Men and emotions- two things society insists don’t go well together. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Men have just as many complex emotions as women do. We are capable of feeling deeply and the only difference is in how we express ourselves.
Society insists on portraying men as unemotional beings. We men have bought into this belief that showing emotions somehow makes us less manly. We associate expressing emotions such as fear, anxiety, loneliness or sadness with weakness so we avoid showing them out of fear of being labeled weak or feminine. So we put on our cold, stoic faces and only allow ourselves to express anger or aggression because these are more “manly”.
Unfortunately, suppressing our emotions makes us miss out on an array of mental and physical health benefits, including better relationships. Furthermore, research has shown that regularly repressing emotions leads to more anger, sadness, stress and a host of other issues.
I wish I could say that I have always been an emotionally expressive person. But that isn’t true. It wasn’t until I became a dad myself that it hit me how differently we raise our kids. I have both sons and daughters and while my daughters have no issues sharing their feelings, my sons struggle to do the same.
As they grew up, I realized I had to make some changes because I didn’t want them to think that repressing emotions was healthy. I didn’t want my sons to fall into teen depression and other mental health issues because they felt unable to open up and share what they were going through. I wasn’t going to let a stereotype rob me and my sons of our psychological health and the chance to create fulfilling relationships.
This took a lot of deep reflection on my part. Though difficult at first, I took steps to get comfortable with my own feelings, express more emotion and also encourage my family to do the same.
Teaching Emotional Intelligence To My Sons
Here are some of the steps I took to help my sons recognize, express and manage their emotions:
Setting an example worth emulating.
The best way to help my sons open up was to let them see me being comfortable expressing my own emotions. So I started talking about how I felt and admitted to being worried, tired, or happy and joyful, etc. whenever different situations came up. This allowed my boys to feel comfortable talking about their own feelings as well. It was especially important for them to see me being calm and respectful instead of angry and aggressive when dealing with problems.
Encouraging them to express themselves.
Additionally, I made sure that my sons knew that they were free to express themselves at home. This was their safe place where they could explore and discover the full range of their emotions without shame or judgment. They could cry or express fear without being told to toughen up and they were also free to share happiness and joy with the family.
Listening to them.
Most boys and men avoid revealing their feelings because they fear no one will listen or understand. When my sons talked to me about what they felt or experienced, I learned to give them my full attention. I listened without interrupting with solutions or advice or changing the topic even though sometimes I didn’t agree with them and other times it was hard for me to hear what they shared.
Helping them deal with negative emotions.
It was also important to teach my sons how to manage negative emotions in healthy ways. Men don’t really like admitting that we need assistance but I taught my boys that asking for help wasn’t a show of weakness. I also encouraged them to find healthy ways of venting their anger and coping with the stress that life throws their way. They could either talk to someone they trust, do some exercise, play a sport or even keep a journal if that’s what it took to release those negative emotions.
I believe that by helping my sons understand their emotions, express them clearly and respectfully as well as find healthy ways to manage them, I am setting them up to lead fulfilling lives as men.
Have you read the original anthology that was the catalyst for The Good Men Project? Buy here: The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood
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