that series—I’ve seen all seven season multiple times—Spock was replaced by Commander Data who was this android who beats Spock in all of those things that Spock takes pride in or the Vulcan race took pride in, being ultra-rational, physically capable. He was an android and he didn’t have to repress any emotions because he didn’t have any emotions, and this is sort of a postmodern take on it, the modernist myth of pure rationality.
From the first episode, Commander Data is singing the song from The Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man song about the heart and what he’s missing is these emotions, and for the whole seven seasons, he’s searching for his maker’s emotion chip because he wants to feel what humans feel, which is already a flaw in the design of this plot, because he’s already feeling this want. [12:18.0]
Even just to get this, if you were a perfect computer, if he was perfect A.I., he wouldn’t have these desires, right? But because he has got these desires, he also discovers this lack in him and he’s wanting to fill that emptiness. He has already got psychological issues as an android and that gets it off the ground for us to really care about this character. But it’s an interesting illustration of the contrast between a modernist ideal and this newer postmodernist ideal.
There are many phases of postmodernism. This early phase, relatively early, was pointing out the importance of emotion and there’s a great book that is part of this in the 1980s of Antonio Damasio’s, a really famous neuroscientist. He wrote a book called Descartes’ Error, and the Cartesian error is, Descartes as you know, “I think, therefore I am.” He’s the brain of that generation of philosophy of mind, epistemology and so forth. [13:13.8]
The Cartesian error is thinking that all we are is the thinking brain and that there is this clean separation between the thinking mind and the feeling body. That’s just obviously not true and I hope that’s obviously not true to you because I don’t have the eight weeks at least of a graduate-level seminar to point it out to you. But if you want to dig deeper, you can always read Damasio’s book, Descartes’ Error.
This Cartesian error, this great myth that still infects unconsciously, because it’s sort of in the background still, even though this is the old paradigm of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, it’s still infecting a lot of the ways that people think about their emotions. [14:00.6]
A lot of people, especially achiever-type men, believe that emotions, most emotions, are inappropriate or show weakness of some kind, and, of course, then this links up to toxic masculinity and the toxic part of masculinity. Hope you guys aren’t getting triggered by even the term, because I know on the right, this is a triggering term. It’s also a triggering term on the left, but a more defensive reaction on the right.
Of course, there’s masculinity that’s toxic if the machoness, the macho bully, right, who is all about aggression and taking from others and so on, and the toxic masculinity of repressing, repressing emotions, as if emotions, except for the manly ones of anger or something along those lines, aggression, but that all the other emotions, of vulnerability, especially, just means that you’re weak in some way. [14:52.0]
That’s bullshit, and if you buy into that, you’re going to have a lot of repression in your life, and very likely, if you have bought into that and have not worked through it, you probably are repressed emotionally and are living out the consequences of that emotional repression in your life, because emotions are not just to get to the project of decision, of action, of life off the ground. It starts with emotion and it’s aimed at emotion, so its beginning and ends are emotion. Plus, the middle of it.
If you’re not enjoying the journey of your life, in other words, if you’re not enjoying your life, then you’re not enjoying life, and if you’re putting off the enjoyment of your life for some far off goal and hoping that that will make you happy, the joke is on you because you’re not enjoying the ride, so in a way, sort of pointless that the whole point up and down the whole thing– A good life is one that is lived, where in the beginning, the middle and the end, the emotions that dominate that life are the ones that you want to experience, and that’s relative and subjective, what you want to experience. [16:03.7]
A lot of guys are so afraid—and so I want to trigger the macho tough guys, or if there’s a macho-tough-guy-ness in you—they’re so afraid, cowards, little scared little boys. They’re so afraid of their emotions. They’re so afraid of appearing weak that they limit which emotions are acceptable for them, but it’s almost impossible to limit to just one or two emotions. It’s like, in some way, you’re going to have to selectively filter colors so all you see are shades of black and white.
And guess what the result is? A gray life, and a lot of guys are living with a gray life, and in their forties, fifties, sixties, and onwards, it’s really hopefully coming to the fore for them that they’re missing something. A big part of what’s missing is the fact that they don’t realize they’re feeling the whole way. Even if you’re repressing, you’re still feeling. You’re just not consciously aware of it. That’s the bad part about it. [17:05.3]
I mean, if suppressing worked, then you could actually be a Vulcan, right? If, in other words, really, if you suppress, you can suppress in the short term. Let’s say you are a soldier on the front line and you’re literally here, in this instance, a soldier on the front line, the enemy is firing at you and assuming you want to stay alive, so you’re assuming the goal is to stay alive and to help the guys around you on your side stay alive.
