Permission for Lots of Feelings: A Post for Father’s Day

I had a special post on self-care for Mother’s Day (and everything in that post could apply to dads and those without children).  So I have been thinking during the past month about what topic would be appropriate for a Father’s Day post.  And I came back to this: I don’t think that many of us, especially men, get enough information about our feelings.  I also think that many folks don’t feel as though they have permission to have a wide range of feelings.

Do any of these statements sound familiar?

  • “I don’t know how to say what I am feeling.”
  • “I basically have two feelings, happy or angry.”
  • “I’m not sure what I feel.
  • “I don’t think I should feel the way that I do.”

If any of these sound familiar, you may be dealing with either a lack of permission to express feelings, or a limited emotional vocabulary.

Lack of Permission

All too often, especially for men, our culture provides a limited range of emotional permission.  Expressing vulnerable feelings, such as fear, sadness, vulnerability, loneliness, or anxiety is often strongly discouraged.  In fact, young boys who exhibit those feelings are often shamed and shunned (“Crying makes you a sissy.”)  Men and boys who use a wide range of emotional expression are often derided as being too feminine.  This is particularly difficult for men, but I hear similar feedback from women as well.

So, you need to begin by noticing your own reactions to emotion.  Do you self-shame and self-restrict?  If so, how can you increase your kindness and permission to yourself?

Limited Emotional Vocabulary

Sometimes, it is not just a lack of permission.  Sometimes, it is truly that you have been exposed to a limited feeling vocabulary.  A restricted emotional vocabulary can be a real barrier.  It is not just that you aren’t sure that you’re allowed to have a feeling.  Instead, you genuinely lack to words to describe what it is that you feel.

Increasing vocabulary can be the easier problem to fix.  There are many resources for building feeling vocabulary.  Here are just a few:

My recommendation is that you choose one list and try to accurately identify your feelings throughout the day.  If you use this practice regularly, you’ll have many more options to describe your feelings.

Whether you begin by working on a broader feeling vocabulary or choose to think about your range of emotional permission, I hope that you begin to expand the range of emotions that you can describe.

As always, please feel free to share your favorite coping methods in the comments.


Image Credit: Isolation by loufi via Flickr

8 thoughts on “Permission for Lots of Feelings: A Post for Father’s Day

  1. Hi Ann,

    This is a great post for Father’s Day – I’ve known a lot of men who were not able to talk about their feelings as candidly as they probably needed to. I hadn’t seen these lists of feeling words before, and I think they will be helpful.


    1. Rachelle,

      The lists are a tool that I have used since I was in grad school, and I still really like them. I think that we do our boys and men a disservice when we deny their access to a full range of feelings.


  2. Yes, the feeling words lists are so helpful in communicating in both directions. Even if we are the better communicator, it helps to use just the right words with the “non-communicator” to bring them out.
    Here’s hoping more and more new dads give their sons permission to own all of their emotions!

    1. Lynda,

      I am absolutely on board with that hope. I think that freeing our men and boys to express all of their emotions will help our entire society.


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