Richard Gatley reminds us that men do feel emotions but often lack the training to express them.
She was crushed.
Her daughter had rejected her offer to babysit her granddaughter for the fifth time. Her body trembled as she collapsed in tears, torn by grief, in final acceptance of her daughter’s distain for her.
She was inconsolable, as her husband discovered when he found her sitting in a chair in their little kitchen, her head in her hands, resting on the kitchen table, shaken by paroxysms of tears.
He felt her grief rip through him as he approached. He was repelled, afraid of its terrible power. He feared for his wife’s sanity, so engaged was she in grief and anger. What could he do to save her?
He tried to reason with her. Perhaps she was mistaken about their daughter. Surely there must be some explanation for her rejection. He offered several plausible possibilities, but his wife continued to cry, perhaps even more angrily than before.
“She doesn’t want me there!” she said. “She thinks I’m interfering. Don’t you understand? She hates me!”
“No, she doesn’t,” he urged. “She’s just worried about Kathy.”
This only served to aggravate his wife further, and distress him even more. He began to feel angry with her for allowing herself to think such awful thoughts about their daughter. Afraid of an un-repairable rift that would alienate him from his daughter, he began to blame his wife for allowing relations with her daughter to deteriorate so dreadfully. But, this line of thought also frightened him.
He didn’t want to draw his wife’s fury on himself. His body became rigid with a determined effort to control these feelings. He suddenly felt terribly isolated and alone. He wondered when his wife would get over being so upset.
This woman’s grief is understandable. What grandmother wouldn’t want to play an important part in her grandchild’s life? How could anyone fail to understand the cruelty of a daughter’s rejection? Why then is her husband so immobilized by conflicting emotions in the face of his wife’s powerful display of feelings?
This kind of ineptness is a caricature of the male response. Not all men react so clumsily, but the behavior of the man in our example is nonetheless a reflection of a major problem for men.
Men have difficulty with emotion — not their partner’s emotions — but their own! Although men like to think it is a woman’s feelings that give them trouble, it is actually a man’s own emotional reactions to a woman’s feelings that are truly problematic.
When a man feels something brewing inside he reacts to it so quickly that he may have little awareness of the emotion coursing through his body. “Emotions” occupy a category of experience that is frequently forbidden for men. Guys aren’t supposed to be “emotional.” So, when a man begins to feel something stirring inside himself, alarms go off! He reacts to the presence of the forbidden feeling by quashing it. So, what you often see in men isn’t the emotion, but a reaction to that emotion.
You may not see pain on a guy’s face, or the telltale signs of fear. More likely you’ll see anger or stubbornness, or simply a grim determination to say nothing. What you are witnessing is a guy doing his best to shut down all expression of emotion. You may sense what he’s feeling, empathically. But, this may only makes you wonder what is wrong with him when he tells you he isn’t feeling anything!
He may honestly believe he’s telling the truth, because he really is doing his best not to feel anything. But, it can’t be true, can it? Having clamped down on a strong emotion, he is bound to feel the strain, the tension, of clamping down. Feeling the tension, he won’t understand why he’s experiencing it, nor will he appreciate anyone suggesting that something is going on with him.
While a woman may think it’s her job to help him “own” his emotions, his absolute mandate is to keep those emotions from leaking out, from exposing him as a vulnerable, fragile, human being. That’s the last thing most men want! The frustration a woman feels is inevitable. Her cultural training is butting up against his. This explains why guys have trouble talking about their feelings, why they’re resistant to letting anyone see how they feel.
This also tells us why men often react so abominably when a woman becomes emotional in any way, especially when she cries.
Human beings are by nature both sensitive and empathic. Contrary to popular opinion this includes men as well as women. This biological given is often very disturbing for men. Men aren’t supposed to be like that!
Trained to disguise their empathic ability, men often dismiss these feelings, but inside, a man’s physiology gives him away. When you measure his blood pressure, heart rate and other signs, you see that he is as emotionally reactive as a woman, sometimes more so. So, when a woman becomes “emotional,” the man she loves becomes emotional as well. He resonates empathically with his loved one’s feelings just as she does with his. She’ll be okay with this, he will not.
He’s in danger of displaying emotions that run counter to his mandate as a male. He has to shut them down! This leads to those mind-boggling reactions that are both aggravating and confusing to women. Agitated and irritable, he suddenly wants his partner to stop feeling those distressing emotions! He’ll do anything to get her to do so, even if it means bringing her wrath down upon himself for being “insensitive,” “un-empathic” — or simply for being a jerk.
Perhaps it’s time women realized what is actually going on. If you want a man to respond more compassionately to you when you’re upset, please know you are talking to someone who is probably even more upset than you are! It would be easy to miss this because the idiot may be doing his best not to show what he’s feeling — and you may be thoroughly occupied yourself with whatever emotion has your attention — but please, if only out of sheer curiosity, see if you can notice how upset the poor guy is.
Don’t expect him to admit it. Imagine someone frantically trying to strangle an emotion he’s afraid will escape and humiliate him. Guys often feel hurt, wounded that you’d think they didn’t care, or think they’re stupid, selfish, or god forbid, unfaithful. Men catastrophize. They imagine the worst. They are capable of scaring themselves to death simply because you feel like throwing a tantrum. The shedding of tension in which a woman likes to indulge herself occasionally — to simply adjust herself to life’s little upsets — isn’t so enjoyable to the scaredy cat she lives with.
That ultra-sensitive creature who seems so unresponsive to your feelings is actually struggling to master the turmoil of emotions your feelings have stirred in him. Women have been right all along! There is much more going on inside these guys than they would have us believe. This should give women hope because the humanity they imagined in the men they love is actually there!
When you realize that what is preventing you from seeing the man behind the mask is a kind of shyness, a vulnerability women can understand, you will know what to do. You’ll be gentle and sympathetic with his internal struggle to come to grips with his own feelings, patient and accepting of his denials while continuing to see the emotions beyond them, recognizing their reality until he too can see and feel them.
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