Patricia O’Laughlin offers six things you can do to minimize the shock of your own feelings.
A new study shows results that people prefer electric shock to being with their own thoughts. U.Va. psychologist Timothy Wilson and colleagues at U.Va. asked participants ages 18-77 to sit in a room anywhere from 6 to 15 minutes. Upon entry participants were given a sample shock and were then left alone and told that they had the option to shock themselves. 67% of the male participants and 25% of the female participants choose to engage in electric shock versus be with their own thoughts.
While this info has been shocking to many, there are some in the psychological field, such as myself, who aren’t terribly surprised. No, I have not concretely seen someone choose electric shock over their thoughts, but using shock as a metaphor, I have seen many clients “shock” themselves with harm and drama. Choosing this, rather than being in their mind as a regular way of functioning.
Clients in my practice are a snap shot of American Culture. The longer I practice psychotherapy out of my Los Angeles practice the more understanding I gain of what it means to be an American.
American culture feeds a manic defensive mechanism. Americans not only believe that doing less is more, but they live by that cultural rule. While no one finds that statement “shocking”, what many don’t understand is that it’s not fully a conscious choice.
Many Americans aren’t choosing to do more with their conscious part of their brain. They are choosing to do more unconsciously, so they have moments where they don’t have awareness that they are defending against something difficult. Just like all defense mechanisms the defense of don’t think and do more is automatic. Why this need to keep busy? Well, for seemingly the same reason, electric shock felt like a better option for Wilson’s study participants, because difficult feeling states and the thoughts connected to those are unbearable for most.
The more we do the less we feel. If you sign up for the next project, or if you agree to dinner with friends (even if you don’t care for them) then your mind is busy elsewhere and you don’t have to listen to what surfaces.
It’s an easy habit to get in, and a tricky one. In order to take care of oneself as an adult, we must learn to do things. We must work, pay a mortgage or rent, drive etc., but most Americans take the behaviors over the top.
And since this is The Good Men Project what does this study mean for males? Again I am not shocked that men had a higher rate of electric shock than women. Most generations of men have been raised with intense pressure to not feel, to not be with themselves. So much that identifying and dealing with their emotions takes serious effort. I’ve seen men in my office try to cry because they know they are sad and a good cry seems appealing, but no tears come. The body shut down tears years ago, and what is left is frustration that tears only come with something drastic.
It’s very challenging. It puts a lot of physical pressure on the body’s system. Socially it creates barriers in relationships. Men can’t use their feelings as much to identify their needs. They can’t communicate around these things easily, making it difficult for men to read each other and to be read by their partner.
Now let’s assume their partner is female, in the study far less females engaged in the option of electric shock. How does this impact couples? Well it varies; each relationship has a different dynamic. But as a general theme I think it’s difficult for men and women. Men are often triggered by their partner’s emotions and women often want to know more about their partners.
Of course the dynamic set up is often that the female carries most of the emotional expression in the relationship, which they are often resentful about but also hesitant to stop carrying. They often want their male partner to be emotional but not too emotional. Making what is an already difficult feat for men harder.
So how does one fight against the need to give themselves and good jolt? How do men sit with their thoughts and emotions more easily?
1. Don’t judge yourself for it. Judging your manic tendencies doesn’t help you at all. It will actually make them worse.
2. Go to therapy. Most people need a therapist to help them see their engagement in this defense and to teach them how to tolerate themselves.
3. Engage in meditation or meditative behaviors. For some meditation is not accessible. 5 minutes of meditation for some is too long. If that’s the case, then engage in an activity that’s meditative. Crochet (yes I suggested that), drawing, or yoga are all examples of activities that shut down the brain and thoughts. They can be very calming to the central nervous system. Calming the central nervous system is very helpful to relieving anxiety, thus allowing oneself to be with themselves more easily.
4. Write to learn more. Keep an emotional journal to help you understand your relationship to yourself. What emotions are easier for you to feel? Which ones feel overwhelming? How did your parents respond to you when you were emotional, how did they respond to themselves? What did you learn about being emotional?
5. Identify your shocks. Build awareness about how you are shocking yourself rather than feeling yourself. What behaviors or activities do you create and how do they help you avoid yourself? Awareness is important part of change.
6. Honor that emotions are difficult and that you need your defense mechanisms. The mania will come and go, let that be. Stand up to it as much as you can, but recognize that it will need to play itself out. Change doesn’t happen quickly.
Spending the time and energy to do these things will enhance the relationship you have to others and yourself. It will help you stay more present in the moment, so you can enjoy the now happening all around you. In addition, doing so could help future generations of men. Maybe if American Men try to change this now, the next generation of males will be more tolerant of themselves. 20 years from now when a researcher tells them that an electric shock is available for their use, they won’t take a second look at the device. 15 minutes alone won’t feel so intolerable.
Photo: Jeff Carter/Flickr
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