For an unemotional introvert like me, baring emotions can be rough. I kinda hate it. I am not alone. At least, I have several TV characters to keep me company.
Chuck and en garde
Sarah Walker is a woman of many secrets, and for good reason. The Chuck heroine’s complicated upbringing and CIA training has formed her into a deadly, unemotional, and guarded secret agent.
Before she meets Chuck (a typical nerd working at a Buy More), she rarely thinks about life beyond her next mission. And after they first meet, her history, background, and emotions are kept closely guarded. She doesn’t even tell him her real name.
As Chuck and Sarah get closer and realize they have feelings for each other, Chuck gets more emotional and Sarah gets more cold and distant. Though she is much more sympathetic to Chuck’s plight than her partner Casey is, it is obvious that she is afraid of her growing feelings for him.It might seem like you are being strong by never letting your guard down, to never admit to a friend or even to God that you need someone to carry you for a while, to remain cold and distant, but in reality it is vulnerability that requires more guts.
In “Chuck Versus the Three Words,” when Sarah is trying to train Chuck to be a spy, she tells him, “You need to learn to ignore your emotions. Spies do not have feelings. Feelings get you killed. You need to learn to bury them in a place deep inside.”
I know exactly how Sarah feels. Well, maybe not exactly since I’ve never been a spy (or if I have, I certainly wouldn’t admit it here. Shhh.). But I understand.
I experienced both ends of the emotional spectrum growing up via members of my family. I had a couple extremely unemotional family members, who kept their feelings buried deep inside, and a couple extremely emotional ones, who let out their pent-up feelings in outbursts of anger and shouting matches.
As a quiet introvert myself, I decided the latter didn’t look healthy or fun, and I would join the ranks of the stoic flag holders in my family. I came to believe that letting people know how I felt was a weakness; it made me feel vulnerable and I didn’t like that feeling. Crying in front of someone was an absolute no-no. If you loved someone, you didn’t tell them that; and you especially didn’t tell a guy you had feelings for him. That was just giving them the opportunity to hurt you.
These are the same sentiments that Sarah Walker has been living by. But they don’t work for her; it’s obvious she wants something more when she pulls Chuck into a kiss during a moment she believes they are about to die. And holding in his feelings certainly doesn’t work for Chuck. His bottled-up emotions interfere with his ability to focus and access the spy database (called the Intersect) that has been uploaded to his brain. Chuck is at his best when he has opened up to Sarah and is able to talk through how he feels.
Guarding your emotions might protect you from feeling pain, yes—but building that wall so closely around yourself also prevents the healing of past hurts. As Sarah gradually opens up and lets herself be vulnerable with Chuck, she finds she is given the strength to deal with her emotions about Bryce (her ex-boyfriend and former partner), her childhood experiences of conning with her father, and other past traumas.
By being vulnerable, she finds peace. By being weak, she is strong.
Chuck: Sarah, you don’t get it. You and Casey were right, okay. I’m… I’m a lemon. I don’t work. My emotions just mess everything up.
Sarah: No. Chuck, listen. I was wrong… I have worked with the best spies in the world. And you know what?
Chuck: They’re on their way here to save us?
Sarah: None of them can do what you can do.
(Scene from “Chuck Versus the Pink Slip)
Vulnerability is something necessary for creating strong relationships. After I spent my middle school and high school years keeping my feelings closely guarded, I gradually learned that my true friends were those who didn’t think less of me for showing weakness. I also learned that when I was struggling with something emotionally, it was, in fact, easier to deal with when I leaned on others for support.
And I realized that God was asking me to be this vulnerable with Him too.
You see God asking His servants to be vulnerable all the time. David, the one who faced Goliath with nothing but a stone in a slingshot, is a prime example of this. We read about him reaching out to God in the Psalms in fear, despair, and brokenness many times: “A broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
Mary also shows vulnerability when she washes Jesus’ feet with perfume at a dinner party in front of many esteemed guests and then wipes His feet with her hair (John 12). I imagine she knew she wasn’t even worthy to wash the feet of her God, but she did it anyway, in full view of those who would scorn her for it.
