Grace McCormick is a senior journalism news major and writes “Mother of Muses” for The Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
I was sitting in a buzzing newsroom with multiple students refreshing national and state results on Election Day 2020. I was also excited knowing I would report results as soon as I could for The Daily News, but I realized I didn’t care about who won the election. I had donated to two different national campaigns years ago, voted in national, state and local races and watched most of the primary and general debates. I had been thoroughly invested in the election for at least a year, but when Election Day finally came and in the days before we knew national results, I found myself truly not caring about who won. This is one of the most vivid memories I have of unintentionally suppressing my feelings.
At some point in my life, I learned to turn off my emotions during stressful situations. For better or for worse, this meant I didn’t think about how I felt, and definitely didn’t express my emotional responses until those stressful times were over.
Eventually, I became the logical friend — the one who can listen to anything and respond with “OK.” That response can sound sarcastic, but I don’t mean it with malice. I try to understand what people close to me are experiencing — I’m just not the kind of person who can exactly match people’s energy.
I don’t think I feel emotion at the intensity other people in my life feel or express it. Part of this might be because of my personality type. I’m an introvert who prefers avoiding negative emotions by treating them like solvable problems. If it angers me to talk to family members or friends about certain issues, I’ll divert attention away to a different subject so I can still enjoy my time with them.
I have a logical mind that believes in the black and whites, while all emotions seem different shades of gray. I can certainly recognize emotion, but I usually don’t think it’s important enough to pay regular attention to in my own life. I like problems and tasks I can complete quickly and logically, so I want to treat my feelings the same way — if I can’t immediately change how I’m feeling about something, I’d often rather push those emotions away than sit and think about problems I might not be able to solve.
Sometimes I see people around me talking about how emotionally exhausted or stressed they all are, and part of me says I should be the person everyone can depend on to finish my job without mentioning how I feel about it, but I know it’s damaging to my own health.
I don’t know where I learned or trained myself to not express emotion, but my interests and activities throughout high school and college have emphasized emotional distance. Most journalists are taught to be objective in writing stories and to not express opinions on polarizing issues. Even in speeches I’ve given throughout high school and college, I need to back up any arguments with sources more trustworthy than myself. Because of this, I’ve learned that my emotions can be a starting point for research or argumentation, but I often downplay my own feelings toward issues because I’ve learned I’m not as trustworthy or reputable as other people I can use to support my arguments.
Much of where I spend my time is in places where clear and concise communication is more important than personal emotional expression; the black and white. It can frustrate me when I can’t clearly define my emotions, so I’d rather ignore how I feel and move on to something I can easily control to get out of the layers of gray haze. But, emotional exhaustion — before I even recognize it — can present itself in other ways.
For example, I’ll finish a conversation with a friend and not remember what we talked about or, in some cases, get easily irritated with them if I think they’re talking too much or being too emotional. My mind begins to swirl with shades of neutrals, creating a facade that tricks me into believing ignoring my feelings — whether intentional or not — is a way to regulate my emotions.
But I learned from character Lloyd Braun in season 9, episode 3 of “Seinfeld,” dismissing your emotions leads to bottling up anger or resentment, and “eventually you blow … serenity now, insanity later.”
Something that helps me not feel isolated is I know I’m not the only person who is still learning to emotionally connect with themselves. Many studies have found people who are more aware of their emotions are better able to regulate emotion, and therefore, can avoid stressing themselves out by overcommitting to mentally taxing activities.
A 2016 study in the Personality and Individual Differences journal of 919 U.S. adults found older people reported higher rates of emotional awareness and were slightly more likely than younger people to be able to identify what emotions they are feeling and the source or cause of those emotions. Women in the study were also more likely than men to report higher rates of purposeful and unintentional attention to emotions, and were slightly more likely to be able to identify the sources and causes of their emotions.
It's clear recognizing and attending to your emotions and stressors has some great benefits, both mentally and physically. People who can identify the source of their negative emotions are likely able to handle that situation better and are less likely to suffer from stress-induced conditions, according to a 2021 Journal of the American Medical Association study. In the study, doctors found the presence of mental stress was almost twice as important as food and alcohol consumption in the risk of cardiovascular death in patients who were already predisposed to heart issues.This study shows the physical benefits of emotional awareness, even with the predisposition to heart issues.
Even knowing the benefits of attending to your emotions, it’s difficult to do so if you haven’t for so long. The problem I, and probably others, have with validating emotions is that I know emotional arguments are subjective. Rating your pain on a scale of one to 10 is different for everyone, and regardless of your response, each person you share that with will interpret and judge your feelings differently.
I like being the level-headed, logical friend, but because of this distinction, it can be easy to feel like my emotions aren’t as valid as everyone else’s. I’m trying, though, to get better at decompressing from stressful situations throughout busy days by taking a few deep breaths and drinking more water while thinking about how my emotions and behavior can affect the tasks that lay ahead of me.
Ultimately, I think recognizing our emotions comes down to recognizing our humanity, which requires a basic level of empathy and intimacy with other people. That, for me, can be scary, but intriguing at the same time. On a fundamental human level, I know I possess the same feelings of anger, fear, happiness and sadness that everyone feels. The challenge lies in recognizing that as a necessary and enjoyable part of life.
Contact Grace McCormick with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @graceMc564.