How do you feel?

Nobody ever really tells you how you’re meant to feel about things. This is a good thing, I guess, but sometimes I wish they would. I think that there would be many, many people who’d jump at a book that explained to them that slightly numb feeling of comforting a crying child while flushing their bloated goldfish down the toilet, or how to tell your nine year old daughter that yes, one day she will have periods. For forty years.

Okay, maybe not how you’re MEANT to feel, but how other people DO feel. The this-is-normal type things. They did it with grief, and with trauma. They have counselors who refer people to glossy leaflets and say things like “you might feel this. This is perfectly normal, and many people go through this”. Wouldn’t it be nice if those glossy leaflets were there for everything?

Seriously, wouldn’t it be great if we could just call up the Emotion Help Line, and have sent to us a colour-coded series of fold out brochures on How You Should Be Feeling When: Red for angry feeling, green for jealous feelings, blue for sad, the usual stuff. The obvious ones, you know. Or maybe we can genetically modify ourselves so our little fingers turn the right colour to express those emotions too. That’d be so helpful with babies, particularly…although green fingers on a two-week-old might be difficult to understand.

Okay, I guess some things we just need words for, and people to listen to them.

I think the problem starts in childhood, with well-meaning parents (ouch…like yours truly) who pick up a screaming toddler from the concrete and brush them down and say perhaps-not-so-helpful things such as “you’re all right now”, and “up you get, you’re not hurt!” I’ve always considered such phrases useful, helping build children who are resilient and able to pick themselves up from the falls of life…although sometimes, if the truth be told, we say them because we’re tired beyond belief and can’t deal with another small-person drama for absolutely no good reason.

The trouble comes though when we get to big, complex, hard-to-get-to-the-other-side-of emotions. Aside from sympathy, some empathy, fear and “survivor guilt”, how do you deal with the deep and personal feelings that come up when you find an acquaintance has a child with a terminal illness, or a birth defect? How did the people feel who went to see batman movie in completely different cinemas in Denver on that fateful night when so many lost their lives? Do they have people around them telling them “you’re okay, you’re still alive, aren’t you? You didn’t hear the gunshots”.

The trouble comes when, not knowing how we’re meant to feel, we end up feeling nothing. That in itself is a problem. I wish there was a book for those people. I’d read it.

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