Guest blog: The Anatomy of a Woman’s Feelings #36
From Alison Armstrong, an educator and advocate of communication between men and women. This is a great read – designed for men but powerful and helpful for women too.
This may be the most important article I have ever written. Please feel free to pass this on to all the women AND all the men in your life. – Alison.
Heart and Lungs, Life and Energy
Imagine, if you will, a woman. Let’s look inside of her. Not the way a doctor might see her, but someone with more intuitive vision. In the center of her chest is a very unique organ. It looks like a disk about the size of a salad plate, up to two inches thick, and it fills her chest. When it is healthy, the color is a vibrant red or magenta or red-orange, and the surface is soft and even bubbly. Like the lungs, it pulls life and energy in from the environment. Specifically from nature, from the joy of loved ones, from beauty. Like the heart, it is connected to every part of her body through a complex circulatory system. As life and energy are pulled into it, life and energy travel to every extremity.
This organ is called “her feelings” and it is the core of her being.
When a woman is delighted or happy, this organ fills with life and energy, expanding and expanding. The life and energy move from her chest to her lungs, and she may breathe more heavily or deeply. From there, the life and energy move to her throat, and she may laugh or giggle or sing. Continuing upward, her mouth turns into a smile, her skin glows and her eyes sparkle. The life and energy flow through her smile and skin and eyes to the people around her and they are uplifted. When the life and energy reach her brain, they fill her head with hopeful, loving, magnanimous, creative thoughts. And as they reach her arms and legs, hands and feet, her step becomes lighter and she may even dance.
This is when she is her most powerful, and paradoxically, her most vulnerable. Bask in her beauty and light and treat her with care.
Pain and Blackness, Silence and Immobility
Imagine now that something happens which “hurts her feelings.” Intentional act or mere oversight, when a woman’s feelings are hurt, the process works in reverse. The rate at which this occurs depends on how harsh or shocking was the hurtful act or comment. It may take three to thirty minutes for the process to be complete.
Within a few seconds the organ has constricted, changing color to black or dark gray and becoming hard and tight like a rock or fist. Vibrant and pulsing a moment before, it lies lifeless. The woman might gasp as she feels the core of her being shrink and harden. Then this new death travels the pathways that life and energy flowed through just moments before.
Being closest to her lungs, breathing will be the first to go. She will feel as if she can’t breathe and her actual breaths will become shallow. Next is the throat. She will be able to speak for only a few moments longer and then the death-feeling will shut down all energy to her throat. The “silent treatment” that others dread is not voluntary. She cannot speak. Her eyes will suddenly become sensitive to light, and especially to people. She’ll have to avoid all eye contact, for it hurts them. After a few more minutes the life and energy is gone from her arms and legs. If she can’t cocoon, she’ll move slowly. If she can, she’ll find a safe place, curl up and become immobile. As time passes, her body feels heavier and heavier, like dirt is being piled on top of her.
In her experience, she has been completely shut down. Then the real mischief begins.
For one small, crucial part of her brain has a back up generator, which turns on as the rest herself shuts off. And it has access to a specific set of files. Let’s call it “the Rage Monster.” While she lies breathless, speechless, blind and immobile, the Rage Monster dips into all the records of irritations, annoyances, pet peeves, and any unresolved injuries. With only these to work with, the Rage Monster starts churning out speeches. Its fantasy is all-out verbal warfare. It plots revenge.
As time goes on, the Rage Monster will gather momentum. Physical proximity to the person who her hurt her feelings fuels the Rage Monster, giving it energy. Though lying buried under dirt, mute and blind, the woman may try to move to a distance from the source of the hurt, understanding intuitively that this might quiet the beast in her head. She may move to another room or out of the house altogether.
On the surface, the Rage Monster may take over the woman’s facial muscles, making her look angry or upset. But underneath its rantings, a small voice in her head is pleading for help, hoping the person who buried her might come dig her out. For he or she is the only one who can.
On the Other Side
Now let’s look from the point of view of the man. Why a man? Because women are more vulnerable to the men they love than anyone else on Earth. And because feelings are different for men. Or so they have told me. Men’s feelings, while just as deep and significant, don’t have the circulatory system women have. Scientists tell us that men don’t have as many connections in their brains from the feeling centers and language centers. This is good, by the way. Different but valuable for many purposes.
So, having a different relationship to feelings in general, the man does not realize that he has just hurt the woman. Whatever he did or said was not intended to be hurtful. Healthy men (which most are) never intend to hurt women. And that same remark or action would probably not have hurt him. He has no idea that her feelings are the organ at the core of her being from which all life and energy flow. No one has ever explained that to him.
