I’m convinced that Victorians (i.e. people who lived through the Victorian era) must have been bloated and constipated on a regular basis. Not because of the skin-tight breeches or the “breathe-and-you-die” corsets. Do you have any idea how many rules of etiquette they had to follow? Here are just some of them, as per avictorian.com:
Do not allow yourself to lose temper or to speak excitedly.
Do not always commence a conversation by allusion to the weather.
Do not, when narrating an incident, continually say “you see,” “you know,” etc.
Do not talk very loud. A firm, clear, distinct, yet mild, gentle musical voice has great power.
Do not contradict. In making correction say, “I beg your pardon, but I had an impression that it was so and so.”
Do not use profanity, vulgar terms, slang phrases, words of double meaning, or language that will bring the blush to any person.
One thing is clear: Overt displays of emotion, or telling people how you really feel was generally considered a faux pas.
I think some degree of censorship is necessary in conversation (because really, we don’t need every detail of how so-and-so passed his kidney stone) but bottling up our emotions or treating them like the plague is pushing censorship too far. And based on statistics from our Emotional Intelligence Test, people still have unhealthy beliefs about emotional expression. For example:
- 32% of men and women purposely postpone or avoid discussing touchy topics (like bringing up an issue that could cause an argument). 54% of men and 35% of women will do whatever they can to stop themselves from crying.
- When feeling negative emotions like anger or sadness, 32% of men and 24% of women will try to ignore their feelings as much as possible. Another 42% of men and 36% of women do not have a healthy outlet to express their emotions (e.g. venting to a friend, writing in a journal, working out at the gym, etc.).
- If they have an uneasy feeling about a situation or a person (what we like to call a “gut feeling” or “intuition”), 31% of men and 24% of women will IGNORE IT! Along the same vein, 63% of men and 54% of women believe that emotions have no place in the decision-making process.
- 30% of men and 28% of women are not comfortable with the sense of vulnerability that comes with telling a person how they feel; they don’t want to put their heart on the line (or on their sleeve, as it were).
- 34% of men and 28% of women feel uncomfortable around overtly emotional people.
- Rather than milking their emotions for information, 55% of men and 60% of women don’t question why they are feeling angry, sad, or worried.
- 25% of men and 32% of women fail to recognize that they are in control of their feelings. Remember, no one can make you feel angry, sad, or worthless – you choose to respond in that manner.
I can sympathize with the desire to keep negative, destructive, or potentially embarrassing feelings locked up. I can explain in detail how emotional restraint wreaks havoc on a physiological and psychological level…
…but then I’d be a hypocrite.
My overdeveloped superego, if humanized, would take on the form of a Victorian governess who always makes me think twice before I express any emotion:
“Really? You’re going to cry? Here?! (*looks around frantically*) In front of all these people?!”
“Do you really need to tell him that what he did upset you? I mean, why risk a fight or, worse yet, rejection, by asserting yourself and expressing your anger? (*Clutches her hand to her heart*) Why must you be sooo vulgar? Fetch me my smelling salts dear, I feel faint.”
To be honest, I’m really tired of my ridiculous need for self-restraint. I want to tell people when I’m angry. I want parents to tell their sons that it’s OK to cry, or to show any other emotion aside from anger. I want men and women to stop feeling ashamed when they’re told that they are sensitive (or, God forbid, “hormonal”). Why hate something that is naturally a part of you and makes you indelibly human? It’s like saying you hate your hair because it curls a certain way, your finger because it’s stubby, or your eyes because they’re not blue.
Most importantly, I want “feelings” to stop being such an ugly, cheap, and uncomfortable word.