If those are your goals, then they may not be helped by you feeling vulnerability, totally get it, so you can suppress them up to a certain point because you are not an android. If you were an android, you’d be even better than Commander Data because you wouldn’t even notice that you lack anything, because you wouldn’t care because you don’t have emotions, but instead you’re a Vulcan or you’re trying to be, which you can’t be, because actually you’re human, right? Vulcans aren’t real. But if you’re a Vulcan, you can suppress it. [17:57.4]
Even in the actual telling of the tale of Spock—he’s actually half-Vulcan I think, or a quarter Vulcan. I think he’s half—he isn’t able to suppress it completely and then it comes out with emotions. He’s actually feeling intense emotions under the surface and it takes an incredible amount of willpower and discipline for him to suppress it.
After a while you suppress it so long, it just gets repressed unconsciously, so it’s like this shield or like this vault that gets shut down, but underneath, inside the vault, are all of these, what IFS therapy would call exiles, feeling all kinds of pain, as well as the potential to feel all kinds of playfulness and the spontaneity, easy-goingness, carefree, the sense of joy and fun in play that is lost to almost all achievers whose natural default state or natural default approach to life is willpower and discipline—and, therefore, needing to repress their childlike emotions, as well as all of their tender vulnerability, including love and joy, and compassion, too, so that the level that they feel them is so minimal, so low, that, hopefully, you are starting to become aware of that, of the kind of emptiness and grayness, and drudgery and hard work that life entails. [19:14.3]
Oh, God, how exhausting it is to just be on that treadmill of life that it never ends. You have to keep going back to work. You can’t stop. You have to keep going. You’ve got to keep going to the next thing and the next thing, keep going up and up and up, and you’re never enough. Life is never enough. You never have enough and that’s the nightmare trap of the achiever. Success breeds more success, but then it breeds the inability to be content with what you have, which you could have had right at the beginning, and that’s part of why it’s a trap. The Buridan’s ass points it all out because emotions are everything. Emotions are at the beginning and they’re at the end, and they’re in the middle.
Now for those who are Gen Z or younger coddled by later postmodernism, this may be new in a different way. They’re listening to old people’s viewpoints because they have the opposite problem where they’re being coddled and being told that their emotions are everything in the disempowering sense. [20:12.0]
This episode, as well as the next couple episodes are also speaking to them, because your emotions can be controlled. They can be regulated. They can be managed and handled, and you can improve in this. It involves a set of skills. Knowing that emotions are everything should be empowering and freeing in one sense, in a big way, for many people in my generation, Gen X, or the generation after, the millennials, because now you know that you don’t have to, that life is not well-lived if you repress all of your emotions.
Then, for those who are just given to their emotions and are controlled by their emotions, who often feel emotional, overwhelmed, and suck at suppression or repression, because like I was pointing out with the example of the soldier, there are times when it can help you obviously, but over the long term, we’re humans. We’re not robots and we’re not Vulcans. There’s still emotion going on. You’re just pushing it down. [21:13.0]
It’s sort of like the water is boiling in the pot and you’ve got that lid on it, and for a while, the lid is able to hold down that steam. But after a while, what happens is the steam makes the lid go brr-brr-brr, and then, eventually, the steam will push the lid off because it can’t hold it down any further.
Now, suppression long enough becomes repression, right? And then, all of that bubbling under the surface is still happening. It’s that you just added another lid or a thicker lid, or you’ve increased the weight of the lid or something like that. You’ve sealed it in, but it’s just a powder keg waiting to blow, and when it does, when you see somebody who has been repressing for a long time and he gets triggered and can’t hold a back anymore, it blows up, right?
Then the younger generation has the opposite problem. They’re just bleeding emotions all the time and don’t know how to handle, control or regulate their own emotions. They constantly, many of them, are in emotional overwhelm and they violate other people’s boundaries by blaming them and holding them responsible for their emotions that they themselves feel, like “You made me feel X,” and so you hear that a lot in the college campuses and so forth. [22:20.2]
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Okay, so both sides of what I’m pointing out here have the same problem of a lack of emotional facility and this episode, especially the next one, as I walk you through the skills, are very important and speak to both sides on this subject of emotions. [23:18.0]
I’m just pointing out, first of all, this big myth, the Cartesian myth, this Cartesian error of thinking that we’re just brains in a bag that we are just thinking brains that happen to be encased in bodies and you can and cut off the thinking from the feeling, and instead to point out tons of psychology, a lot of advances happening in the theory of emotions, the philosophy of emotions and psychology of emotions.