Sherlock and Being Human
Another character known for his lack of emotions (as he is a high-functioning sociopath) is Sherlock Holmes from BBC’s Sherlock. He doesn’t feel emotions the same way other people do, and he probably wouldn’t be so good at solving mysteries bloodied with crime and mangled bodies if he did.
Sherlock considers things like love and emotion to be weakness, and the show actually delves into those themes quite often, focusing on the relationship between Sherlock and Watson.
You can’t explain to a sociopath why emotions are important. They won’t get it. These are the type of people who will just shut down if you try to force them to open up. Where Sherlock is concerned, we’re talking about a man who shouts at old ladies and tells children that Heaven isn’t real. We’re talking about someone who has subjected his best friend to weird tests, ditched him plenty of times, ruined dates, and convinced him he was dead. Sherlock appears to be mostly made of logic and cold reason, and logic says emotions get in the way.
It’s a heartwarming moment, then, when his speech at Watson’s wedding (at first a monologue about reason, logic, and the doom of the world) turns into an observation about how Watson has accepted him for who he is and how important Watson is to him. Though the speech is self-indulgent and insulting to the audience at times, it turns into one of the few glimpses of Sherlock’s emotions that we ever get to see:
“I never expected to be anybody’s best friend. Certainly not the best friend of the bravest, kindest, and wisest human being I have ever had the good fortune of knowing. John, I am a ridiculous man, redeemed only by the warmth and constancy of your friendship.”
—Sherlock, Scene from “The Sign of Three”
It’s this moment of insight into Sherlock’s psyche—where we see him actually connect the dots of how Watson makes him a better person—that makes him human.
I can assume that the pressure to hold emotions in is experienced at least tenfold by men. North American masculinity is clear about men being strong, stable, and unemotional. The pressure to joke or cover up how they’re really feeling must be immense.
Watson, as a doctor and a former soldier, is a prime example of this throughout most of Sherlock. He’s usually calm and collected, even when examining bodies and dealing with Sherlock’s eccentricities. When Moriarty straps a bomb to him, he barely blinks an eye.
Seeing him crack after Sherlock’s “death” is, therefore, a shock of heartbreak. He gives a painful speech to Sherlock’s grave, telling him things he never got to say to his face. Seeing Watson stubbornly refuse to believe Sherlock is a traitor, even when Sherlock told him so himself, is witnessing a moment of true brotherly love, a love that can only be witnessed through the revealing of incredible emotion and vulnerability.
C. S. Lewis writes in The Four Loves:
“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
To love is to be vulnerable.
You can’t be in a true relationship, you can’t really love, without opening yourself up to the option of getting hurt. Even God recognized that He was not exempt from this truth; He showed us exactly what being vulnerable meant by sending Jesus down to Earth to die the worst death possible. He led by example, letting down His defenses to be in a deep, meaningful relationship with us.
Attack on Titan and Vulnerability
Mikasa Ackerman from Attack on Titan is known for her calm demeanor, stoic expression, and undying devotion to Eren Jaeger. She is the epitome of strength in the show, constantly looking after Eren and Armin. Her grace and deadliness is legendary and she is one of the few Scouts who can take a Titan on her own.
During her childhood, Mikasa’a parents are killed and Eren discovers her cowering in fear as the attackers discuss what to do with her. Eren tells her to fight and that “this world is cruel.” These words stick with her, and she gains perfect control over her body and emotions, which is what makes her one of the best Scouts in history.
However, the few times she does get emotional, she loses control of herself. When she thinks that Eren is dead, she recklessly convinces her fellow trainees to move into action with her, but then leaves them in the dust. She wastes the last of the gas for her maneuver gear, leaving herself trapped in an alley with an oncoming Titan. Here she collapses uselessly and almost allows herself to get eaten in her grief.
After witnessing Annie’s attempt to kidnap Eren, she becomes enraged and extremely aggressive when she sees her, endangering Levi in the process.
