Updated: May 24
In a society where men are expected to mute their feelings, and their sadness is often marginalized, perhaps it’s time to re-invent and innovate a few male-centric, male-empathetic ways of making feelings an acceptable universal domain, one that can be accessible to men. “Bro, I got this; I can’t talk about that; I am man enough to handle it.” Can new ways like connecting via music, story, and masculinity classes (see reference below: Teaching Men to Be Emotionally Honest from The New York Times) be a way to reduce societal pressure of boys and men having to uphold a stressful masculine identify that fumbles and struggles with expressing emotions and shies away from vulnerability often masking it with alcohol/drugs, irritability, or anger?
While counseling men, I find that they have no place to go to feel safe expressing their emotions. By the time some men reach me as their therapist, they have been holding onto sorrow for years. There is an initial phase of exploring boundaries – a periphery of hesitancy almost – that needs to be stomped out and clearly stated to make emotions permissible to express.
Men have far fewer socially acceptable ways to express emotion, leading to increased and excessively high rates of feeling disconnected, educational issues, suicide, drug problems and violence; as well as, and surprising for some – an unhealthy over-dependence on romantic relationships to feel understood, validated, and secure. Reflecting on traditionally manufactured high masculinity standards society has created, and societal barriers on men’s emotional expression, exploring ways to allow men to feel normal in their expression of emotion can be a positive cathartic opening.
Instead of teaching boys to toughen up, swallow down their emotional suffering and unintentionally leading them to project those emotions as anger, what if the cycle was shaken to allow expression through means that may not feel so alienating, yet allow for emotional literacy to build? What if men can be shown through feelings about the stigma society holds about them, helps them connect to their emotions, and aides in their thinking beyond their own stereotypes? Case in point: music. Many men identify with one or multiple genres of music, and I often find this as way to build an understanding to the unique experiences’ men want to share. A blues song, the underlying emotion behind that punk rock band? I hear it, and so can you. I have grown up with heavy metal and hard rock and still find myself lip syncing to Wherever I may Roam. Here is where many men can connect, feel at ease with this connection, and express their own emotion – while safely talking about their feelings.
Another way that has helped me connect has been through literature and movies. Many men feel at ease connecting with a story. Catching that Holden Caulfield expression of alienation and allowing it to restore validation and security about one’s own vulnerabilities, slowing chipping away, Andy Dufresne-like, with the little hammer of song and story at the overblown stereotypes of men can be incredibly liberating.
If you’re a man reading this and debating the what ifs, schedule a free consult here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reiner, Andrew. “Teaching Men to Be Emotionally Honest.” The New York Times, 4 Apr. 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/10/education/edlife/teaching-men-to-be-emotionally-honest.html.
©2020 by Irem Choksy, LMFT