The Silent Man
Is it true that men have more difficulty expressing their feelings? We know that here in the western world it has been traditional for us to encourage our little boys not to cry, to put on a brave face and have a back bone. Is this still true today?
From my experience, men are more in touch with their feelings, especially the younger generation. Many of our young boys are being brought up in single parent families, mostly with their mothers, and where the mother is empathically attentive there is a stronger chance of our male generation growing up more in touch with their emotions. It is often the father figure that changes this practice because of his own experience of childhood and traditional parenting. This, of course, can be an exception where the Mother figure tends to rely on her son emotionally to meet her own needs as his might then be denied.
So what happens when they grow into men and engage in their own adult intimate relationships when their emotions have been denied?
Men can find it difficult to strike the right balance between being emotional and being avoidant. Women naturally migrate to each other to share celebrations, disappointments and trauma; they can often talk about if for hours, often at a man’s dismay. Men sometimes don’t understand how women can go around and around the same story, sharing and talking about it. What is happening here is that women are processing their experience; by talking about it over and over they are making sense of what has happened and setting it into their brain so that they can move on from what ever it is.
Where a man keeps his experience to himself he has to go around and around these events alone in his own head. He doesn’t have the benefit of another’s input, advice or empathy. His outlets are also limited in terms of ‘A Brotherhood’ – Only show your strengths, your head is always above water, the family are all doing well, work is really good, etc. In daring to show anything else he is in danger of exposing himself to feeling vulnerable or perhaps not good enough.
What are the effects?
Any individual who keeps their emotions to themselves will eventually experience some consequences. This might be lashing out at inappropriate times and to the wrong people, or trying to get attention in inappropriate ways, maybe from people at work or in the pub. They may go silent or appear aggressive if any one gets close. I think perhaps one of the worst experiences for their partner is the silence and rejection; this is certainly what I hear in the therapy room. When we love our partner we want to help and support them and as women we use our natural techniques. As we have previously seen these may not fit with our ‘man’s’ way of handling emotion and therefore contributes to further confusion for them. If they are used to supporting you and ‘taking care of things’ then they might find it inconceivable to show emotion towards you. A mans reptilian brain will point him in the direction of danger and make him feel vulnerable and then possible consequences, perhaps rejection from you for being weak.
How to help?
Notice the signs, changes in behaviour, and sudden changes in usual habits. Approach him gently, don’t try to force a silent man to speak about his emotions but gently enquire and show that you are there to help. If he starts to tell then listen, don’t interrupt or ‘fix’, men are natural fixers and will work this out for himself eventually by talking about things. If you are not the right person then suggest someone who can help. Above all give him permission to be vulnerable.
Silent men are more prone to stress, depression, anxiety, heart problems and anger. It’s important to seek help before things go too far. When we hold onto negative emotion it has to go somewhere. Emotional pain turns to physical illness and pain, it manifests itself slowly. There can be back pain, headaches, neck pain, joint pain, loss of appetite or no interest in sex (or increased interest in sex as this is an extremely good distraction for men).
What not to do?
Never make a man feel like he is weak if he tries to show his emotions.
Listen – it’s a little different with female friends because we tend to chip in but with men it can be very important to let him get most or all of his story out before commenting. Never criticise wrong decisions, try to understand how he has arrived at where he is.
Be supportive otherwise you may never know what the problem is and never get the chance to do anything about it.