“Since I wasn’t crying, I felt like my emotions were minimized because I’m a man.”

These are comments by Alan Jensen-Sellers and g on the post “Six Things Couples Can Do to Make Room for the Emotional Man“.

Alan Jensen-Sellers said:

“Far too often men are told the correct way to be emotive.”

“This my experience. Or more to the point to be told I’m doing it wrong. This makes any emotional discussion into a minefield even more than the subject being discussed. Sometimes it’s hard to really just get it out, when you’re analyzing every word before you say it, trying to find the right combination that you won’t be judged for. Then you’ll be shit on for not being expressive enough. Lose-lose.”

g said:

“I’ve found that in my relationships, the total amount of time spent talking about her problems dwarfed the time spent talking about my problems. I don’t really have the need to talk a lot about my problems, but they are there and they need to be recognized. When I finally would speak up about them, it was as if they weren’t a big deal because she has so many other problems and would often express herself in more sterotypical, powerful emotional ways. What I mean, is that my girlfriends or ex-wife would sometimes cry or get really emphatic about something they were feeling. I don’t do that.

“I can calmly talk about something that has been ripping me apart. Since I wasn’t crying or really emphatic about it, I felt like my emotions were minimized. I actually would sometimes ‘overact’ in order for my emotions/concerns to be recognized as important. It worked, but I felt manipulative and bad about it.” 

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  1. The second comment raises a point that quite resonates with me. I get frustrated with the frequent attempts to push men to be ‘more open’ about their feelings. Often all that this does is idealize and underwrite the privilege of the highly emotional person who forces people to recognize and pander to their feelings. It also denigrates the value of developing a high pain threshold and pain tolerance. We could do with more people with thicker skins in our society.

    I am just not an emotionally demonstrative sort of person. This isn’t because society has repressed me: I just don’t naturally broadcast my emotional state. While I am not as sensitive as most, and I think that it is good to withstand a certain degree of personal discomfort and unreasonable treatment without complaint, I still have strong feelings about things. As a result of my emotional reserve and self-control, I not infrequently find myself in situations where people ignore my feelings completely, while bending over backwards to accommodate the feelings of some emotionally incontinent and unreasonably hyper-sensitive individuals. While people rightly believe that they can depend upon me for emotional stability (a good thing, in my books), they also sometimes act as if that they can presume upon my willingness to be subjected to unreasonable treatment, without any regard for what I might feel about it (which is not a good thing at all). While I won’t kick up a fuss, my capacity to take unreasonable treatment with little complaint does not make it right to subject me to it.

    My question is, why should I be forced to be emotionally demonstrative in order to receive concern for my wellbeing and recognition of when I have been subjected to unreasonable treatment? As I see it, the problem is less with individuals’ openness about feelings than it is with society’s willingness to impose upon the more emotionally reserved with unreasonable treatment and expectations, while fetishizing the emotional expressions of the hyper-sensitive. People shouldn’t have to burst into tears or excavate all of the hurts of their childhood in order to be treated with respect for their wellbeing.

    I wonder whether what we really need to do is to cease to treat emotional demonstration as the basis for entitlement to society’s concern. The most emotionally demonstrative often overstate their emotions considerably, and frequently use this to manipulate others and to get their way. We would do well to pay much *less* attention to emotional demonstration and start to pay much *more* attention to the objective pressures and treatment that people are subjected to, showing a concern for people’s rights and wellbeing that isn’t contingent on how easily they tear up.

    It seems to me that this would result in a number of things. First, many emotionally manipulative and overly-demonstrative people would be told to get over themselves, grow a thicker skin, and lose the sense of entitlement that they have about their emotional demonstrations. Second, many emotionally reserved persons would be treated with more respect and concern for their wellbeing, and society would make itself available to them in support, without requiring them to rival the shrillness of the tantrum-throwers to have their feelings respected. Most importantly, we would move towards a society where emotional demonstration was less fetishized and entitled, and thus less empowered as a manipulative ploy, towards a society where more objective standards for reasonable treatment and concern for our neighbour’s wellbeing held sway.

    The problem with much of our society’s misguided culture of empathy is that it is founded upon over-sensitivity to the emotional expressions of our neighbour, rather than upon attentiveness to actual infractions of their rights and concern for their wellbeing assessed more objectively. This makes us especially vulnerable to psychological manipulation, shallow emotions, tantrum-throwers, the emotionally incontinent, and crocodile tears, while being insensitive to those who have more of a rein on their emotions. We need to develop a resistance to the discomfort caused by many people’s unreasonable emotional expressions in order to pursue a more society that gives just weight to the wellbeing and rights of all of its members, not just the ones who cry the loudest, and where emotional display was less empowered as a manipulative and attention-grabbing ploy.


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