How to Share Feelings with Other Human Beings: A Guide

by The Concessionist


The Concessionist gives advice each weekend about the sordid choices of real life. Trouble? Write today.

Hi Concessionist,

I grew up in a family where most things were Never Discussed, like The Quiet Man except everyone’s John Wayne. Now that I’m 30 bottling up emotions and never talking about how I feel is pretty much all I know how to do, but of course I’m pretty aware that it’s not healthy or good or useful.

I… think… the normal healthy thing to do is have friends who you can talk to when you’re depressed or having a problem or needing to vent, but it’s impossible for me. I guess on some level I fear judgment and/or betrayal, but mostly I feel like once I uncork the bottle everything’s going to come out and it’ll be just too much to dump on one person. Especially someone who’s a “friend” in the sense that I am more than happy to listen to them but always get really evasive when talking about my own stuff.

I used to see a therapist, but I even lied to her about some things, and she just kind of became my dumping ground for “opening up;” it never made me any better at talking to other people. And because of the bottling and the pushing down I only really want to talk when things are pretty bad.

So…how do I start opening up to people? How do I answer “How are you doing?” with something between “I’m fine” and “HERE IS EVERY PROBLEM THAT HAS KEPT ME UP AT NIGHT FOR THE LAST YEAR I AM SO LONELY”? I’m starting to realize I’m never going to have a real friendship if I keep everyone at arm’s length. Well, unless I build a chatbot, which suddenly seems like a great idea.



Dear Chatty,

I also hate talking to other people about myself. I don’t really do it that often.

At first, I actually… couldn’t. So first, we have to learn. I can’t stress enough the value of impersonation. First I had to identify human emotions by observing them in others and matching them up. It was like “OH those are PANTS, I also have PANTS,” except the pants were tears. WHAT LIQUID IS THIS ON FACE???

And then I watched people talk about these feelings with each other. Then, like that nice lady in Species, I hopped into action. Now I’m so used to pretending I’m not even sure if I’m pretending or not! SOLVED.

I realize that doesn’t make me sound great but I no longer care.

You’re gonna be fine. Not everyone is supposed to be an emotional barfer. But you do wanna get some practice in, and you do want people to know that you’re actually alive on the inside. You’re like one of those tiny glass closed water ecosystems. They need the right amount of darkness and sunlight, or else the ecosystem goes haywire and gets all moldy, or turns into a desert. YOU HAVE TO KEEP THE TINY BRINE SHRIMP INSIDE YOU ALIVE.

Stop rattling your shame cage. Some of us are private. Some of us are shy. Some of us are introverts. And lots of us are making up for all those people who take up too much space. I hate long-talkers, and narcissists, and people who narrate the psychodrama of themselves endlessly. I mean, it might be useful for some of them, but it’s overall just got to be exhausting right? And because I’m one of THOSE people, I feel them impinging on my space, and sucking all the air out of the room.

And so I overcompensate, and I’m like “YUP I’M FINE ALL GOOD HERE DID YOU WATCH ‘THE AMERICANS.’”

But! Like you, I also recognized I was 1. giving nothing to other people and also 2. not really helping people know me in case some shit goes down and then I’ll really need them but they won’t be there because they’re like BUT BORG, YOU ARE FINE, YOU ARE MACHINE. So I have done enough sharing to know that this — “once I uncork the bottle everything’s going to come out and it’ll be just too much to dump on one person,” which is one of those GREAT wonderful informative sentences — absolutely doesn’t exist.

In therapy (lol don’t lie to your therapists people!!!) they tell you to visualize this idea. Let’s see, you’re having a sandwich with a friend outside (it’s not fucking winter any more in my visualization!) in midtown, say on a nice bench, and your friend is all “So hey did you ever ask out that person you liked???” and then you open your mouth to start talking about it and you CAN’T STOP and it’s all like BATS FLYING OUT OF SCARY CAVE FOREVER.

So…. that doesn’t happen. It’s never happened to anyone. This is often how people describe anger. Like “but if I get angry I’ll turn into the Incredible Hulk and I’ll NEVER STOP.” That’s just a miscasting of how afraid you are of other people’s anger, and how afraid you are of expressing your own. Sometimes also people describe sadness like this. Like there’s some infinite well of sadness and if they tap a bit of it, OMG EVERYONE DROWNS. Just doesn’t happen. Does not exist. Never happened to anyone. Total self-involved fabrication, in fact. It’s so self-aggrandizing!

Here is one thing that does happen though! Friends who don’t ever say anything about themselves get iced as shitty friends.

But this is not a big deal. HERE’S HOW.

You start small! Pick one sentence to say about a recent event and say it to one friend that you actually like while you are with them. (I mean also, you have to make sure you’re trying to be friends with good people? Are you sure? Would you even know?)

BONUS PRO TIP: You can actually do this first over IM or email. Why not try experimenting with letting people know about your feelings at a distance? You can work your way up later.

So you do some homework. Prepare for a “how was your weekend” question with a little morsel. Like, “Oh, I talked to my mom, and she was a total beast.” Add something that indicates your human emotion along with that. “She makes me so mad!” Period. Or like “I love her but OMG.” The end. “That’s parents though AM I RIGHT! How are you?”

Or like “I met a cute human being and might ask them out, eeee!” And then, you can stop. It’s okay if it feels awkward! It probably is.

Later you can work your way up to actual feelings. Heh. And expressing those IRL. It’ll be fine! It’ll take some time. Don’t beat yourself up.

Okay bye, I’m going to go lay in bed for a while because I’m sad. Then I’m going to go to yoga because I’m sad. See how easy that was? So relatable! So human. Such a perfect simulacrum. After yoga I guess I’ll come home and plug myself into my recharging station till I feel better.

The Concessionist is an adult human in New York City who is somewhat worn down and willing to make a good number of sacrifices for a peaceful life. Is it decision fatigue? Or just ennui? That’s probably a question for a psychiatrist. Anything else, ask me.