I pointed out that emotions guide behavior and decision-making from the very beginning and all the way through. You might have heard another researcher named Jonathan Haidt. A lot of his work has been pointing this out and there are whole teams all over academia and all the research institutes. This is well-known now, the importance of emotion for cognition. [24:05.8]
If you want to experience on a consistent basis, and within your control, happiness, fulfillment, love, and joy, then you are going to have to become emotionally skilled. Repression won’t work. Suppression won’t work in the long term, but also being constantly overwhelmed and triggered won’t work either because it’s still not in your control, even though you’re feeling some of these.
Often if you’re emotionally overwhelmed, if that sounds right to you as a descriptor for what you’re feeling, or you’re feeling all the things that you don’t enjoy or that you haven’t learned to enjoy yet, so all of you need emotional skill.
Okay, this was supposed to be a preamble for the three points that I wanted to make, but I guess these points here about the myth of the Cartesian error, the big “Why?” Why is this important? Because emotions are everything. These two points that emotions guide behavior and decision-making, everything begins and ends with emotions. It’s emotions up and down, all of human experience. [25:04.0]
For a human being, there is very little pure cognition that goes on, and just to even get off the ground on any of these cognitive projects, it starts with emotion and it’s always geared. The reason we want to do something is to feel something as a result, and for all we know, all we are is feelings because we might be a simulation. Ha-ha. Something you probably discussed in Philosophy 101 in university, right?
But no matter what it is, we know we feel, so it’s sort of like “I feel, therefore I am.” It’s not just “I think,” because when you think, you are already, just in the fact that you care about something to think about, because even when we have an A.I., you’ve got to program it to get started. We have goals that we’ve already aimed at. The aiming of the goals already are emotions. The whole thing up and down is emotions. All of life’s experience is guided by emotion. [25:57.3]
I’ve got three super-quick points here and the first one I’ve kind of hinted at already, but it’s that, when it comes to emotions, it’s common for people to think that there are good or bad emotions, and it’s normal, totally normal, for people to want some emotions and not want others. But if you look at it instead as a rainbow of colors or as a richness of notes on the musical scale, or flavors on your tongue, there aren’t any bad flavors, emotions, flavors and sounds, what else, colors per se. It’s the same with emotions.
I’ll give you an example. Let me just run through some common ones for you. Because emotions always tell us something important and a big part of the therapeutic process is having the endurance to stand, to stay and to feel the emotion long enough, the emotion that might feel at the beginning uncomfortable, to be able to stand it long enough and to stay with it long enough to find out what it can tell you. [26:55.3]
As some examples, the feeling of shame. I’ve done a lot of work on shame, a lot of modules in my course, “Rock Solid Relationships.” There’s a four-, actually five-module sequence in the course “Rock Solid Relationships” that walks you through all the various work around toxic shame, including inner-child work, grief work and so forth.
Toxic shame warns us not to try to be more or less than human. Toxic shame signals our essential limitations. It’s signaling that we’re, for instance, trying to be Vulcans or androids, or perfect in some way that is not human, right, and that can be a sign. If you’re feeling that, it’s important to feel into it to find its source, and only from its source, can it be healed.
Another example is anger, and there are many different ways in which anger can be helpful and there are many ways in which anger can lead to destructive behavior, but they’re not the same thing. Anger is not destructive behavior. They’re two different things. [28:00.0]
Anger is often energy that gives us strength to act or to call attention to something that is important to us that maybe we’ve compromised our standards on, or maybe something is wrong that’s going on and that anger is a sign for that.
Sadness is an energy that we discharge when we are healing and there’s beautiful sadness, and sadness is also a reminder of love, because when someone we love dies, it’s good to feel sad, because if we weren’t sad when they are gone, that very likely means we didn’t cherish them. But, in fact, beautiful sadness in this way is a sign of love. It’s part and parcel of love and it signals deep feeling in love, and so sadness is a key emotion on the pathway to healing and sadness is also a gateway emotion to deeper growth. [28:53.6]
Fear drives the behaviors of a lot of our protector parts and all protectors within us are driven by fear, and until we uncover that fear, we don’t really get to understand those parts of us. Fear can also be a warning of a potential danger, so there can be many important messages coming from paying attention to and staying with the emotions that are there, including fear.
