Many psychologists and advisors are prone to overly optimistic promises about the power of communication to solve all problems. They urge people to, "Share your feelings," and "Talk it out until the problem is resolved." However, this advice can be disastrous! Not everyone values emotional honesty. Not everyone has time to listen. And a lot of people will use your personal information against you!

The reality is that not everyone is capable of "hearing" and empathizing. In fact, empathy is a rare quality, which depends on one's personality type (See my book, Awareness for more on defining personality types).

According to the Myers-Briggs personality system (see Please Understand Me, by Keirsey) people are either dominant Thinkers or dominant Feelers. Thinking types (60% of men and of 40% women) have little interest in the world of feelings. They feel no urge to share personal feelings and are irritated and bored by those who do. They often do not even know what they feel and may not care. They are focused on functioning, not feeling. In fact, they feel more powerful and in control when they do not expose their feelings. In contrast, Feeling types (60% women, 40% men) are concerned with their feelings and distressed if they cannot share them. When these two types get together, there is likely to be a lot of mutual frustration, because each has demands which the other cannot meet.

In addition, those suffering from various disorders, such as autism, find it very difficult to understand or value others' feelings. They may think a sad person is angry or that an angry person is happy. Then there are those who are so wrapped up in their own intense feelings that there is no room for anyone else's emotions. Others may be suffering from OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), anxiety, depression or rage disorders types. Sharing feelings with any of these types is also likely to end in frustration.

Without feelings, there would be no love, no music, art, poetry or meaningful prayer. But to allow our feelings to rule is like giving the car keys to a three-year-old. Learn not to "emote" and when emotional modesty is needed. It is best to inhibit the expression of feelings in the following situations:

  • When sharing will overwhelm others. It is "immodest" to share strong feelings of grief, fear or rage, especially around children, who need to see adults as a source of security and strength. To expose these feelings is just as immodest as exposing parts of the body which should be kept covered if the other person is incapable of receiving your pain with empathy and compassion.

  • When sharing will exacerbate self-pity and despair. Griping about problems may help people feel better, for about fifteen minutes. After that, "co-rumination," in which both sides complain, will actually lower the mood, especially if the problem has no solution. Unless there is a real crisis, which demands a truly empathetic friend, it is best to limit yourself to fifteen minutes so that you do not sink in bitterness. Then segue into comforting words of faith and trust in G‑d.

  • When you over do the sharing and go on for too long. This often happens with people who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder. Once they have your ear, they can go and on, raging at you for hours for real or imagined sins against them.

  • When sharing will lead others to think you are immature, stupid, unstable or histrionic. This is how most Thinking types view Feelings types. Thus, they will say, "You're too sensitive. You're just feeling sorry for yourself. Get over it. Toughen up!" In their presence, act self-confident and full of faith, even if it is just an act.

  • When sharing involves humiliation and shaming of others. According to the laws of rebuke, you can share your opinions only if it is done: calmly, lovingly, in a quiet voice, in private and concerning a trait which the other person is capable of changing. It is no use telling someone that they are disorganized, unfriendly, passive, too sensitive, loud, etc. if the person is not capable of – or has no interest in – changing these traits!

  • When sharing will cause others to use the information against you. Many people are fired from jobs because they shared their personal woes, either physical or psychological. If you talk to certain people about how irritated you are by their behavior, they will do whatever is distressing to you even more.

So, when you are dealing with a well-intentioned advisor, who keeps urging you to share, take that advice with a grain of salt! Some personality types have great faith in the power of communication. Be wary of these peace-maker types. They will not take your feelings seriously. They believe that all problems can be solved with enough good will and with negotiations. They will urge you to, "Forgive and forget," as if past pain can be quickly wiped out with a bouquet of flowers or a meal in a fancy restaurant. Because they lack psychological depth, their grasp of the problem is superficial. On the positive side, this allows them to be great mediators, as they stay calm and optimistic no matter how upset others are. They will willingly engage in marathon "peace talks," urging opposing sides to make resolutions, contracts and promises. If the sides have integrity and good-will, then this will bring true peace. However, if there is an emotional disturbance or lack of integrity, all promises will soon be broken as soon as there is the slightest irritation. On the negative side, these "peace maker" personality types simply do not believe that evil exists; instead, they assume that meanness or cruelty are temporary anomalies which should be ignored and forgotten as quickly as possible. In fact, they often take the side of the aggressor and blame the victim for not "forgiving and making peace" quickly enough.


It can be very painful to be in the presence of someone with whom you cannot communicate, especially if the person is demanding, hostile or indifferent – and even more so if you are living with such a person. You can bang your head against the wall and pull your hair out in frustration. You can scream, threaten and engage in acts of vengeance and violence, but this will not change their brain patterns or level of sensitivity. As with all difficulties, use this for your spiritual growth. I suggest doing the following "spiritual games."

1. PLAY FISH: Practice being a quiet fish, not talking, merely swimming in the waters of faith and trust in G‑d, and repeat words of prayers. Be proud of your self-discipline.

2. BE PROUD OF YOUR EMOTIONAL MODESTY: Be proud of your ability to realize that it is not always appropriate to expose your feelings.

3. COUNT FINGERS: With non-communicative people, keep your answers down to five words or less – the fingers of one hand, as in, "That's not comfortable for me." "I cannot multi-task right now."

4. TURN IT AROUND: Give yourself whatever it is that you want from the other person that you will never get, such as unconditional love, understanding, appreciation, praise and time.