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It’s often been said that men have two basic feelings: “Okay” and “MAD!!!” Though this may be the only “feelings” that some men know, in reality, men have access to a wider spectrum than we might give ourselves credit for. Though we often call men “beasts” or “machines” when they accomplish something amazing, neither one of these terms is actually true. Men are capable of understanding and benefiting from our emotions. For some of us, expressing how we are feeling does not come easy. I know that I often find myself saying, “Wow, I didn’t know how much this was affecting me until just now.” If you can relate, this may be a helpful topic to explore. For this post, I will discuss how we can get the most out of our emotions without allowing them to rule over us. By doing so, we provide a healthy emotional well-being for our spouse, children, and self.

To begin, let me address the fallacy that emotions have no place in the world of men. Emotions have a purpose in our lives. Emotions are like indicators on our dashboard, providing us data about the condition of each area of our lives. If a relationship is suffering, our emotions tell us that we are being affected negatively and that some correction might be needed to get back on track. When we experience fear or anxiety, we become aware of barriers that are keeping us from our goals. When we are filled with joy, our body releases chemicals that encourage us to continue seeking that which has made us feel good. For those of us who are more logic-oriented, let me put it this way: emotions = crucial data. If we ignore our emotions, then we are choosing to make decisions without using all the resources available to us. Ignoring the emotional part of our being, while needed in specific, life-or-death situations, is less beneficial in most circumstances.

I was presented with a scenario once to determine whether I leaned more toward emotion or logic in my decision making. The scenario goes like this: You become stranded on an island with many other survivors. There is food enough to eat for three weeks if effectively rationed. As survivors grow restless, they begin playing games and messing around. You realize that they are wasting energy and will likely require more food to sustain them as a result. Though you have voiced your concern, no one seems to hear you. How will you respond? There are facts to consider in this situation: there is limited food; some survivors are making decisions that affect the group as a whole; there is no certainty of how long the group will need to survive before help arrives (if it arrives). There are also emotions involved: you feel rejected and angry that your perspective is not being considered; the other survivors are afraid and anxious, leading to their desire to keep up morale. I propose that a disciplined leader considers all data he has access to when choosing how to respond. Both the feedback that we receive from our thoughts and our emotions provide us with valuable information that we can use to make a wise-minded decision.

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Emotions are only as useful as the amount of control we have over them. If they are running the show, they can be destructive. When we are running the show, they can be a useful tool. Think of emotion as the acceleration and logic as the brakes on a car. Both are needed to get to your destination. If your brakes go out, you are likely to fly out of control. If your acceleration isn’t working, you aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Emotions give us that “oomph” that we need to get the wheels spinning. Emotions propel us forward by providing motivation and resolve. We need our emotions, but we also need to have control over them. When we act with logic, allowing emotions to be our drive, we have  the stop and go power we need to get to our desired destination.

Some men are masters at reading their emotional indicators. For others, such as myself, putting words on emotions does not come naturally. Understanding our emotions can be accomplished with a little practice and determination. The first step is to acknowledge that we have emotions. Our mind is giving us feedback through our emotional spectrum. If you are breathing,you are currently experiencing some feedback within that spectrum, whether you are aware of it or not. The next step is to put words on what we are feeling. This may take practice for some guys. We aren’t all good at labeling how we feel. Don’t get lazy on this one though; “okay” and “fine” are not feelings. Practice describing your feelings using the basics: happy, angry, sad, annoyed, confused, afraid, surprised, disgusted. As you get better at identifying your feelings, you can branch off from there. Your body can help you identify how you are feeling. Learning to read your own body language and put words on how you are physically responding to a situation can help you to narrow in on how you are being effected emotionally.

To conclude, I want to express why I believe that learning to identify and manage our emotions is so important. First, it’s important to understand that your spouse or girlfriend typically expresses herself through emotion. By learning to interpret our own emotions, we also learn to identify cues that we see in her as well. When we manage our emotions, we give her a safe environment to communicate with us. Second, our children look to us as a model for how emotions can be expressed and managed. When we learn to get ourselves under control, we demonstrate to our children how to do the same. Learning to put words on our own feelings can help our children become more effective communicators as well. We need to teach our children that it is acceptable to feel as they do, as well as teach them that they have a responsibility to respond appropriately to the feelings that they have. Showing our children how to act opposite of their emotions can be one of the most important tools that a father can give to his children. This can only be done if we learn to identify our own emotions and develop ways to control them.