As a young teen I came to understand that emotion was a weakness. Or at least the showing of emotion was a weakness. If someone knew you loved something, they could use that knowledge against you whereas, if you were ambivalent about everything, you were armoured. Protected. Emotions on the other side of the spectrum were equally useful to those who might seek to manipulate.
But emotions aren’t as simple as like/dislike. Think about those things that make you happy, whether it’s an object or a personal goal (like being the kind of person people can depend upon). These too can be used against you, can be used as a fulcrum to tilt you toward whatever your would-be manipulator wants to achieve. How about anger? If someone can make you angry about something (politics, religion, gun control, pick your hot-button topic) they can move you to do things you wouldn’t when calm and rational.
I learned this lesson young and held it close. My sister used to say that I didn’t have wrinkles because I’d never had a facial expression (and what are facial expressions but the outward signals out internal emotions?).
I was well armoured against the world and all who might seek to use me. I met a sociopath and found him to be amusing company.
For many years I viewed emotion (or at least the showing of emotion) as a weakness. That’s not to say I never showed emotion; I have a close-knit group of friends with whom I can share anything. Beyond that, people rarely knew what was going on inside.
And then I got married. And then I had a child. My world changed.
I need for my wife and daughter to understand how much I love them; there must be no doubt in their minds. To aim for anything less would make me a failure as a husband and a father.
If you’ve read Beyond Redemption you will (maybe) have noted that this is a theme in the novel. It’s not the main one, but it’s in there. I wonder how people interpret the book. Do they take my mad ramblings at face value, or are they looking deeper?
Do some people read it and walk away thinking yes, all communication is manipulation?
Because it isn’t.
Do they think yeah, emotions are the fulcrum upon which others will tilt me to their purpose?
Because it is…if you let them.
Yes, your emotions can be a weakness if you let people use them against you. But that’s the part I missed for so many years: If I let people manipulate me in that way, I am as much to blame as they. Your emotional reaction to any given situation or stimuli may not be a choice–though I’d argue that it might be–but how you react afterwards definitely is.
The last half dozen years have taught me a new lesson:
Emotions are not a weakness. Being afraid to show them is.