Men and their emotions
Most men grow up never learning how to relate to their emotions. The story that society tells men is that they are ‘wired’ differently from women, that they don’t have the same emotional needs that women do.
However, science would disagree with this idea. A 2015 study conducted in Israel that involved the analysis of more than a thousand brain scans showed that there is no evidence to categorize the human brain as distinctly ‘male’ or ‘female’. Another study published in 2021 demonstrated that there are more similarities than differences in the emotional capacity of men and women. The bottom line is that any gender-based differences in emotions is a result of social conditioning rather than biology.
From a young age, men start developing a narrative of shame when it comes to their emotions. This narrative is formed by the kinds of role models they had growing up, the way men around them expressed emotions, what they watched on TV or read in books, and the reactions of families, educators, and peers to displays of emotion.
Feelings become strange and shameful experiences and men grow up never learning the language of emotions. The American Psychological Association (APA) has a term for this: ‘normative male alexithymia’. This is a phenomenon observed in men and boys brought up according to traditional gender norms where they are unable to put their emotional experiences into words.
But even though men hide their emotions or find it difficult to put them in words, that doesn’t mean they don’t experience them. Men often channel emotions like sadness or fear which may be frowned upon by society into anger or aggression. While this helps them avoid ridicule from others, it also prevents them from fulfilling their emotional needs.
Society expects men to be stoic and rational problem solvers who have it all figured out. Traditional male gender roles expect men to ignore their emotions and not share them with others. This deprives men of the option to feel their feelings or seek help. They may then turn to less helpful coping responses such as drugs or alcohol.
The struggle to identify and describe what they’re feeling can make it difficult for men to form healthy relationships, work towards their goals and cope with their pain. Additionally, the habit of suppressing emotions can contribute to severe mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Men need to start shifting the narrative around emotions. The first step can be viewing emotions as stepping stones rather than obstacles to reaching goals. Emotions are like the fuel indicator in a car.
In their absence, we don’t know when we’re running on empty and need to refuel. For instance, fear lets us know that we need to avoid danger, anger prompts us to protect our boundaries and sadness lets us know that something important has been lost and we need comfort and support.
One way to practice reconnecting with emotions is consciously noticing and naming them by asking yourself questions such as: What am I feeling right now? Why did that upset me? Why do I feel this? What do I want the other person to know right now? Using approaches such as journaling, art, music, and movement can be safe and less confrontational ways for men to get in touch with emotions. And lastly, working with a qualified therapist can help men feel their feelings and cope with them in healthier ways.
A powerful antidote to shame is solidarity. By showing up vulnerably and sharing their emotions, men can create safe spaces for other men to open up and seek support. Redefining concepts such as ‘masculinity’, ‘strength’, and ‘power’ through discussions can challenge the conditioned beliefs that are keeping men from feeling their feelings.
Emotions help men communicate their needs to others, guide them in making decisions and solving problems, establish personal boundaries and help them stay resilient in the face of challenges. By learning to tune into their emotional state, men will find it easier to understand the emotions and needs of other people which is crucial to establishing healthy relationships. Ultimately emotions are what make us human and without them we fail to function in a fulfilling way. Written By - Riea Enok (Psychotherapist at The Mood Space)
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