THE HIGH-PERFORMERS' PERSPECTIVE
There is a general acceptance in psychology around the notion that one should NOT “bottle up emotions”. In plain English this means that it is believed a person should be able to express verbally (or otherwise) their feelings in order to process them in a healthy way.
Well, that's great, BUT NOT ONLY PSYCHOLOGISTS - SOCIETY SUGGESTS we must speak about the important aspects of our lives because in conversation, supposedly, we will find solace, a better understanding or a different point of view. We’ll become perhaps more conscious and hence, reduce the emotional strain that we might be experiencing. Finally, and in turn, we’ll be living a heathier life with better relations to others.
As coaches and psychology consultants, as well as people who have been on the receiving end of those practices, we are far from disputing the value of speaking about our thoughts, feelings and emotional states. There is tremendous potent in verbalising and structuring them in new ways that support our overall ability to live the life we want.
HOWEVER, the massive surge of publications that talk about the perceived need of expressing emotions and the social media platforms as means to promote it, have become a double-edge sword! (to say the least)...
465 MILLION results come out when we search for “talk about your feelings” on Google; 229 MILLION hits pop out for “express your thoughts”; 217 MILLION on “how to express your feelings in words”; 243 MILLION in regards to “be vulnerable”…
Just for comparison, other important topics like “gender inequality” for example generate ONLY 104 million!
On one side, this is amazing, BUT it has also given a free reign to us to EXPECT & DEMAND that expression from everyone!
We’ve added one more “MUST HAVE QUALITY” to the IMAGE of what a great person should be like and we took for granted the idea that “we must NOT bottle it up” under any circumstances, without making the distinction between resilience, consious choice and inability to share emotions.
To top it off, there is also a traditional gender differentiation existing with men being more encouraged to “keep it within”, while women are still expected to “share their emotions” more.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER? Think of the world of high-performers. You might be one or leading teams of such people, or both. Those are the ambitious, driven, often self-sufficient in many (if not all) areas of their lives, successful, eager and always hungry for development people, whose mission in life can be generalised and summed up as: “to become a better version of myself” while doing all else.
The social trend that talks about “share your emotions and vulnerability” becomes an expectation to them and from themselves.
They’ve worked hard on becoming strong individuals who are resilient, level-headed and calm under stressful circumstances. Now, they have to be that AND demonstrate (endearing) behaviours of vulnerability to satisfy the hunger for “human touch” that the world talks about.
Instead of verbalising emotions and thoughts in order to restructure them in beneficial ways or to gain a new perspective, it has shifted to - doing so in order to appear as someone others would like more.
An issue, much more prevalent for female high-performers, but also existing in general.
Nicole is a person who runs her own business and is involved in multiple additional initiatives as an entrepreneur outside of that too. To be where she is today, she has developed some much needed resilience, self-regulation and communication strategies. Some of Nicole’s learnt behaviours include traits like - not getting easily discouraged, stressed or derailed by circumstances. She keeps her emotions under check and prefers being “less vulnerable” not out of fear, but out of evident necessity. Fluctuating emotions in her day to day life are not present much and that helps her make decisions well and ultimately move into the direction of her aspirations.
In today’s context, however, her skills and traits become subject to questioning at best and judgement at worst. People have become entitled to demand “sharing of emotions and vulnerable behaviour” in order to give their “blessing of likability”.
Many perceive the lack of strong communication about emotions or intimate thoughts as “fakeness”. Nicole has become a person who “is most certainly bottling up emotions” based on the trend of expecting expression in a certain way rather than seeing her resilience and successful management of emotions.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
High-performers internalise these cases of scrutiny and translate that as ‘one more expectation on their plate’ which is not adding value to them but is dedicated to pleasing others.
“Be VULNERABLE”, “Be AUTHENTIC”, “Be OPEN”, “Be HONEST”, “Be HUMAN”, “Be RELATABLE” are only some of the ways in which pressure actually manifests in the social arena...
For people like myself, who have the privilege to work with such individuals, it has become part of our job to pull back the breaks and redefine why sharing emotions and thoughts is beneficial, when and with whom.
Expression isn’t supposed to be dedicated to the pleasing of others – be it clients, followers, colleagues, or partners.
EXPRESSION of emotions and thoughts is a way to share yourself WHEN there is reciprocity, listening, respect and acceptance.
Vulnerability isn’t a tactic, despite the fact that it may be used as one and could appear so on the surface.
So, if you are considering yourself a high-performer and you’ve been thinking about this whole “should I or should I not try to be more vulnerable and sharing my emotions” – there are many facets you may want to take into account BUT the first and most important question should be:
"IF I DID, WHO WOULD I BE DOING IT FOR?"
The ILC team