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Why Men Don’t Talk About Their Feelings

Perhaps the most important book to read to understand men’s relationship to their emotions is Terrence Real’s “I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Covert Depression.” This book offers crucial insight and invaluable guidance to the phenomenon of “men who don’t talk about their feelings.”   It is filled with moving, real-life stories, as well as probing analysis.  If you are frustrated by your partner’s lack of emotional communication, or if you or your male partner suffers from any degree of depression, I would highly recommend this book.

Here is a synopsis –

There are some men who would rather have dental surgery than talk about their feelings.  Why? Because a man’s calling card is his emotional disconnection.  Men are socialized from an early age to repress those aspects of themselves that express dependence and vulnerability.  In order to achieve masculinity, boys learn to repudiate all things “feminine.”  Being a man means being independent and strong.  Being a man means being tough.  Being a man means to exert control.  Men are taught that their sense of identity will be molded by what they achieve professionally and not by what they experience intimately.  Relational and emotive skills get quashed to make room for performance and mastery.

Men have been taught from a young age to suck it up and not be a “girl” – i.e., not to feel or express vulnerable emotions which would indicate being “weak.”  Pain or sadness is a condition to be “gotten over.”  This is why men tend to intellectualize their feelings – they go into their heads to “solve” their emotions or to get rid of them.  (This is why men, when confronted by their partner’s sadness or frustration, often try to “fix” the issue rather than to simply listen.)  Men are not sharing their feelings with their partners because they are not even sharing their feelings with themselves.

But the problem is, as men soar away from the orbit of their inner world, they leave behind an ever-present, emotional void.  And that void can become depression.

Depression is like a black hole.  It is the absence of emotion. It is a void where there should be life.  Instead of experiencing their feelings (e.g., grief, sadness, or fear), depressed people are trapped in their heads (thinking hopelessly about the future) and in their bodies (unable to escape their lethargy).

To fill or escape the void that is depression, men often bury themselves in work, seek constant stimulation, or numb themselves with alcohol or drugs.  Because they don’t know how to seek solace interpersonally, they withdraw relationally.  And those unexpressed emotions lie dormant, like volcanoes ready to explode (which is why their partner is much more likely to experience a man’s anger and frustration than his sadness).

So what guidance does Terrence Real offer to men who are disconnected from their emotions?

Men need to unearth and own their sadness – both present and past.  For some, they need to ventilate the trauma of their youth, when they suffered physical or verbal abuse, witnessed domestic violence, or endured the rage or rejection of their parents. For most, they need to acknowledge the pain of trying to be strong when they want to be weak, the loneliness of being self-sufficient when they want to be dependent, and the sadness of keeping inside what they need to share.

When these vulnerable emotions are FELT (no matter how painful), the cure to depression begins.  Experiencing them is cathartic.  This is the crux of the therapeutic process – to gently acknowledge and FEEL one’s pain.  Once men learn how to relate and have empathy for their own pain, they will heal and have a renewed capacity for intimacy.

So let’s rediscover those “feminine” aspects of ourselves that society urged us to cast off.  Let’s stop the legacy of emotional disconnection handed down from father to son.  We have a responsibility to ourselves and our children to break the cycle of “men who don’t talk about their feelings.”  As stated by Terrence Real –

“[I]t becomes clear that boys don’t hunger for fathers who will model tradition mores of masculinity. They hunger for fathers who will rescue them from it.  They need fathers who have themselves emerged from the gauntlet of their own socialization with some degree of emotional intactness.  Sons don’t want their father’s “balls”; they want their hearts.  And, for many, the heart of a father is a difficult item to come by.”

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