America is drinking the Kool-Aid of the cult of independence, and it’s killing us. If you think about it, there remains in our culture an abundance of outdated ideas about emotion and relationship. For many, it's a value system and an ideology that preaches independence at all costs. After all, we were raised by the toughen-up-let-them-cry-it-out-you’re-not-hurt-brush-it-off generation. So we believe wholeheartedly that negative emotions are something to be avoided or quickly fixed. We’ve become a nation that manages feelings by running to the gym, taking a trip, drinking, taking prescription meds, looking at porn… a lot of porn…hanging out with friends and drinking some more, gambling, shopping, glorifying our busy schedules, throwing ourselves into our work. You get the idea. We make excuses for over-planning our lives, telling ourselves we’re “productive” and “active.” Then we surround ourselves with others who do the same, so we never have to slow down and actually work through a tough emotion.
Why? Because in order to use the language of emotion in a productive way, we must first learn it. Most of us didn’t have parents who truly understood emotion. We rarely if ever saw the process of identifying feelings, turning toward someone emotionally safe, and sharing. Most of us had loving, caring parents who helped us through life by identifying what was wrong and jumping to the list of ways to fix it. It’s not their fault. They didn’t know that the Kool-Aid they fed us wasn’t healthy. The problem is that not everything can be fixed. Some experiences just have to be felt; like the death of a loved one or our first broken heart. If we can’t fix it, we need to see it as an opportunity for connection.
Something reparative occurs when we name an emotion, claim it as our own and give ourselves the right to feel it without blaming others for the feeling. It allows us to share the burden with someone without pushing them away or making them responsible. In the process, we feel better and the person with whom we share feels closer to us, important to us, special. And let’s admit that deep down, it feels damn good to feel important and special to someone. Win win. And instead of relying on pills, cocktails, and a packed schedule, we rely on a close, connected relationship. And here’s the bombshell: research shows that the key to more sex with your partner is feeling emotionally connected. You’re welcome.
What I’m describing feels risky. It makes us feel weak and vulnerable. It is the opposite of being independent. On top of all that, we don’t have much practice doing it, so it feels… weird. We avoid it. We do what our parents taught us to do, just get over it. We continue to drink the Kool-Aid. But in failing to consider another way to deal with negative emotions we risk depression, anxiety, hypertension, failed relationships, obesity, eating disorders, addiction, and (believe it or not) bowel issues. It’s just not healthy.
Science has only begun to understand the power of emotional intelligence and emotional connection. Recently, Dr. Jim Coan discovered that a closely connected relationship is an analgesic, allowing us to feel less physical pain when our loved one holds our hand. (Drug companies are probably hoping that information won’t catch on.) Research shows it takes more energy in the form of glucose to suppress an emotion that to deal with it directly. No wonder energy drinks are so popular. It seems the more we hold on to the old ideas about emotions, the more Kool-Aid we need.