Men often feel that they need to be self-reliant and hide their own emotions. This behaviour is reinforced everyday in the stereotype of the heroic male, so often represented in popular culture. Fearless, resourceful, stoic and usually facing adversity alone, these characters tell us a lot about what is considered to be ideal male behaviour within our society.
More powerful than film characters are the roles we see our parents playing. Many men have experienced fathers who were emotionally distant, who rarely, if ever, cried or expressed affection outwardly. The way we see our parents behave becomes the unconscious template for our own behaviour.
This template is further reinforced by the upbringing of boys. From early childhood girls and boys are treated very differently, which most of the time is completely unintentional. For example when a little girl falls over, people will fuss around her crooning condolences ‘are you okay poppet?’, ‘Mummy will kiss it better’ meaning for little girls, it’s acceptable to hurt, and to show emotions and pain. However, with little boys it’s often a quick ‘You’ll be okay, you’re a big boy’ or ‘be a man’ leaving no space for emotional display.
The four basic human emotions include:
Of these four emotions, happiness is considered the most acceptable in society. Yet anger, fear and sadness are universally felt by everyone. These emotions serve valuable purposes and are normal responses to threat and loss.
As emotions such as fear and sadness are generally not as accepted, men might try to hide these from themselves and those around them. They feel that they should be able cope on their own.
Individuals might try to cope with ‘negative’ emotions in one or more of the following ways:
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Working longer hours
- Spending more time away from home
- Consuming more alcohol
- Behaving recklessly and/or violently
We might not always be able to identify what we’re feeling or have the words to describe our emotions. Men may feel uncomfortable talking to someone about them, leading to frustration in relationships when they cannot express their needs, fears and grief.
Why talk about it?
The restriction of emotional expression in many men’s lives can lead to:
- A greater sense of isolation
- Less support being available from loved ones
- Health issues due to carrying chronic tension in the body and other bad coping strategies
- Relationship difficulties due to an inability to resolve emotional conflicts and/or a perceived lack of ability to be intimate
- Psychological problems such as depression, insomnia and anxiety.
Getting in touch
Men are often told they have to ‘get in touch with their feelings,’ but what does this really mean and how do you do it? Here are some strategies for getting to know your own feelings better:
- Be aware of the sensations in your body. Emotion always manifests somewhere in the body. Anger might be experienced as a flush of heat in the face, sadness as a tightening of the throat, anxiety as a knot in the stomach. Take a moment to acknowledge the feeling(s) and take a few breaths to help identify these sensations and understand what they mean.
- If you are feeling angry, ask yourself what other emotions you might be feeling? Are you really sad underneath, or afraid?
- Learn to put words to what you are feeling. Often it helps to write down or brainstorm ideas before a conversation.
- Identifying and expressing feelings is a learnt behaviour – and like driving a car, it only takes practice.
- Take the risk of showing your vulnerability with people who you feel safe with. Give yourself permission to be human, it could bring you closer to others and may even bring a sense of relief.
- Ask for help when you need it.
From Men and Emotions
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I really struggle when folks draw nice clean lines between – in this case – Men and Women. I am repressing great irritation as I type! I know more than a few emotionally retarded Women; just as I know many very emotionally intelligent Men. I commiserate with “Canada’s” disturbing statistics around this issue however.
So true, Steve. In psychology, there are no nice clean lines at all. When we are talking about gender differences in psychology, we are talking about two sets of features – say set A and B – with a long line in between. All people will be somewhere on that line between A and B. However men might have a tendency in general to be closer to point A, while women in general might have a tendency to be close to point B as reflected in ‘statistics’.
However we should avoid applying such ‘general’ tendencies and trends to individuals. As individuals, we are all very different and complex in our emotions, feelings, responses and behaviours. Also, our behaviours and responses can differ in different circumstances. Therefore any attempts to ‘label’ or ‘stereotype’ us as individuals would be misleading.
We should also remember, that ‘expressing’ emotions is not the same as being ‘emotionally’ sensitive. There are plenty of people who might be good at verbally ‘expressing’ their own emotions while being totally insensitive to emotions of others. At the same time, some people might be very emotionally intelligent and sensitive without being ‘verbally’ expressive when it comes to their own emotions.
Thanks for your insightful comment. 🙂
Not a boy – but I feel all of those things ascribed, and would rather punch a wall than let someone see me cry. Maybe I’ve just taught myself that doing such things means I’m not a stereotypical weak woman?
There are a lot of girls like that. I think it is important to avoid gender stereotypes when talking about gender differences. In psychology, when we are talking about gender differences, we are talking about general trends and tendencies. However as individuals, we all are very different with a unique and complex mixture of traits, preferences, styles etc.
Also, we might behave differently in different conditions. E.g., I would rather punch a wall than let someone see me cry in public. However I might cry in private or in front of a very close friend.
You are so right. My father was very much as you described. Very occasionally he would laugh. The only emotion I really saw in him was anger. Sad. He’s gone now and I never felt anything toward him, as he never displayed his love for me. Unfortunately, my mother is very much the same. I guess it can happen to anyone who is brought up stifling their emotions. I find this a characteristic of Germanic people. (I have German/Norwegian/Polish background. My entire family is emotionally stifled.
