In today’s society, most men are known not to be big supporters of showing their feelings or talking about difficult emotions. Women are more prone to be the ones that are emotional and carefree when it comes to expressing their feelings. Some may say that this is because many men are not equipped to handle their emotions, they are emotionally distant, and their emotional intelligence level is limited.
Do men struggle in expressing their feelings, or is it something they are reluctant to do for good reason?
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THE ROLE OF EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Emotional intelligence is “a type of intelligence that involves the ability to process emotional information and use it in reasoning and cognitive activities.” It was a concept proposed by Psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer where emotional intelligence consisted of four skills: “to perceive and appraise emotions accurately; to access and evoke emotions when they facilitate cognition; to comprehend emotional language and make use of emotional information, and to regulate one’s emotion to promote growth and well-being.”
In other words, emotional skills are the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary for us to recognize and control our emotions and behaviors. It helps us in establishing and maintaining positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and solving challenging situations.
Examples of emotional skills:
- Having self-control
- Listening and paying attention
- Taking pride in accomplishments
- Having a positive self-image
- Asking for help when need it
- Showing affection to others
- Being aware of other people’s feelings
- Expressing one’s feelings
MASCULINITY, FEELINGS AND SOCIETY
The idea behind masculinity, and what it means to be a man, has been ingrained and conditioned into many men’s minds since childhood. During childhood, men have been surrounded by male figures who are self-sufficient, strong, and capable. Daphne Rose Kingma, author of ‘The Men We Never Knew,‘ has said, “We’ve dismissed men as the feeling-less gender – we’ve given up on them. Because of the way boys are socialized, their ability to deal with emotions has been systematically undermined. Men are taught, point-by-point, not to feel, not to cry, and not to find words to express themselves.”
Furthermore, in his book ‘Rediscovering masculinity,’ Vic Seidler argues that “as men we learn to treat emotions and feelings as signs of weakness. This makes it difficult for us to come to terms with our emotional lives and relationships’. Displaying weakness is difficult for men since this threatens our very sense of masculinity.”
For many years, society has placed men in a position where they could not be their authentic selves in public and sometimes even in private. Today, men are still expected to have a job that pays well to support a family, be strong, behave a certain way, have it all together, and be mentally tough. This stigma that society has placed on men expressing their emotions may not be the only reason men may be reluctant/hesitant to express themselves, but it is definitely a contributing factor.
REASONS WHY MEN MAY BE RELUCTANT
Here are the reasons:
1. “It makes us vulnerable.”
2. “It makes us seem as though we are weak. Weak, like we don’t have it altogether.”
3. “Society is not really open to men doing that. Talking bout their emotions. They are more open to women talking about their emotions and feeling vulnerable.”
4. “We don’t want to burden anyone. Men prefer to bear their own burdens.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUST & PATIENCE
As the conversation continued with my husband, I went on to ask him what allows him to be open and vulnerable with me. He stated:
- “You have gained my trust.”
- “You have proven yourself worthy for me to express myself around you.”
- “ You do not make me feel weak and less than a man.”
- “ You allow me to take some time to gather myself and gain the strength to express what I am feeling.”
It is important to understand that men and women are different in how they process and express themselves, especially when it comes to relationships. In the past, and even in today’s society, women have been more conditioned than men to express themselves. As a result, it may take some time for men to get to that vulnerable stage with someone. It is not because it is a struggle, but because of the reaction, they might receive if they become vulnerable and express those deep, complex emotions.
If men are told by others to “man-up,” “you’re weak,” “you’re supposed to have it together at all times,” “why do you always shut down?” then it makes it difficult for them to open up. Society and a man’s upbringing has already placed them into a category where showing feelings is frowned upon or not taken seriously. If a man’s family, a close friend, or partner then expressed that they are weak/not a man in their moments of vulnerability, it will only further make them bury their feelings, thus leading them to appear emotionally distant. Over time, this, in turn, may lead to a mental health breakdown for some men.
From observation, many men experience intense emotions just as women but lack the support and environment needed to be comfortable enough to show that vulnerable side. I’ve witnessed one of my male cousins (in his early 20s) struggle with expressing his emotions over a difficult situation because he expressed that he felt as though he “needs to be a man and suck it up and move on.” It had come to a point where he started engaging in unhealthy coping skills just to mask what he truly felt on the inside. I was always there for him emotionally, but at the same time had to be patient and guide him through these feelings until he felt comfortable and safe enough to be vulnerable with me when going through a difficult time.
WHAT SUPPORT CAN BE OFFERED?
1. Acknowledge that they have feelings too
2. Have open communication
3. Be patient
4. Allow personal space
5. Do not throw their moments of vulnerability back in their face when conflict arises – especially in a relationship. It will be hard for them to open up again.
6. Learn his Love Language
7. Establish trust and loyalty
8. Be empathic
9. Encourage positivity – lift them up and use positive language
10. When they confide you, it shouldn’t be shared with anyone
11. Encourage them to seek professional help if they are struggling to cope and function
American Psychological Association. (2020). Emotional intelligence. https://dictionary.apa.org/emotional-intelligence
Kingma, D. (1994). The men we never knew: how to deepen your relationships with the man you love. Berkeley, Ca: Conari Press.
Todd W. Reeser & Lucas Gottzén (2018) Masculinity and affect: new possibilities, new agendas, NORMA, 13:3-4, 145-157, DOI: 10.1080/18902138.2018.1528722