Emotions and their expression

Knowing and expressing our emotions is not always easy.

Some people seem very much at home with their feelings – they understand their feelings and express them well; others can find it confusing or frustrating, not quite sure what the feeling is or how to express it. For most of us, there are times in our lives when it’s difficult to be aware of our feelings, to recognise different feelings or to find effective ways to express them

Feelings don’t just happen on their own, they don’t exist in isolation. Feelings are closely tied to two other ways we experience life – our thoughts and our actions. Some people are more at home with thinking or doing rather than feeling (and gender stereotypes suggest women are more ‘emotional’ while men are more ‘doers’ or ‘thinkers’… of course, stereotypes don’t fit individuals all that easily).

Thoughts, feelings and actions impact on each other. We don’t know what comes first, and in some ways it doesn’t really matter because we do know they are interdependent. They influence each other.

If you’re not sure how you’re feeling, look at your actions and thoughts as that might give you some insight – especially if you can look at your behaviour and thinking over time. You might notice a pattern, you might see a connection between what you do and how you feel and think.

Feelings aren’t necessarily consistent and can change from time to time. It is also possible that our feelings don’t seem to match our thoughts and actions. For example, you might behave angrily when you feel scared or you might smoke even though you know there are health dangers associated with it. Making sense of our feelings, thoughts and actions is a life long responsibility.

There are times when you might like to change the way you’re feeling. Perhaps the feeling isn’t positive or comfortable. Sometimes, changing the way you feel is best achieved by changing the way you think or the way you act. For example, if you’re feeling flat or down, sometimes exercise will really help; or using positive self-talk to reassure yourself that you are ok can perk you up.

Expressing one’s gender and feelings about that can be particularly challenging. Gender is such a core part of one’s sense of self it can be difficult to describe. What can be expressed and understood are feelings about gender, about how we’re responded to in the world, about what fits and what doesn’t. Understanding all that and coming to accept what is right for you takes time, patience, and courage.

For those of you on or considering testosterone, we do know it can and does have an impact on the way people experience their world – emotionally, intellectually and activity wise. The impact of testosterone is always individual – I’ve heard people express feeling more calm, less moody, more intense reactions that dissipate quickly, less able to cry, more able to ignore the ‘little things’.

While it is useful to pay attention to changes that might happen, it is also important not to see testosterone as the sole reason for changes. It’s important for us all to have safe places where we can talk about how we’re feeling, especially when everything feels overwhelming. Friends, family, partners, work colleagues and community members can offer a supportive ear and shoulder.

Counselling can help too. It can be a place for people to understand their feelings, actions and thoughts… and can help individuals work towards change. What’s important is to find a therapist you can work with, someone you’re prepared to learn to trust, to express and explore your feelings. Counselling isn’t necessarily ‘easy’.

There are times that difficult feelings and issues are addressed. At a minimum, counselling should be a safe place where you are able to express yourself and be encouraged to think about how it all comes together (or doesn’t come together).

Sinnott V (2007). Emotions & their expression. Torque, 7(1), 6-7