The Tin Man



“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18NIV

Trying to understand your emotions—or lack of them—will help you appreciate yourself and others. © Dynamic Graphics

Sometimes my biggest obstacle is understanding women. And I’m a woman.

I see women stream tears at times when they are talking about a mammogram which is worrisome, or a grown child who is experimenting with drugs, or a marriage that is sinking into oblivion. I want to emote. I watch other women do it. I note the sympathetic eyes and comforting hugs and soothing words of women toward other women in real life and on talk shows, and yet when I’m confronted with a situation that requires me to comfort someone, I morph into the proverbial deer in the headlights: I just stand, stunned, arms at my side, frozen. Yet, if my brain is functioning enough to recognize I must do something—I must reach out—then, I do so like R2D2 in Star Wars—like a robot.

I’m not autistic. I don’t suffer from Asperger’s. I feel deeply, but for whatever reason I sometimes have trouble showing it. I have sobbed at funerals. But other times, even when moved, I don’t display the right affect. I’ll smile inappropriately.

Nevertheless, I wish to appear as a sympathetic human. I care, but I’m stiff. Do you feel this way?

My daughter confided she didn’t think she was normal because she didn’t cry at movies other girls bawled at, and she didn’t get hurt by a boy’s rejection the way other girls do, and in general she didn’t react the way her friends did to misfortune. I sat there not knowing exactly what to say or how to assuage her fear of being inadequate in the emotional department. Finally, I awkwardly hugged her and said, “Honey, I’m sorry. It’s genetic. Blame me.”

Not that I want to be a “drama queen” who makes life an utter Hades and her children tip-toe around her so as not to upset the emotional apple cart. But neither do I want to have the emotional IQ of the Terminator. I don’t have too much testosterone coursing through my veins. I like poetry, and I was an English major so I know how to intuit!

Yet, yet, yet … I lack the ability to emote.

The Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz” lacked a heart, or so he thought. I am The Tin Man.

When I am around women and men discussing some topic at a party, I understand the male’s point of view and often deem the women’s perspective self-absorbed. I hide this fact. I don’t want my sisters to realize I’m an alien species; or a traitor.

In ways, my natural stoniness is helpful. A friend of mine said she felt so anxious after she’d submitted a story to an anthology, she felt like throwing up. Not me. I can get rejected a thousand times, and it doesn’t ding my ego.

Nonetheless, I do feel sensitive toward others’ plights. Reading literature makes a person more keenly aware of the human condition, and I’ve studied the classics; however, I don’t exhibit empathy by my facial expressions, tone of voice or gestures. I’ve contemplated acting lessons so I can learn to gesticulate in a manner appropriate to the scene unfurling before me.

I have friends. My weakness at not being huggy-feely hasn’t hurt my forming friendships. My problem is I sense I’m excluded from participating in a big part of human interaction—the mimicry of emotions. When I observe folks embrace in a genuine expression of love and happiness, I feel shortchanged by my genes and upbringing because I never learned how to do this growing up. My family didn’t hug much, didn’t express their love in kisses or Hallmark cards, and when they, on a rare occasion, did display an iota of affection toward each other, it was self-conscious. With my husband’s family the same holds true.

Most folks might scoff at my dilemma and conclude my onus not a huge obstacle and even declare for certain professions it’s good to keep a distance. But when I see the tremendous humanity and caring some people show toward others, I feel I’m lacking a human characteristic I should have, one that would make me feel I belonged to the human race. These sweet interactions with others make life more tender and enjoyable. I look in the mirror and behold Judge Judy when I’d rather emulate my little Dachshund. Her adoring eyes, eager tail wagging and bounteous licks demonstrate sympathetic bonding.

Is it an obstacle to overcome, this not knowing how to emote like Oprah? I only know when I see women emotionally connecting to other women, I experience a twang of uncertainty and pity for myself. Consequently, I wish I could develop this intuitive sensitivity.

So, my take-away message from trying to understand myself is this: I recognize my flaw and forgive myself for it. I try to show I care in ways other than streaming tears, a wrinkled forehead and a quivering lip. If it’s gauche and unnatural for me to massage someone’s hunched up shoulders, or pat someone on her bowed head, or take my hankie to wipe away tears, maybe I can express my empathy by keeping her company in a time of need, or sending notes and flowers and fruit, or accomplishing some task or chore she needs done. There’s a slew of ways a person can reveal she cares even if she lacks the sympathetic demeanor and the cuddly clasp. Perhaps by a considerate action she can show that she feels deeply and her heart’s not made of granite although her mien reminds one of the “Old Man of the Mountain” stone formations.

The Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz” lacked a heart, or so he thought. I am The Tin Man.

ERIKA HOFFMAN, from North Carolina, writes inspirational essays and stories. Often her pieces appear in “The Chicken Soup for the Soul” series.


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