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Emotions are Like Riding a Bike

##Emotions are Like Riding a Bike

When I was in the second grade my sister thought it would be a good idea to teach me to ride a bike. She determined our backyard would be a great place to learn. It was grassy to pad my falls. It had a slight decline to aid in gaining speed. I am pleased to report that she did indeed teach me how to ride a bike. I jumped on the adult-sized ten-speed, peddled a bit, had a moment of glorious bike riding, then promptly crashed into some shrubs.

I learned how to ride; I did not learn how to stop. Adding insult to injury, I was stuck. It was as if the shrub was eating me alive. Still propped up on the seat of the bike, unable to move or dismount, and being attacked by spiders and small insects, I was at the mercy of my sister as she attempted to pull me, bike and all, backward out of the shrub. “You never forget how to ride a bike,” sure…but no one really ever talks about how to learn how to ride a bike. And why is that? Riding a bike is not something learned by thinking…it is learned by doing. No amount of dad talking about centrifugal force, or momentum, or gravity, or whatever is needed to ride a bike, is going to actually help you ride a bike.

You learn how to ride a bike…by riding a bike. You’ve got to do your time figuring out balance. You’ve got over overcome your fears. You’ve got to fall and pick yourself back up again. You’ve got to figure out how to brake (or not in my case). You might have a cursory cognitive understanding of all these things. Your mom might even tell you that it’s actually easier when you go faster, and you believe her. But until you experience it for yourself, it simply won’t make any meaningful sense. Riding a bike is learned by experience. And the more you do it, the more confident you will be.

Feeling emotions is like learning to ride a bike. Most, if not all, of the men who come into my office struggle with emotions. They spent their whole life running from them. Some ran because of childhood trauma. Some ran because the culture told them what a ‘real man’ should be. Some ran because their parents were not emotionally available. Some ran because of shame. Regardless of why they ran, they come needing to finally engage their emotions. They need to feel what they feel, and they truly do not know how. Their question, “How do I feel emotions,” is not defensive, but genuine. They have distanced themself from emotions for so long it is a completely foreign world. Learning how to do emotions is essential for so many things! Has your wife ever uttered the words “You just feel so distant” or “It just feels like I can’t reach you”? What she is asking for is your emotional engagement. Have you failed in your commitment never to go back to pornography, only to fail again? At the heart of addiction is a desire to alter mood/emotions. Addiction is a symptom of the problem. The real problem is not dealing with emotions. The antidote is to engage those emotions, rather than run from them. There is even a biblical argument to be made for engaging emotions. Jesus offers us life to the fullest (Jn. 10:10). Emotions are part of that full life that Jesus wants us to live. So, inevitably a client wants me to explain what he needs to do to start feeling his emotions. And I think of teaching him to ride a bike. See, most guys want to understand all the ins and outs of emotions before they commit to doing something so foreign. But no amount of book smarts or explaining will help them. Just like the bike, they must learn through experience.

What to do? Well, I could talk to your brain all day long and it wouldn’t work. You’ve got to do it. So, allow me to give you some experiences you can engage in to foster emotional awareness.

- Connect with your body—Spend time in a quiet place and notice how your body perceives the world. Notice the hum in your ear, the ache in your back, the tinge in your stomach. Notice the weight of your body against the bed. As you engage body work, you move further away from your mind.
  • Sit in big emotions (rather than escape)—If you go to the gym and never lift weights, you don’t get stronger. Many guys are emotional weaklings who need to hit the emotional gym. Rather than running from emotions (though angerizing, self-pity, escapist behaviors, etc), sit in those emotions and savor them. Yes, it will be intense and exhausting, and it will strengthen you emotionally.
  • Give emotions substance—Explore your emotions and get to know them better by giving them physical attributes. Where does sadness live in your body? What is the texture? Color? Shape? Weight? Movement? Get to know where different emotions live in you and how they interact inside of you.
  • Imagination play—Imagination play opens up a different part of the brain than logic…it is closer to emotions. So get on the floor, play cars and dolls with the kids, and you’ll get a twofer of emotions and parenting.
  • Share with others—We learn who we are at our core through relationships with God and others. So, start sharing your emotions with them and learn from them as they respond to you and open their hearts to you as well.

If you do this emotional work well, it will pay off in all areas of life. This can be the tipping point of never going back to your addiction. This can give you the compassion you need to take your parenting to the next level. This can give you empathy for your wife so that she draws closer to you because you feel safer. Emotions are key! Go feel what you feel!

Blog Post by: Nathaniel Gustafson (click here to see more about Nathaniel)

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