The Origins of Avoiding Emotions

This is an excerpt from Conscious Men, written by John Gray and Arjuna Ardagh.

Here are some of the parts of us that may have gotten locked in the basement and get in the way of feeling pain and letting it go.

Avoidance Arthur

At the most primitive level, our whole motivation as men is to avoid feeling pain at all costs. In the past, men have found ways to avoid difficult feelings through opiates, alcohol, marijuana, sexual addiction, intellectualization, and over thinking. Just about any compulsive activity can become addictive, and it is all fueled by an instinct to avoid pain. A good first step is to take a journal and start to catalog the ways that you avoid painful emotions. The more you can get these onto paper and recognized, the less power they will have over you. Here are a few ideas from our side to get you started, but just use this just as a springboard into your own exploration of the huge momentum we all share of dulling ourselves emotionally:

 1. Arguing, over thinking, and the need to be right

2. Alcohol and other substances

3. Distraction: watching TV or cruising the Internet

4. Addiction to work

5. Extreme sports or dangerous situations

Now you fill out your own list.

Invalidation Victor

As men, we can instinctively think that there is no reason to get in touch with feelings: it does not do anything useful and it has no purpose or value. A man’s first reaction in his primitive brain, when there is danger, is to either fight or run. This is how he responds in anticipation of pain, and it was the most intelligent response when men lived as hunters faced continuously with physical danger. Stopping to feel could be a suicidal step. Because of her very different role in the social fabric in the past, a woman’s first reaction when faced with pain is “I need to tell somebody about it.” Her first reaction is expression.

Still today, men often see feeling as a sign of weakness: “Real men don’t cry.” The key to becoming a Conscious Man is to be aware of your emotional, feminine side but without letting it run your life. By becoming aware of your emotions as well as the cooler analysis of the best action to take, you allow the feminine side of you to support the masculine. Only by becoming aware of feelings can you have the presence to understand that you do not have to act on them. They will dissipate and reveal another part of your humanity: you can become more sensitive, more considerate, and more compassionate.

Blurt-It-Out Bart

Just as we can sabotage ourselves as men by invalidating our feelings, we can also lose our way by getting lost in feeling if we have not built a large enough container in which the emotions can move. In order for a man to fully feel his feelings and not act on them, he has to have a way to experience the feelings without being threatened or overwhelmed by them. 

Without ways to develop presence, you may feel compelled to blurt out from feeling emotional before even experiencing what you are feeling. It is a little like premature ejaculation. You need to develop the stamina to contain your energy so that it can be released at the right time and in the right way.

Disembodied Dave

The way to experience feelings, without becoming emotionally reactive and getting caught up in drama, is to experience them through the body. Men today often sit for hours looking at computer screens and following a sedentary lifestyle. Ultimately, you get free of pain and the past by stabilizing yourself, more and more deeply, into the tangible reassuring reality of the present moment. This is where the body lives. If you spend a lot of time sitting and thinking, you may need to find ways to move, to breathe, and to become more alive.


From Conscious Men by John Gray and Arjuna Ardagh. You can order a paperback copy or Kindle edition on Amazon here.

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