By bottling up all of her emotions all the time, by never letting herself feel vulnerable until something makes her explode, Mikasa not only endangers herself but also the lives of those around her. She wants to be like steel, a protector, strong and unbreakable, but in the attempt she loses something of herself.
Luke tells us about the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25–37. On a dark road, a man is mugged, beaten, and left for dead. A priest and a Levite pass him by, but a Samaritan stops to help him.
Those familiar with this story often ask themselves the question, “Am I the Samaritan or am I one of the people who passes the man by?” Then comes the sermon many of us have heard before: Be the Good Samaritan, help those in need, love your neighbour as yourself.
But the Samaritan, the Levite, and the priest are not the only choices to use as role models here. There is a third option that we don’t often consider, one that is often forced upon us. Sometimes we are the wounded person at the side of the road.
But instead of asking for help, we get up and pretend to be the Samaritan.
We plaster smiles on our faces, tell our friends we’re fine when they ask how we’re doing, and try to go about our lives loving our neighbours and looking for other wounded people to help up. The thing is, if everyone is hiding their problems, we are left with a bunch of would-be Samaritans wandering around the streets with no one to heal, because no one will admit they are hurting.
How can Mikasa have a deep relationship with Eren when she never lets him see she is human? How can we expect to form community and relationships when we’re all just pretending to be okay?
It’s not easy.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Saving Face
In order to tell someone I’m feeling emotions I don’t want to be feeling, it’s like reaching down my own throat and physically pulling out the words from my larynx. It’s painful and it’s hard. And it probably always will be. I don’t like letting my guard down. I don’t like risking being vulnerable to those who should care, only to watch them walk away. And there’s no way I can change my personality to make it easier (if it even is easy for other personalities, which I highly doubt).
Regardless, God is not asking me to become an extrovert. My friends are not asking me to change who I am. But it is a conscious choice to put myself in that position of vulnerability.
Captain Ray Holt is one of my favourite characters from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. He wears the same expression whether he’s attending a surprise party or witnessing the precinct on fire. His stoic personality makes his interactions with the rest of the precinct hilarious, but it also makes the moments when he shares his true feelings amazing.
The absolute best episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is “Chopper,” where Jake, Charles, and Captain Holt go on a mission together. Jake is the usual goofball and Holt is his normal, taciturn self, putting a damper on all the fun. Until he gets fed up near the end of the episode, says he’s tired of politics and decides to have fun with Jake.
Jake: Roger that, Wet Blanket.
Holt: No, from now on call me… “Velvet Thunder.”
Jake: *look of childlike delight* Okaaay!
That delight at Holt showing real feelings to him marks the deepening of their relationship, and it makes the next episode, “Johnny and Dora,” where Holt has to leave the precinct, even more bittersweet. Holt begins a speech to the precinct in his usual unemotional voice to say goodbye, but then we see him pause and have a hard time getting the words out:
Holt: These have been the… these have been the best years of my career. And I know that… every one of you… gave me everything you had. And I will never forget it.
Jake: Go back to being Robot Captain.
Holt: Meep morp.
Holt never changes who he is, he just lets himself be vulnerable, sacrificing his calm demeanor to show his friends that he loves them. His baring of emotions does not go unnoticed, and Gina even goes with him in his job transfer so that he won’t be alone.
We Are Emotional Creatures
Men and women were not created to live in a vacuum. We were given emotions for a reason: so that we can understand each other, so that we can feel pain, so that we can feel joy, so that we can have relationships that rival Chuck and Sarah’s or Sherlock and Watson’s. It might seem like you are being strong by never letting your guard down, to never admit to a friend or even to God that you need someone to carry you for a while, to remain cold and distant, but in reality it is vulnerability that requires more guts.
Sometimes I just want to hide away behind the walls of ice I have built around myself (why use bricks when I live in Canada?). But that’s not how God wants me to behave; not with Him and not with the people I care about. So I’m going to keep trying. I’m going to keep putting myself out there, no doubt getting knocked down in the process, but I’ll be picked up again.