Guilt. Guilt is a moral shame. It’s a healthy kind of shame and guards our consciences.
Joy. Maybe this one is obvious. Joy is a good feeling, but it’s important also to see what it’s teaching us because joy is an energy that comes when all of our needs are met and it’s also a sign that things are going well in a particular way.
They all have, all these emotions, the ones that most people think are good, but also the ones that many people think are bad and that we shouldn’t have them and purposely repress because they’re considered to be painful, they all have something to show us and something to tell us and they’re all part of the experience of life. [30:05.5]
People who are emotionally unskilled, what they consider to be emotional pain is a very unhelpful category. I’ve heard this so many times and it’s something that maybe will resonate with you that there’s pain, there’s pain, but if it’s not physical pain, though it may have physical manifestations, but the physical manifestations are different from the emotional pain, which often feels a lot more painful than anything that can happen physically, because people will actually incur physical pain, like cutting, in order to distract themselves from the emotional pain, the psychological pain.
I totally understand, if you have rationally, and there’s never any pure rationality for human beings, but let’s just go with the pure rational decision here of weighing the psychological pain that is ongoing versus the potential upside of any psychological happiness, and decide, on balance, that the pain outweighs any potential happiness and then decide to end your life. [31:08.5]
As a philosopher, I can understand theoretically how there might be a case such as that. For instance, if you were captured by an enemy force and you knew that they were just simply going to torture you, and if you were to confess secrets that might end up killing so many more people on your side or innocent people, it would be better to not have to undergo the pain of the torture only to give up a secret that would end up killing the people that you love, so you end your life.
Now, that scenario can hopefully be one that a lot more people would just be able to see how that and can agree with that that that might be a rational decision. But I also understand for those who are on the verge of something like that in their lives, though, the external circumstances don’t resemble the situation I’ve just set up, but from the inside, it feels like that for them and I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve been there multiple times and I get it when the pain feels overwhelming and there feels like there’s no hope. [32:04.0]
In brackets here, I always want to say there are suicide hotlines in almost every country in the world, so before you do anything, take action on a feeling like that or a decision like that, just give them a call. It’s always free and there’s someone standing by to talk to you.
Of course, if you still want to hang around, because you could always kill yourself tomorrow, maybe you should give it a shot that maybe there is something that is worth sticking around for, and maybe since you’re about to just end it anyway, you might as well start expressing how you feel because you’ve got your Hail Mary shot here and maybe find a professional to listen to you as you do this, and maybe there still is hope because you could always do it tomorrow. Okay, just keep putting it off for one more day, one more minute, one more hour, because you can’t take it back. Assuming you succeed, you can’t take it back, so you could always just end it. [32:56.0]
Having said all of that, because I do want to make it serious but I don’t want to make it too serious, but I do have to put that as a kind of disclaimer there for anyone who is feeling close to that—you could always do it later, so hold off on it and maybe take another breath and consider this. This is the point that, just like in physical fitness, there are people for whom their workouts would be considered to be pain for someone who has not developed the endurance or strength or experience, and have reframed what they’re experiencing as pleasurable.
You might have experienced that in some other way in your life. I know some guys who are really into math, and when they first did math as kids, they could only do math for like an hour before their brain hurts or their head hurts and their attention span was trashed, and then they just kept doing it. If you just keep at it, you can actually increase your threshold of endurance on any given task so that you can take on more of it for longer periods of time and you can actually become stronger. That’s how growing happens, and it’s the same with emotions. [34:08.5]
What you’re experiencing, for many people, that sadness or even the anger that you consider to be painful is something that when you have more facility with and strength and endurance with your emotions, it actually gets reframed as something pleasurable. I know that might sound perverse to some of you, but that’s actually what happens for people who are emotionally wise.
That’s something that was an incredible thing that happened for me over the past several years of a switch from not liking or not even knowing how to contact sadness for my deep inner-child parts, not even being able to get in touch with it because it was repressed for so long, and so deep beneath my consciousness that it would only come out for a few seconds at a time and I had to catch those. [34:54.8]
I even got a private method-acting coach to help me do that and met plenty of other different types of coaches to really think outside the box of traditional therapy, until a few years later, it became a really pleasurable thing and a very cathartic experience and an empowering one of the power, the strength, the masculinity of compassion that there is there within the vulnerability.
