In my line of work, I hear two things over and over again: “but I need to control my emotions, I can’t be all emotional!” and “But if I’m so passionate about this, why can’t I summon up any emotional expression on stage?” I usually hear these from the same person.
We have all these rules. I can't feel. I can't suppress. I can't fake it. Wait... I can't feel? Who said that? Oh right, society.
If you know me, you may have heard me rant about how emotional shaming is running rampant in the world today. We’re expected not to feel, or not to show it anyway, not to let anything affect us, but then as soon as we’re put on stage we’re expected to manufacture this deep meaningful and truthful emotional life from… well from all that stuff we’ve been told to suppress for decades. That’s easy and healthy. It’s just like a switch right? Or less like a switch and more like a tap where you can masterfully eke out just enough, without being bowled over by the torrent.
As far as I’m concerned, it is not only undesirable to control my emotions, it's unethical. Wait. Hear me out. Emotions are a big part of what make us human. By subjugating the body, we are submitting our feeling selves to the tyranny of the mind. To control. We’re slowly turning ourselves into robots. And once we achieve that, with our hard metallic bodies housing our all-controlling and coldly logical minds, where will all the things that make us human live? Aren't we a bit too top heavy and disconnected from our physical selves these days? Even someone who works ON their body seldom lives IN it. We’re in serious danger of losing our experience of life. To be alive! If we don’t feel alive, what’s the point?
I’m not saying we should wallow in our emotions. I'm an actor. Wallowing is a big “no no” in my culture (yes, theatre is my culture, much more so than any country I’ve ever lived in).
I’m not saying be emotionally immature. I’m not saying have temper tantrums, snap at your coworkers, cry at the drop of a hat and laugh maniacally on the bus. Choosing not to act on something is NOT the same a choosing not to feel it.
Because wallowing and controlling are not our only two options. They might be when you’re three, but a human adult should not feel that way. (not with anything but the most powerful grief or rage anyway) The fact that many do, THAT is what’s wrong with society. Not that we feel, but that we are so scared of feeling and of showing that we do, we essentially strangle our souls in order to avoid it.
The ONLY way we become emotionally mature human beings is if we let ourselves experience our emotions. Suppression solves nothing and does not lead to understanding. Feel. Honour the feeling. Understand it. Know where it comes from. Work through it.
Because you CAN’T control emotion. You can suppress it or you can feel it, and when you feel it, it’s not in your control. The feeling isn’t. Your actions are. We’re so scared of feeling out of control that we’d rather deaden ourselves than be unpredictable or messy or imperfect. But emotions are not the enemy. They’re not out to screw up your life, they are a part of you. The wild part. The vulnerable part. The part that other people feel inspired by. The part that other people fall in love with. How about instead of killing that side of us, we listen? We feel. We understand. And through that understanding we can love. We can deepen our humanity and our experience of ourselves.
For me, controlling my emotions is the first step on the road to self loathing. I’ve worked long and hard to leave that road behind me and I am never going back. I think that denying who we are is unethical. It’s inhumane and, potentially, violent. Control is not the only way to peace. In the long term I don’t think it ever is. The suppressed always rise up. The dominated eventually fight back. That is as true for my inner self as it is in the outer world. So I will treat my body and my feeling self with the respect and compassion it deserves. We will converse, we will negotiate. We will endeavour to honour and understand. I invite you to do the same.