“Cowboys don’t cry!”
“Suck it up!”
“Swallow those tears.”
“Turn that frown around, young man!”
“Be a big boy now! Don’t be scared – just do it.”
Since we were small, we men have been conditioned to swallow our feelings. You’re not allowed to cry when you’re sad – because it’s not ‘manly’. You shouldn’t be angry, because that’s ‘dangerous’. With all these judgements about how they feel, men often end up repressing and denying their emotions. Until one day when they can’t hold it in anymore, and plates go flying around the house.
If you’re not allowed to feel and express your sadness, fear and anger, where do these emotions go? What are you supposed to do with these natural responses to life’s ups & downs?
Real men don’t cry.
Telling men not to be sad, scared, or angry, only leads to more problems. Emotional reactions are a healthy part of life: sadness helps us connect to feeling loss, loneliness, or disconnect. Anger signals to us that we want something, something is wrong, or a boundary has been violated. Anxiety signals potential danger. If we judge these emotions as ‘bad’ or don’t allow ourselves to feel and express them in healthy ways, they simply go under the surface, finding unhealthy ways to get out.
Unlike the mantras above suggest, being a real man in the modern world, actually means to be in touch with your feelings in a healthy way. In fact, studies have shown that, through emotional self-management, training in interpersonal skills, and developing skills for social problem-solving, men can get better at healthy expression of difficult or uncomfortable emotions. This will result in less explosive anger, and so less violence.
This also means that anger doesn’t have to be ‘out of control’: you can train yourself towards better emotional control, calm, and happiness, without denying, suppressing, or judging your emotions.
How to develop emotional skills
According to Prof. Marc Brackett from Yale University’s Child Study Centre, you can better manage your emotions, by following the following steps:
- Recognise: Practice recognising emotions in yourself and others, by asking: “What am I feeling right now? Anything else? Is any other emotion present for me – even if just at a low volume?”
- Understand: Ask yourself: “What is making me feel this way? What will happen if I act on this emotion? What is this emotion trying to tell me?”
- Labelling your emotions accurately: Practice getting to know the different emotions, and labelling them accurately: “Is this anger, rage, sadness, frustration, agitation, annoyance, fear, anxiety, hope?”
- Express emotions appropriately: Practice sharing how you feel, by simply saying: “I am currently experiencing anger / rage / hopelessness / annoyance.”
- Regulating emotions effectively: You can practice calming yourself down by doing slow breathing, going for a walk, counting to 10, or writing down what is bothering you.
Just like it takes practice to build your biceps, triceps or cardio-fitness, it takes practice to build your emotional muscles for better control and mastery. Why not try Prof. Brackett’s Modd-meter app [link: http://moodmeterapp.com/] today?
- A review of effective interventions for reducing aggression and violence – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2606715/
- The 5 hidden reasons men become violent, from menalive.com (Link: https://menalive.com/the-5-hidden-reasons-men-become-violent-and-what-we-can-do-to-make-the-world-safer/ )
Break free from the ‘man box’
There is a growing body of research to suggest that men are less likely than women to seek help from health professionals for problems as diverse as feeling lumps and bumps in their testes, to suffering from anxiety and depression. The most common reason cited throughout this research is ‘traditional masculine behaviour’. This is possibly also why men die, on average, six years earlier than women.
Challenging these traditional stereotypes is becoming increasingly important for the benefit of men themselves, and society at large. CLICK HERE to find out more.