My family comes from Europe too and they are all pretty emotionally stifled, with the exception of grouchiness – that was the only emotion accepted in our family. I would not blame them though. Let’s not forget, that older generations there went through huge traumas of wars, unemployment, economic depressions. When people are struggling for survival, they do become emotionally stifled, as Melanie Greenberg points out at https://otrazhenie.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/make-your-own-happiness-a-priority/
Even now people in different parts of our planet are going through real hell – I’ve got the whole section ‘Hell on Earth’ at https://otrazhenie.wordpress.com/hell-on-earth/ with links to the post describing those parts of the world. What emotions can they have there apart from anger? Only emotionally stifled people can survive in those conditions.
“Displaying” love is not the same as loving someone. There are plenty of people out there, who are pretty good in ‘displaying’ love without even knowing what love is. I’ve got a couple of true love stories on my blog at https://otrazhenie.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/what-is-love/ – that reflect that point.
Thank you for sharing these links. You seem to have a great deal of knowledge on this subject. I will be dropping in again to learn more.
Such an important topic to discuss-thank you!
The pleasure is mine. Glad that you liked this post 🙂
This is especially so for men, but I feel that in general only happy emotions are acceptable in our culture anymore, with the emphasis on being “positive” all the time. Sadness and anger are just as much of a valid–and healthy–part of our psyche, and we should be able to express them (as long as this is not done in an extreme way, of course).
Very good point, eurobat. Totally agree with you on that. Have you seen RSA Animate video ‘Smile or Die’ at http://youtu.be/u5um8QWWRvo that explores the ‘darker’ side of positive thinking? We can’t be acting ‘positive’ all the time. In my view such unnatural ‘positivity’ builds more walls than bridges. To be able to relate to others, we need to be able to open up and express our feelings openly, to take the mask of ‘positivity’ off.
Thanks for your insightful comment. 🙂
I just watched that video, wow–it expresses exactly what I’ve been thinking about for such a long time. Glad I’m not the only realist around. She is right that we live in a culture of “mandatory optimism” which is psychologically unhealthy.
Glad that you liked that video. This lady wrote the whole book on that called ‘Smile or Die’. I’ve just finished reading it.
I’ll have to look for it, thanks for the tip.
Reblogged this on truthionary.
[…] Boys DOn’t Cry – Otrazhenie […]
Thank you for posting this! It makes me sad how we stifle boys emotions at such a young age by telling them things like, “Don’t be a sissy!” or “Man up!” I’m raising a 7 year old boy and I think it is important to his emotional health and well being to let him express his sadness, anger, frustrations, etc so he goes on to be a happy, healthy adult who knows how to express himself.
Totally agree with you on that. I’m raising three boys. My boys are getting into teens now and I’m pleased to see them turning into a very-well balanced teenagers too. If we do not respect our children’s feelings, how can we expect them to respect our feelings?
Reblogged this on Snowyillusions and commented:
This is very true
My hubby is a tough, intimidating looking man who is so in touch with his emotions and even more attractive to me because of it. Very interesting blog today.
Love your comment, B Harmony. In my view, emotional intelligence does not make men less tougher or physically weaker. It makes them wiser, more understanding and well-balanced.
What a relevant post! I cringe when I see friends or even strangers trying to toughen up their baby or toddler boys by ignoring their cries or minimising genuine pain or distress. Why should little boys have to carry the world on their shoulders? It seems grossly unfair and uncompassionate. One ex-colleague tried to explain her behaviour to me. She said she was raising her son to be a “man” with a family one day… Someone who would be tough and able to protect. I wanted to say that being an effective husband and father relies more on emotional intelligence than physical strength.
Loved your comment, Jay. Totally agree with you. When people respect boy’s emotional needs, those boys grow up into responsible well-balanced men, who are not only physically strong, but are also emotionally intelligent.
The video is superb!! Particularly what he talks about “I don’t know”. I wish I had seen this video a lot before. Anyways its never too late 🙂
Well said Otrazhenie. It is true that most of us have somehow developed the attitude that boys shouldn’t cry. I cannot be sure that people will accept me when I’m expressing certain emotions towards them. However as per your points, I will make sure that I don’t discourage other boys & guys.
The word “hide” is better than “suppress”. As far as I know, guys do cry, but they just don’t show it out, may be few are shy about it.
Thinking back why I hide my emotions & feels, I got few points.
1) Sometimes I’m shy.
2) Sometimes i think that people just don’t care and listen. 😦
3) Sometimes I do too much of certain things, too much of emotions. People get frustrated in listening and starts avoiding me. And I developed not expressing emotions to such people.
4) Sometimes I find certain emotions pointless to the situation, in such cases I make sure I listen to my own emotions. I sit and meditate.
5) After seeing through lots of disappointments, I made sure not be such to others around me, to my best.
6) My father hasn’t been a good listener/communicator for years until recently. My mom even though being a good listener, she cannot keep secrets, she use to go and tell all my aunts and uncle, which I dislike. So I stopped telling her certain things.
7) Certain feels and experience keeps recurring that I can’t find any use from sharing.
Very good points on the consequence of not expressing emotions. I will consider sharing certain feels and emotions with others, as it might also help in resolving issues much better and faster.
I also liked the points beneath “getting in touch”.
Altogether a very good post. I will make sure I listen to how I feel and spend sometime regularly for improving feels like watching movies, going to a beautiful place, helping people when they go through hard times, etc 🙂
Thank you for sharing Otrazhenie 🙂
Glad that you found this post helpful, Satzie. Also, I think a lot of points in this post might relate to some girls too. 🙂
True Otrazhenie, it fits some girls as well.
Most of the points fits us all in general.