Noticing that, back then, in my earlier life of a kind of more repressed masculinity, afraid of weakness and thinking that vulnerability is some kind of weakness, and the fear, actually really just fear, being afraid of weakness. Ironically, there’s a lot more strength in embracing it and it actually takes a tremendous amount of courage.
Just to point you to the possibility that there might be a way in which if you were to approach it differently and to increase your endurance with the things that you think are painful now, that if you look at it in a different way, it could be an immensely pleasurable thing, not so much pleasure—pleasure probably is the wrong word—an intensely meaningful thing that can bring joy on the other side of it, and growth and healing as a result, even in the face of tremendous tragedy. [36:17.5]
Someone you love dying in a horrific way. Totally makes sense to me if the pain of having to live without them outweighs anything you could have in the future, and I get that, and you might be tempted to end it, especially if it was within the past year and the statistics on widowhood show that that is likely to happen. Your chances of killing yourself or dying, not just killing yourself, but dying in whatever way, goes up quite a lot. But just consider that if you just hold out for another year, things might get better or they might not, and you could always just off yourself then. Things might get better and maybe you should stick around to see if they could. [36:57.7]
And what I’m saying here is the science and just the common sense of it that if emotions are skills, and no emotions are good or bad, in and of themselves, then what you’re feeling and interpreting as pain is actually a part of you that needs compassion. If you can meet the pain of the sadness, of the grief, with compassion from your higher self, then that will be such a cathartic, powerful experience for you that it would outweigh any of the basic pleasures you had before in your life.
For those who have ever worked out or have gotten really good at something that they weren’t that great at before and they just stuck with it, and you hit this tipping point where it became actually really pleasurable and you were looking forward to doing this activity.
For me, it was like working out at the gym. It was just basic stuff like lifting weights, the burn of even just things like dumbbell flyes at the bottom of the flye and that kind of burning sensation in the chest, and now it just feels really good and I miss it if I don’t get to the gym. [38:04.4]
I used to hate squats, too, because all the way from my head to my toes, I’d feel kind of numb, I don’t know, this kind of redness. I don’t know how to describe it. It was painful and it sucked. It didn’t feel good for the first two or three years, and years, but I eventually hit the tipping point where I learned. I switched my mindset around it, and now the feeling, it’s a familiar feeling that I miss when I don’t get it.
These are by analogy because I know it might even sound—what’s the word? Not so much disrespectful—dismissive of your emotional pain if I were to just suggest to you point blank that there’s a way to reinterpret it, so it’s not painful, and, in fact, is cathartic. But that is, in fact, the case. I get where you’re coming from. [38:54.1]
But all those who are facing this emotional pain, there are no good or bad emotions, in and of themselves. They’re all signposts to something, and if you don’t look where the signposts are pointing you to, you’ll miss that lesson and that lesson might be worth sticking around for—and I’ll tell you, I’m putting it lightly just in case any of you are there, and if you’re there, I get it, but in case you’re not there, obviously it will lead to something better if you follow it long enough, because it’s already better. It’s just the way you are approaching it and seeing it that is causing the suffering, right, because it’s not a physical pain that we’re talking about.
The emotional and psychological pain that many people are experiencing, I know, is even greater than any physical pain that they might endure because they’d rather endure the physical pain and that is actually one major way of suppression. [39:47.7]
A lot of achievers suppress emotions through physical pain, through physically beating up their bodies to numb themselves and get them used the numbing, and they call it discipline, and all they get out of it in the end is they get a short burst of productivity, which they then get addicted to and they need more and more, and so then the physical pain that they need in order to operate like this just gets ratcheted up and up. But what they get in the end is emotional repression and a dulling of their lives, and also an extreme exhaustion of their achiever parts.
I’ve already hinted at Point No. 2. Actually, I’ve just said it already that you can reinterpret any of these painful emotions if you have and develop the endurance, the emotional endurance for it.
