The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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My friend has a fear of expressing emotion.











































(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


No Emotions

My friend has a fear of expressing emotion

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner: Gary, you have a question about emotions?


Gary: Yes.


Dr. Kenner: What's the question?


Gary: I have actually a friend that is 54 years old. He is a fanatic about exercise, about what he eats, organic foods that he eats, sleeping habits and he is almost not emotional about anything. He has trouble expressing emotions. He told me that he's bisexual, so his girlfriends have told him he's unemotional, his boyfriends have told him he's unemotional and he says that there was some phobia that was listed as that. I was trying to help him find some solutions for this, but I can't find a name of that particular phobia of not expressing emotion.


Dr. Kenner: Dr. David Burns, who has written many books, including his early one The Feeling Good Handbook, he talks about emoto-phobia, fear of expressing emotions, fear of owning your own emotions. The problem is, when you try to deaden the bad emotions, typically people deaden emotions when they're afraid of guilt or anger or fear or the negative emotions that boil up. They feel like emotions are bad things. But when you deaden the bad emotions, you deaden them all. So you become like a flat line. If it were a heartbeat, it's not pumping up and down and that's not good. It's flat. You're not breathing life. Emotions pertain to values. Meaning, when you think of the things you love in life, think of your kids or a good friend or somebody in your life, a partner that you love, or activities, hobbies you love to do or your career - when you think of the things that matter most to you in your life and without your life would feel like it's got an empty hole in it, it moves you. You feel emotions. And he's not allowing himself to breathe the content of life, the goodies in life, the values. Then he does what - and I can ask you some more questions too - but you're saying he's taking actions. Typically, when you picture someone who exercises or takes care of their sleeping and eating habits, what do you picture?


Gary: Someone that is complete and cares about themselves and takes good care of themselves.


Dr. Kenner: And I also have an image that comes to my mind of somebody who is living and breathing life, who is laughing, who is crying when they need to cry.


Gary: This individual never does that.


Dr. Kenner: So I don't know, he may be using the exercise -


Gary: As an outlet?


Dr. Kenner: As just a way to escape thinking. People do that at work.


Gary: He rides his bike like 30 miles a day and if he doesn't ride, he has to go to the gym and exercise for three hours.


Dr. Kenner: Oh, that almost sounds a little OCD going on there, the "have to." I mean, it's wonderful - three hours a day?


Gary: Three hours a day.


Dr. Kenner: Now I'm raising my eyes, but my own son is a ballroom dancer, so he's out bike riding early in the morning at 5:30, but he's doing it for his career. 


Gary: What is OCD?


Dr. Kenner: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, where you have some negative thoughts and you don't want them to surface. You have, "Oh my God, what if?" thoughts.


Gary: If he's got something he's got to face, like his mother is getting older and he needs to get power of attorney to help her, he does not want to face that responsibility. He shucks and shuns any type of confrontation of reality of urgency. He can't make a decision. He always says this phrase of, "Let's just see how it works out," or, "We'll tackle that later and we'll see how that works out."


Dr. Kenner: Which must be very frustrating for you if he's a good buddy?


Gary: It is frustrating. It's getting to the point of where it's becoming dangerous because he can't make a decision. I mean, he can't even make a decision on what he wants to eat sometimes or does he want to eat sometimes? Or does he want to go to the park? He says, "I don't know."


Dr. Kenner: Can you hear your own emotion in evaluating? It's frustrating with him, right?


Gary: It's very frustrating to try to live with that person when they are in a constant state of unrest and flux that they can't - they have no sense of purpose to everyday. It's just like, whatever randomly happens is what he'll accept as happening, and he can't make any decisions to have any goals or any achievements because that puts too much pressure on it. Like if he travels, which he travels every month to see his mother for a week, you can ask him, "Are you going to be gone for three days or three weeks or a week or two weeks?" He says, "I don't know until I get there." And that's his candid answer. "I don't know until I see what's going to happen."


Dr. Kenner: Here's the problem. Every single person who is not defective, brain dead or something, every single person has to make hundreds of choices every day. How you brush your teeth, when you go to work, hundreds of choices.


Gary: He hates all that.


Dr. Kenner: He hates the nature of his mind, that he has [inaudible 00:06:45], that he has free will. And you have no choice that you have to choose, but he can make myself into what looks like a deterministic being, where he fatalistically floats through life and whatever happens, happens. Shame on him. Because what he needs to do - and when I say shame on him - psychology is causal. He is the first victim. He is suffering, because the alternative is he needs to face whatever has caused him to adopt that coping strategy. That's what it's called in cognitive therapy, that deadening. He needs to face those issues in therapy, because the psychology is causal. I will guarantee you that there is some big issue that would make sense of why he's coping as he did from childhood?


Gary: His father died in a car accident when he was about third grade.


Dr. Kenner: So something like that, if he is still frozen in that state, mentally frozen and he's just saying whatever happens, happens, because you can die the next day - I don't know what his thoughts are - then if he wants to live his life, he's going to need to go through the grief. He's going to need to work with a really good cognitive therapist. You can go to my website,, is the cognitive therapy website, and you want to find a good cognitive therapist. If he wants that. Here's the second piece. You're living with him. You choose who gets into your close circle, what cognitive therapists call an intimacy circle. Who gets in close? If you're living with someone who brings you chronic frustration, you want to figure out, do you want them as close as that? Or do you want them a little further out? If he's a partner of yours, then you may want to help him and give him some suggestions - which I think is what you're trying to do - and then see if you can have a new partner. If he will work on his problems and the two of you can become closer. Listen, thank you so much for your call.


Gary: Thank you so much.


Movie clip 


Male: Look at history. Everything we have, every great achievement, has come from the independent work of some independent mind. Every horror and destruction came from attempts to force men into a herd of brainless, soul-less robots, without personal rights, without personal ambition.


Dr. Kenner: That is from the Fountainhead. Think of what's going on culturally today - are we encouraged to pick ourselves up by the boot straps or are we encouraged to be each other's brother's keeper, neighbor's keeper, bad family member's keeper, stranger's keeper? Are we encouraged to live everybody else's lives but our own? You want to take a close look at that and I highly recommend The Fountainhead. It's one of my favorite books. It helped me turn my life around from somebody that didn't understand the world and I went to Brown University and I was trying to make sense of things on a fundamental level. Boy, when I read Ayn Rand's books The Fountainhead and then Atlas Shrugged, I went back and got my PhD and gave myself a life and more importantly, I have a rational, philosophical foundation to my life. A rational one. Not mystical, not no foundation at all or a mish-mosh from your childhood, but a rational one.