Do you like to share your feelings with others? Do you open up to those closest to you and share how you are feeling? Do you ever find yourself explaining to someone close to you what emotions you are feeling and why? Can you tell the difference in feelings? Where exactly in your body do you feel happiness vs excitement? Fear vs worry? Sadness vs loneliness? Anger vs disappointment?
Chances are — especially if you’re a male — this paragraph above feels foreign and does not describe your typical behaviour. I don’t think it surprises anyone that we think of males when we think of which gender is generally best at hiding emotions, burying feelings, and trying to be “brave-faced”.
I have certainly been one of them. Feeling like I should be able to get through any challenge without asking for help. Burying emotions. Wearing the armour and shield to hide my emotions. Or expecting my sons to interpret my indirect communication (behaviour, emotions, texts, etc.) accurately, without explaining it. I no longer believe that to be the healthy way.
Classically men have grown up in environments where they have been told to “man up”, or “toughen up”, “grow some balls”, or “only girls cry”, or “be a man!”. Suppressing emotions and being the tough guy. The worship of the classic John Wayne stereotype is dying, but not yet dead. Ninety-eight per cent of mass shootings are committed by men, and 57 per cent have a history of domestic violence. Recent Canadian suicide stats show that male suicides are nearly four times more prevalent than female.
These sayings above are examples of what is termed ‘toxic masculinity’ — cultural expectations and standards of aggressive male behavior that are harmful not only to women and society but also to men themselves.
What we’re learning in modern research is that we’ve had it wrong. What we’ve always considered for generations as the masculine way in western culture of dealing with adversity and stress through silence, sweeping it under the rug, and numbing the pain is actually just causing harm. In so many ways. Anger. Abuse. Alcohol. Drugs. Suicide. How’s that working for us?
Researchers like Brené Brown and Kristin Neff and many others are pointing out how important it is for all humans to be aware of emotions, where they are coming from, and to share emotions with a trusted confidante. To be vulnerable with our emotions (with the appropriate people) and to acknowledge them before we numb emotions (usually with alcohol or drugs), or blow our stack, and try to ignore them at the cost of depression, anxiety, isolation, or worse.
What can we do? It starts where it always starts, within each one of us. An internal shift. Practice acknowledging emotions. Become aware of what the exact emotion is. Have a trusted confidante to share emotions and feelings with regularly. We can all recall a time when we shared how we were feeling with someone in a tricky situation, and how immediately a tremendous weight was lifted. That’s how it’s supposed to work!
I was fortunate enough to guest on the Obstacle Course podcast recently and our episode gravitated toward this exact topic — men being more vulnerable and sharing emotions more freely and skillfully. And although it is not confined only to males, it’s certainly a huge area of improvement for most of us. If you’re wondering where to start with all this consider searching online for ‘toxic masculinity’ resources, or even listen to the Obstacle Course podcast episode 80, entitled ‘Man Up(date)’ at https://obstaclecoursepodcast.com/episode/man-update/
I can honestly tell you that I’m not awesome at emotional intelligence just yet. I am working on it. This column is one opportunity to practice, as well as inspire others to do the same. As a father of two teenage sons, I want my sons to grow up with a skillset in emotional intelligence. This is an extremely important and interesting topic that is close to my heart. I can only hope many of you feel the same. My email is below if you have any comments or questions to share. This topic is not a ‘read one and done’. It is most important to keep the discussion going.