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I Feel Like… by Jessica Shattuck for Babble.com.

I Feel Like . . .

We should stop talking about feelings so much.

by Jessica Shattuck

October 13, 2009

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A friend of mine picked up her five-year-old son from kindergarten the other day and arrived to find the class bully throwing his shoes at the bookshelf in a fit of anger. “Stop doing that, Carson,” his mom was pleading. “When you do that, it makes me feel like you don’t care about me.” Carson was apparently undeterred.

Wow – later, she and I laughed about this. That kid is going to spend years on some therapist’s couch. The weird illogic her particular Jedi mind-trick of pop psychology made it almost impossible to unpack (The equation of me with the bookshelf? The meaning of “care” to a five-year-old?). There was something so depressing about the passivity of the plea, something so desperate about the invoking of her own fragile ego as a reason the kid should behave.

It gave me one of those smug, moments of self-congratulation (I may be a model of inconsistency when it comes to bedtime and mid-night wake-ups, but at least I don’t threaten my children with my own hurt feelings) that always come back to bite you.

Sure enough, I began to notice my five-year-old whining about “feeling like” she just needed something sweet (never mind whether it was time for desert or five-thirty in the morning), or “feeling like” she would never, ever fall asleep. I recognized that, she was, not infrequently, having tantrums involving the accusation that I just didn’t understand “her feelings” (that, for instance, she didn’t like time outs, or that it made her furious to be told we were not going to watch a movie tonight).

This is not to say that I was suddenly flooded with recovered memories of emotionally blackmailing my children, but I did start to think about how often I bring up “feelings” (my own, my kids’, their friends, the dog next door’s . . . ). I did start to think about how often I, like so many women of my age, begin way too many sentences with the unnecessary declaration (or caveat, depending on how you see it) of “I feel like…”.

“I feel like my kids are driving me crazy” or “I feel like we need raised garden beds if we’re going to plant veggies.” At least half the time the phrase is totally unnecessary. Why not just my kids are driving me crazy? Or I need raised beds in the garden – when there’s really nothing subjective about it.

It’s just a pattern of speech of course, like adding “like” to so many sentences. But it is also a reflection of a sort of generational uber-attention to feelings. The awareness of what we feel is prominent enough to shape the idiomatic pattern of our speech.

Like so many thirty-somethings I know, I grew up on the doctrines of Sesame Street (remember Gordon’s heart-felt exhortation to “Let Your Feelings Show?”) and Free To Be You and Me (which made sure we knew “It’s All Right to Cry” practically before we knew how to walk). Our parents, those children of The Greatest Generation – whose own feelings were steadily and consistently shut down by their stoic war veteran fathers and questing-for-perfection 1950s moms – went all out to make sure their kids had the vocabulary, the awareness and the comfort to express their feelings and be emotionally sensitive beings. Maybe it is only logical that, consciously or not, we perpetuate the trend.

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