I've Gotta Tell You What I'm Feeling Inside
February 24, 2014 6:09 AM   Subscribe

Talking about one's feelings helps establish intimacy and nurture understanding in various relationships, but some people aren't big talkers. For those who keep their inner thoughts to themselves, what does their interpersonal connectedness look like? Seeking resources to better my understanding of this personal/emotional style or type.

My main question is a call for essays, books, movies, anecdote, or anything that addresses the idea that some people do not talk about their feelings with others, and how do such people establish connections? My secondary question is am I thinking about this matter wrong?

Perhaps as a function of background, culture, age, or other factors, some people seem to wear a "poker face" and choose not to share their emotions. So, how do they form meaningful relationships? Or, do they? Or do I need to frame this differently in my mind (eg relationships aren't about emotional intimacy...?)
posted by little_dog_laughing to Human Relations (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
There are a variety of reasons people might not talk about their feelings. Maybe they obey more strict display rules. This still allows rich interaction, but there's less emotional data explicitly transmitted and more emotional data reconstructed by the receiver (cf. Ask vs. Guess). Or maybe they've gotten used to handling things on their own, and they measure the meaning of their relationships with other criteria (e.g. loyalty/reliability).
posted by a snickering nuthatch at 6:20 AM on February 24, 2014

Some people talk things out to death. Others are less expressive of their emotions

There is an assumption throughout your question that talking is the only manner in which people express their emotions.

Is your question about expression or about talking? They are not synonymous.
posted by vacapinta at 6:22 AM on February 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

I had my eyes opened to the varieties of interpersonal connectedness when a varied group of friends and acquaintances played what they called "the question game" (all it is is each person asks a question, and everyone takes a turn answering it); somebody asked the question, "What makes you feel closer to someone, and what makes you feel appreciated?"

The variety of answers was really interesting -- people felt closer by helping others with tasks, or inviting others to their home, or sharing something about themselves, or hearing someone share something about themselves, or being asked for advice -- all kinds of stuff! Same thing for the appreciation question. Since they were such direct questions, even the closed-off friends answered them after some thought. If you have people you can ask, I recommend it!
posted by Pwoink at 9:24 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Most characters (male ones, at least) in most Westerns express their feelings by doing rather than talking. They express caring in a number of ways - shooting a bad guy, or undertaking a risky journey to get a thing or a person for someone in need, they stand up to the Powers That Be on behalf of someone who can't, etc. It's been a long time since I saw it, but I think the movie True Grit (the original, not the remake) is all about this.
posted by rtha at 10:02 AM on February 24, 2014

So, how do they form meaningful relationships? Or, do they?

Of course they do!

Talking isn't necessarily connecting. People can overshare their life story and you don't feel one iota connected to them as a result.

People leak information all the time, you just need to learn their language. My guy is a man of little words sometimes, and then I see his body tense up and his breathing change and I know he's thinking about something stressful. So I ask "hey what's up?" and if he doesn't say anything, I still give him a back rub or crack him a beer.

So... you connect by sensing and DOING for the other person.

Watch them in the kitchen. They're working on a sautee. They've just added some new vegetables and suddenly they're looking around themselves. Searching. Hmm... maybe they're looking for a spoon? So hand them a spoon. Thanks! And they stir the sautee, and life goes on.

I think that is intimacy on a whole different level. It is not fact-based intimacy, it is immediate intimacy, it is a different kind of closeness. Someone is there with you, in that moment, sharing who you are.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:07 AM on February 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

The whole talking about feelings to establish intimacy is by no means a universal cultural practice or value. Those of us who don't practice it, even within a culture where it is considered something of a norm, form bonds by:

1. Having shared experiences.
2. Surviving adverse circumstances (stoically) while in the company of others (bonding via adversity).
3. Talking about subjects outside our inner world -- expressing opinions on things going on in the outside world.
4. Listening while others express their feelings, and asking questions.

I don't bond by sharing my feelings, but the fact that other people feel comfortable sharing theirs with me creates that sense of bond (really, most people want to be heard rather than listen, so they don't even notice that I haven't emoted at length).
posted by nacho fries at 10:08 AM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's a bit cheesy, but you might want to check out the 5 love languages information:


Only one of them - Words of Affirmation - is verbal. My husband doesn't talk much, and doesn't share much about himself, but he does a lot for people he loves (so, his language in this case would be acts of service). He scrapes the ice off my car every morning. He makes me tea and soup when I'm sick. When he got a new laptop, he completely rebuilt his old one to give it to my Dad, so my Dad could surf the web out on his patio. He takes my brother bowling. He spent an entire weekend showing his mom how to use her new Kindle Fire, and goes home to help his Dad do chores on their 10 acre property. Certainly he spends time with his family and friends, and maybe they don't know much about his inner workings, but they know him as a kind person who will listen non-judgementally about just about anything, and who will help someone out if he can. He doesn't seem to lack for meaningful relationships.

It would probably be useful to rephrase your question from, "talking = emotional intimacy, so do quiet people have emotionally intimate relationships?" to "What are the different ways people express emotional intimacy?"
posted by RogueTech at 12:07 PM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I want to mark all the answers as best. Each one thoughtful and helpful. rtha, I saw the original True Grit, and I see what you and the above commenters mean about talking not being necessary for intimacy or expression of feelings. The display rules that Jpfed mentions us an interesting and cool angle. The answers given in the question game Pwoink referenced of course make sense. I see the Five Love Languages and Ask v. Guess culture mentioned on this site quite a lot-- Thank you RogueTech and rtha. It's hard for me to reconcile what I know intellectually, I guess, with how I feel on this matter, but the comments above point me in the right direction and I find the anecdotes comforting because, hey, I'm not alone on this. (Other people have experienced something that to me is a struggle :)) St. Peepsburg, your comments are always among my favorites! And, nacho fries, for being someone who doesn't talk about feelings and answering my question, thank you! (My original question was deleted and reworked so while vacapinta has a good point, it now reads just slightly out of context.

Thanks. Further thoughts are always welcome.
posted by little_dog_laughing at 3:48 AM on February 25, 2014

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