After a prolonged silence, he starts to worry that she may be mad at him. He hopes this isn’t true. If he loves her, then her being mad at him is the worst thing that can happen. He is hoping, and maybe praying, that she’s upset at something else, but please, not at him. As one man expressed it, “I’d pay a million, billion, gazillion dollars for her not to be mad at me.” For a being designed to pursue success in every area, this is the worst failure. She is the sun and the moon and both have suddenly deserted his life. And he doesn’t know why.
If she does something that clearly indicates that the anger is directed at him, then hope will die, he’ll know he failed, and there is nothing to do now but fix it. If he has been able to fix it in the past, he’ll quickly respond. If he has never been able to fix it, then he’s really sunk.
Until the woman does something that overtly communicates anger, like going to sleep in the other room or stomping out of the house, he’ll keep hoping that it isn’t him. This is how the woman can be left buried under the dirt in darkness and silence for hours. He doesn’t mean to be cruel. He doesn’t know that she’s drowning and that he’s the only lifeguard.
“I’m Sorry I Hurt You” Raises the Dead
When he does go her, he’ll want to confront the anger head-on. Because he thinks it is real. He doesn’t know that it is the Rage Monster’s default program of miscellaneous junk that really didn’t bother her that much at the time. If he engages the Rage Monster by being angry himself – perhaps because it seems unfair to him that she is angry – then he’s likely to hear all the trash that has been being gathered and rehearsed. A smart man will treat it like the garbage disposal backing up. An informed man could avoid it altogether.
Beneath the anger is the hurt that shut down the whole system and enabled the Rage Monster to take over. If he says, “I’m sorry” – and means it – life will suddenly flow back into her chest and make its way to the rest of her body. It will take a while to reach all the different parts, so he should be patient. But as soon as he says, “I’m sorry,” with true kindness and remorse, the generator to the Rage Monster will shut down and its products quickly fade away. Her true self will take over her mind and her vocal chords again.
What should he be sorry for? Women usually need to hear “I’m sorry” for two things. She needs him to apologize for whatever he said or did, or failed to say or do. And here’s the catch – even if it was justified. Suppose he was late because his boss kept him at work. Completely understandable. But she still needs him to apologize for being late.
The second thing is even more important. Sometimes it is all that matters. She needs him to apologize for how he made her feel. She needs him to apologize for hurting her. He should say, and mean, “I’m sorry I hurt you.” If she suddenly sobs when he says, “I’m sorry I hurt you,” he shouldn’t fear. This sob is a powerful release of the hard, black fist that has gripped her chest. These words open her prison, and soon, she will be tearful but almost smiling, and on her way back to breathing in life and energy again.
“Ouch” May be the Magic Word
Having recently discovered that Greg, my husband of ten years, didn’t know any of the above, I became passionate about telling every man I know, and encouraging other women to do the same. I also began to wonder if there is a way to short circuit the whole cycle. I asked Greg what might happen if, during the few moments before my throat shut down, I said, “Ouch.” Would that alert him to my being hurt? Would that have the lifeguard jump into the water immediately and save me? Greg thought it might.
I understood, of course, that saying “Ouch” would not be easy. When I have been hurt and the system is in the processing of shutting down, making me more vulnerable seems like the last thing I should do. But I was determined to try it at the earliest opportunity.
The very next evening Greg said something that hurt my feelings. Since I was on the way to the market with my mother, my throat didn’t immediately close down, so the Rage Monster could vocalize. I called Greg on my cell phone from the grocery store and gave him a piece of my mind. He reacted in anger and, naturally, fought back. That made the Rage Monster boil to dangerous levels. Some will of mine prevailed and I hung up, thereby gaining some crucial distance.
As I picked out cucumbers and peppers, a small voice in my head said, “Perhaps you should have said ‘Ouch’.” The Rage Monster responded, “It’s too late for that!”
When I arrived home, all the usual symptoms were there. Although I was preparing dinner, I moved slowly, I could hardly speak and I couldn’t look at Greg at all. Then Annie, my youngest, volunteered to get something from the garage refrigerator, where Greg was at the time. Suddenly, I broke through and said, “Annie, tell Dad, ‘Mom says Ouch’.” She looked at her sister like I was crazy so I repeated myself more emphatically. She said okay and went to the garage.
I think he ran. A moment later he was encircling me with his arms and saying, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I hurt you. Thank you so much for saying ‘Ouch.’ Thank you so much for telling me what you needed.” Suddenly I could speak. I told him simply what hurt. He apologized. We hugged. And it was over. Just like that.
I haven’t had the chance to try “Ouch” again. By understanding so much of men’s behavior, I am rarely hurt by the things they do. So it was an experiment of only one incident. But since then I have spoken to hundreds of women about our feelings. They have all agreed with the description here.
I encourage you to try “Ouch” yourself. Whether you can do it in those first critical moments, or muster the ability some time later, as I did, I think it is worth doing. I would love to hear how it goes.