What was she doing? Pacing? Weeping? Sighing? Flinching?
And now ... what was your FIRST impulse in responding to this person? Did you want to comfort? Appease? Stifle? Chastise? Did you want to grab him by the shoulders and shake him until he got ahold of himself? Cover your ears? Get away as quickly as you could? Embrace the person until the bad feelings were squeezed right out of her? Protect him from ever feeling that way again?
Got it in mind?
Now, whatever your response, it tells you something about how you feel about those feelings. We all have emotions, but we don't necessarily feel good about all of them, right? How we feel and respond to emotion has to do with how we're raised. Every day, every moment, parents socialize young children about how to express, think about, and regulate their emotions. That's just one of the many parts of becoming a human being who can function successfully in society--whichever society that might be.
Some of us were raised to suppress our emotions. To ignore our own feelings or stifle them. To distract ourselves until a feeling fades away, because they always do. The people who taught us that probably believed sadness was weak. That anger was scary. That bad feelings were uncontrollable and harmful. They might have dismissed a child's emotions just because he was a child, or maybe even punished emotion displays like tantrums or crying.
Some of us were raised to express our emotions to the fullest. To show the world how we were feeling, with no apologies, no regrets, because feelings are true, and whatever you do with them is okay. The people who taught us that may also have believed that feelings were uncontrollable, and that trying to control them is pointless. They may also have been reacting to how they were raised--possibly by parents who believed in suppression of emotion. They might have comforted a distressed child and empathized deeply. However, they probably didn't place a lot of limits on behavior and may have done a lot of appeasing.
Some of us were raised to feel our feelings but control our behavior. The people who taught us that likely believed feelings are natural and adaptive. That they are healthy signals and necessary for relationships. That feelings are just part of life and help us decide how we're going to solve difficult problems. These parents would have set limits on a child's angry behavior (hitting is not okay) but empathized with the feeling (it's natural to feel angry when someone snatches your toy). And then they would have helped problem-solve about how to feel better.
How were you raised? What were you taught? How does it affect you today, both in terms of your own feelings and in how you respond to others'?
AND--do you think that affects your writing? When you have a character who is going through something, how do you approach it as a writer in terms of:
- the behaviors the character exhibits (is the emotion display WAY heightened, or is it buttoned-down? Does that fit the character and the situation? Are you pulling your punches for fear your reader will hate the character or think she's weak or mean? Are you revving it up to make sure the emotion is clear?)
- how others react to those behaviors (are they instantly comforting? Distressed? Dysregulated and disorganized? Rejecting and censuring?)
- how you as the author resolve the situation (is the character left to feel that feeling, or must it be dealt with and dissipated by the end of the scene?)
- how you as the author feel about that character and the resolution (do you worry your characters will look weak? Do you protect them from bad feelings? Do you wallow happily in those feelings?)
I think it's possible that, if you consider these questions, you might notice some things about yourself as a person--and as a writer.
Of course, we have to keep in mind that our readers have their own feelings about feelings. My most trusted beta-reader once told me that heroes shouldn't cry, EVER. Because if they did, that meant they were weak. So, there you go. Some of my readers will feel that way, too. And how I deal with that knowledge depends on my own feelings about those feelings, and how I feel about my feelings about feelings. Oh, and what my agent says in her revision letter.
BWAHAHAHAHA. Er. Sorry.
Your turn. Do you ever think about this stuff? Have I made your head hurt? Do you think your own emotion socialization as a child has affected how you behave today, and how/what you write?
Go check out Laura's blog for this month's round of Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog, in which she answers the question: "I have a genre-crush on _______ (in other words, what genre or category of writing do you like and wish you could tackle, and why haven't you done it yet)." My answer will be up here in a few weeks.