“The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes the very one that heals it…” ― Nicholas Sparks, At First Sight
Perhaps the biggest myth about men is we don’t feel or have any great emotional depth, but studies have revealed men often experience exactly the same emotions as women but how they express themselves is often very different. The emotional life of men can usually be just as deep, rich and complicated as females but these feelings can often be difficult for men to process and understand. Women tend to be more in touch with their emotions while for many men emotional issues are kept firmly in the background of their lives.
Inside the Male Brain
The majority of researchers agree the biological difference between genders doesn’t really explain why men and women are so different when it comes to expressing their emotions. According to David Powell, PhD, president of the International Center for Health Concerns men and women are biologically hardwired differently. According to Powell, the connection between the logical left brain and center of emotions on the right side is stronger in women than men. This means women can access their emotions much more easily while men often struggle to connect with their feelings. 125 studies of men and boys from a variety of cultures found males were consistently less accurate compared to women when it came to interpreting body language such as such as facial expressions, gestures or tone of voice.
The apparent lack of emotion in men can be explained by the extent of social experiences men encounter during childhood that often inhibit emotional expression. Men and women are socialized very differently during childhood and for males this often means learning to repress emotional expression.
Parents tend to talk less about feelings to their sons so during their early years they tend to be less exposed to emotionally oriented conversations and discouraged from verbally expressing their emotions. They’re usually conditioned to be tough, fearless and to ‘man up’ while constantly being told ‘big boys don’t cry.’ These experiences often results in young males growing into emotionally repressed men who use far less words to express their feelings when speaking in public or tending to use their speech to assert their dominance in certain situations. Young boys who are encouraged by their parents to be ‘tough’ and express anger or even rage when their personal possessions or status are threatened can grow into men who express their anger inappropriately. We all know women become frustrated and get angry just like the opposite sex but episodes of rage are more likely to be experienced and expressed by men. Psychologist Kenneth W. Christian, PhD, author of Your Own Worst Enemy believes male rage begins with feelings of frustration caused by cutting off their emotions. Fearing emotions will take over many men decide to repress their feelings but of course emotions don’t just disappear when they are ignored or repressed and eventually have to be expressed, either through physical symptoms, illness or explosions of rage.
The Truth About Men
- Can have general difficulties in expressing emotions
- Tendency to exert greater control when expressing emotions
- Spend more time mulling over negative emotions
- Much less inclined to share emotions with others
- Express certain emotions with less intensity
- Use language with significantly less emotional content
- Behavior generally appears less affected by expressions of emotion
- More likely to keep negative feelings to themselves
- Inclined to express emotions that demonstrate power or control, e.g. anger, jealousy or pride
Women have often been labeled by men as being ‘too emotional’ but men in an analysis of the emotional intelligence of 500,000 adults, men measured the same in emotional awareness as women. However, men tend to react less intensely to emotions and also forget their feelings much more quickly. In an experiment at Stanford University, photographs of upsetting images were shown to a sample group of men and women. Three weeks later the women recalled a greater amount of detail about the pictures than the men leaving the researchers to speculate this may be the reason why a woman may continue stewing something she has found upsetting her partner has probably forgotten about!
Women generally speak to communicate their feelings or to establish closer friendships while men have general conversations exchanging information regarding sports, cars or even computers. Men rarely share conversations about their emotions and what they’re actually feeling; if you ask a man what he is feeling he will probably respond by telling you what he is thinking. Generally men are very efficient at intellectualizing and compartmentalizing their emotions.
Psychiatrist Mark Goulston, MD, co-author of ‘The 6 Secrets of a Lasting Relationship’ believes when men are sharing conversations they are careful about what they may say fearing humiliation or causing offence. This approach results in many men believing it is easier and much safer to stick to ‘safe’ topics or to speak only when there is a low of risk of looking silly. Goulston suggests men secretly fear they lack competence, courage and may not be as manly as they should be. There are certain social expectations regarding what a real man should be and do, and when a men feel things are going wrong or begin to feel powerless they shut down and withdraw. Most men try hard not to reveal any vulnerability in front of their male peers and in their relationships and often feel far more insecure than they’re prepared to admit to themselves, their male friends or even their partners.
As gender roles and rules have become less defined there are men who are prepared to reveal the softer side of their personalities but there are those who remain confused about how much they should really share. Women often expect a man to perform incredible emotionally gymnastics; men are often expected to be strong, solid and dependable while at the time to be emotionally open and available. These widely different expectations can cause confusion for many men who have not been generally socialized to manage or express their deeper emotions or lacked role models to teach them how to be appropriately strong and emotional.
It is worth remembering men who work hard at trying to hide their emotions may in fact be the most emotionally sensitive. A variety of studies have also revealed men often suffer more deeply emotionally than women when they go through a divorce. The experience reluctantly pushing men to explore themselves and emotional territory previously resisted or ignored. For some men learning how to handle their emotions instead of avoiding them has provided many benefits including exploring and connecting with their emotions discovering new inner dimensions. This process provides the foundation for greater expressions of honesty and emotional intimacy for men who may be scared of showing their emotions or may not even know how to. For a man to learn new ways of relating to himself and others usually takes time and practice but eventually it does get easier and often results in a man feeling happier within himself.