Men, Emotions and Relationships
Historically, the consensus was that women are more emotional than men. Indeed, today many women still define themselves as more emotional than men. Over the past few decades many male clinicians, who have much experience working with men, have been disproving this idea. They have concluded that the majority of men have been socialized in a manner they refer to as, “brutal,” which teaches boys to repress and deny their emotions. In 1995 the American Psychological Association formed a new division called the, “Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity,” to gain more insight into the psychological effects of this socialization process.
This process has created many problems. To relate well to others, we need to know what we are feeling. Emotions give us valuable information. If a child is taught, during his formative years, that men do not, or should not have feelings, he will learn to ignore and repress the information he receives from his feelings and become overly reliant on his intellect. And while our intellect is a wonderful part of our brain and does great things for mankind, emotions also do great things for mankind. Several theorists believe that awareness of our own feelings may result in our treating other’s, and the earth, in a more pro-survival manner. Ideally, thoughts and emotions work in synchronization.
Daniel Goldman’s book “Emotional Intelligence” (1996) introduced the concept of emotional intelligence into popular culture. Efforts to understand and explain emotional intelligence began with Charles Darwin’s work concerning the importance of emotional expression for survival and adaptation. Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, assess and manage one’s own emotions as well as the recognition of emotions of others. When we shame a child for having feelings, we separate him from an important source of information.
Aelexithymia is a condition in which an individual cannot know, label and think about what he is feeling. Dr. Ron Levant, a psychologist and professor, who is a pioneer in the study of the psychology of men coined the term “normative male aelexithymia.” According to David P. Wexler in his book “Men in Therapy; New Approaches for Effective Treatment,” (2009) this term refers to, “the emotional patterns of boys who grow up to become men who are unaware of their emotions and even of their own bodily sensations. They rely only on their cognitive descriptions, analyses, and opinions. Because of this gap in self-awareness, many men are limited in utilizing the simplest and most effective method for dealing with complex feelings and difficult moods; that is, identifying, thinking about, and expressing feelings.” The term does not mean that this condition is normal or healthy; it indicates that the condition is so widespread that it can be considered statistically, “normal.”
To develop a healthy relationship with anybody, we must know what we are feeling. It is through awareness of our own feelings that we can empathize with others. When we know how we are feeling, internally, about something another person has done or said, that emotional knowledge combined with intellectual understanding helps us make reasonable, well rounded, choices concerning how to respond, externally. This is a valuable skill to use in our relationships with our intimate partner, our children, and others. Indeed, at this time, business schools are teaching managers the importance of empathy. Awareness of feelings is the first step toward being empathetic. Teaching our sons that men are not, or should not be emotional deprives them of this valuable skill and sets them up to fail in many areas of their lives. Even if a man is financially successful, he may still not be able to succeed at creating healthy relationships. A life filled with financial success, and everything money can buy, can be sad and hollow if it has no viable, loving relationships.
Men need to be as aware of their emotions as women are. The best time for these skills to be taught is during early childhood. At this point in our history, men are much more active as fathers. It is incumbent on them to read about and use healthy, positive parenting skills. An ideal parenting approach is for both mother and father to work together to raise emotionally intelligent children. Doing that involves a relationship between parents based in self-awareness and empathy. When a boy experiences his father as emotionally available and empathetic, he will naturally follow his father’s example. To do this, fathers need to become aware of their own feelings. They need to be able to identify and accept their feelings. Then they will be able to empathize with their spouse and children, while helping their children be aware of their feelings.
Men who have not been raised to be aware of their emotions can learn how to do so anytime they decide to learn. David Wexler, PhD, has several excellent books listed on his website. Steve Stosny, PhD, also has a website with articles and books that are valuable. Most good therapists can coach men as they learn how to become more aware of their feelings and how to cope with them. Individual coaching sessions are the most effective approach to change.