While I’ve never lived in another country, I have lived for long periods in the Midwest and California. As I moved from one region to another, I felt a seismic shift between two cultures that seemed radically different in their approach to emotions. Were my encounters atypical? Perhaps. Still, as I contemplate my 20-year study of the “inner life,” I’m fascinated by the differences I found—especially regarding anger.
At 26, I left the Midwest (and the Catholic Church) and moved to California. I began a 10-year odyssey, exploring theatre arts, psychology, and “consciousness studies” in Berkeley, San Francisco, and other mind-bending communities. I was surrounded by groups who explored their emotions without dodging the great taboo—anger. With talented professionals and earnest friends, I intrepidly began to explore my own inner minefield--sore spots, wounds, (complexes for the Freudian/Jungians out there) and springs of anger.
When I returned to the Midwest I, felt immediately disoriented. My family and friends seemed to have a radically different set of norms. While I had painstakingly learned to identify my feelings and gently admit them to others—now even the slightest acknowledgement of anger seemed to threaten my companions. All my hard-won inner knowledge and commitment to honest communication was suddenly destroying a fragile emotional ecosystem I no longer understood (or appreciated).
I’ve been back in the Midwest for 12 years now, longer than the time I spent in exotic California. I continue to explore my own inner landscape and the taboo of anger. In my workshops, it seems to be the emotion that most haunts my participants, especially the women. When I discovered the field of emotional intelligence, I was grateful for its validation of my own beliefs—that anger was a necessary emotion that should be examined, not repressed.
Have you experienced cultural differences regarding comfort with different emotions?