I’ve actually got a course, a program called “Emotional Mastery” that has and builds on major empirically-verified types of therapy like DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), ACT, obviously IFS and the whole thing is IFS-informed, and I continue to add to it. At the moment of this recording, it is still being built into and will continue to be built into and added to over the course of months and years. [41:06.5]
There’s a major set of modules on emotional endurance and it walks you through it, and not just teaching you about the theory, but actually leading you through exercises to develop it. Other words for this type of endurance are resilience or tolerance, whatever word resonates with you, developing that strength, emotional strength, it’s something that you can actually develop just like any other strength.
The third point quickly here is there is a way. There is a way out. These are skills. You can learn them. You can improve on them. You can master them. There is a way to control your emotions. I know therapists don’t like the word “control” when it comes to emotions, so other words that they do like are emotional regulation, emotional skill, being able to handle your emotions, manage your emotions.
I don’t like any of these words, because as much as skill or control, because at the end of the day, you actually are able to increase the degree and frequency of emotions that you want to feel and decrease the ones that you don’t want to feel. [42:13.0]
Now, after you develop enough emotional experience, you realize that there are actually no good or bad emotions and that you’re not afraid of any of them, but that’s for later and that point may not stick yet until you develop that level of experience, so I just want to point out, no good or bad emotions.
But even more, for those who are just starting out on their journey of developing emotional skill, because it’s not something that’s taught at schools—you can go through your whole life and many people go through the whole lives not even knowing that this is something that they can get better at, your emotions, the most fundamental thing in all of human experience—but to show that, in fact, there is a way to develop these.
You can improve with your emotions, your facility, your skill with your emotions, so that you can increase the intensity and frequency in which you experience the good ones that you want to feel more of and have control over the ones you don’t want to feel as often, until you learn to appreciate them and that there’s a place for all of them. [43:10.8]
Okay, I also wanted just to recap, not just the three points—the first being there are no good or bad emotions, the second being you can develop them as endurance and strength, and the third being that these are skills that you can get better at, and the more you get better at them, the more control you have over your emotions—but I also want to remind you of the Cartesian error that we covered, as well as the Buridan’s ass example, and that emotions are everything, up and down the entire beginning and end of human experience and that emotions guide behavior and decision making all the way through.
I discovered these all the hard way. As I mentioned, I was a very strongly rational, cognitive type of person, also to my detriment. I was not a whole lot of fun at parties in my twenties. I was always debating people because I was very in my head, very heady, very cognitive, and almost disdained emotions, and this made it obviously difficult to generate attraction because attraction is an emotion. [44:06.3]
Only later in my thirties did I learn about emotions and I was focusing on a very limited set of emotions, mostly around attraction and desire and that sort of thing, and that was a gateway into all of these other emotions that now I realize are what comprise life.
A life, a rich life, a life well-lived is a life when you get to experience the whole range of emotions that you already are experiencing, though you may have repressed and suppressed some of them and you may not be aware of them, or you might be afraid of a good many of them and you might have a very one or unidimensional life, a limited life that many achievers who rely on repression are living. [44:50.2]
You do not want that life of repression and you do not want to get to the end especially of a long life, because then you’ve really wasted all of this time, only to discover that there was all this love, joy, playfulness, carefreeness and easygoing joy in life that was available, and peace and calm that was available to you this entire time. Not only when you achieve that goal that your achiever has been working so hard for, but this entire time it was available to you, only to realize that there is so little time left.
Don’t let that be. You take it seriously now, at whatever point in life you’re listening to this, that emotions involve skills that you can get better at, and therefore you can get this control over it, and when you have a life like that, your relationships go so much better. I mean, if you don’t have even an emotional skill, your relationships are guaranteed to not go well.
On top of that, your professional life probably won’t go well unless you’re a pure technician, and even then the whole thing up and down, remember the whole reason you’re in that field in the first place, hopefully, was because there was something you enjoyed about it and enjoyment itself is an emotion, and if you spend most of your time, professional life, doing something you don’t enjoy, that’s a huge tragedy. [46:02.8]
If you’re not even aware of it happening, you’re just mindlessly going about living a life just to make the ends meet, when, in fact, even right now, all the calm, joy, peace, and happiness is available to you in yourself if you just knew and had the skills to be able to access it.
That’s what this episode is about. I’m going to be covering in the next episode, come back for the next episode because I’ll be walking you through some of the most important emotional skills.
If you liked this episode, please share it with anyone you think would benefit from it. If you like this podcast, please give it a rating or a review on Apple Podcasts, that always helps, and let me know what you think about it in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you so much for your support and for listening. I look forward to welcoming you to the next episode. David Tian, signing out.
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