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.
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.
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.
Trained to disguise their empathic ability, men often dismiss these feelings, but inside, a man’s physiology gives him away.
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!
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.
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.
This post is republished on Medium.
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“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!” I have seen many articles that state about the same thing. Woman crying, man a wall, woman in crisis YET when she is looking to her mate to help her, hold her, understand, talk ANYTHING – when she is at her worst – she is still tasked with understanding why he is being childish and alienating her? She has to… Read more »
Obviously you didn’t read the article! Maybe read it again!
You said it perfectly Christine!!!
“She has to somehow put aside the other thing that is making her upset at the moment, drag herself back to the world that obviously has demanded more than she can handle for the moment, and pull another selfless act out of her if she is too not be crushed by her emotionaly stoic husband???” You talk about a woman’s “selfless acts” on one hand while on the other defending her crying, which is itself an inherently selfish act (even if unintentionally so), an act that says “I am experiencing distress so I am going to pull you (and anyone… Read more »
I like this article for one reason, it put’s a hole in the whole “Is Your Man Emotionally Unavailable?”. Let’s get one thing clear right now, anyone who’s emotionally unavailable is incapable of being in a relationship. Period. There’s a difference between emotional unavailability and having a partner who has a different emotional range. As others have pointed out, women want you to be emotional until you are then they lose respect for you. They take no responsibility for their part in your emotional distance, for their training you that looking weak is deadly for your relationship and just want… Read more »
I think men shut themselves down because strong emotions are often painful. I think they expect women to cope the same way, by choosing to shut down their emotions. But when this happens, it makes me become more upset instead of less upset. My husband can cry at the end of ForestGump and get angry at football games or openly frustrated by other drivers or laugh whole heartedly at comedy. When he gets mad at me when I’m crying, I cry more. Then he gets exasperated…but he’s clearly comfortable displaying a full range of emotions. I know this because I’ve… Read more »
Ok think it is a matter of what happens so much in this world – men want to design their surroundings to react the way they want them to. I can not agree more!! We notice how they react to the things they enjoy or make them upset. Because it isn’t a personal emotional reaction it must mean it isn’t really emotional over the game. Wrong. And women are always left feeling twice as bad, labled with all kinds of nasty mental issues. All men get is stoic and now research says it’s ok and women just have to be… Read more »
You must be single! Wow!
A problem that arises from a lack of training must obviously be solved by more training! And I agree it’s just that. I always look to the past to check whether some gendered trait is natural or genetic or merely a changable cultural fashion. And here I find that in past times men used to cry and laugh and write poems and sing songs and dance with grace and tear their clothes in grief. Strong, mature, manly men too! So it cannot be god-given, it is indeed, as you say, nothing more than lack of training. And that can be… Read more »
Theo, you hit it dead on!
Bang on!!! Maybe you should read this Christine!!!
This is precisely what my husband has indicated & I’m a few days away from separating, then possibly divorcing him, & we have six kids. So. Emotional needs are strong y’all.
Men sometimes shut down not because they can’t open up, but because they have opened up, and they’ve been shamed for it, or shut down when they did it. Sometimes even by the very same people who say ‘Oh, men. They just can’t open up. Poor things’. Many times by other men. Sometimes it’s not about ‘skill’ for the guy, sometimes it’s about emotional safety, because of past experiences.
Also, especially for the women in men’s lives who want them to show more emotions, they feel very unsatisfied with their relationships, and one of the issues they mention is that their male partners don’t show enough emotion. Yet, they are so quick to point that out, that they don’t take the time to think that if their partner were to really show more emotion, would it be something that they could accept right away? I think it’s the burning desire that some women have to have the perfect relationship with a man, and they go back and forth between… Read more »
This article is dead on as far as Men’s emotions go.
Our conditioning growing up from a boy to a Man makes it difficult for Men to properly express their emotions.
My question would be, even if a Man could express himself the way women say they want, would Women be able to handle it?
I don’t think Women would be ready for that, even if they say they are.
I get the feeling some would even lose respect for a Man if they expressed themselves in this manner.
Shallow women might. It’s very rare to find this quality in a man. It’s one I am most drawn to. It makes a man passionate, compassionate, and relatable in a way I deeply respect and am attracted to. Consciousness of emotion enables a fullness in connection that is amazing. Understanding that one has feelings, regardless of male/female, is a no brainer. I know women who hold just as tight an upper lip. We are not here to survive without emotion. We’re here to experience life, to live. To me, the alternative always feels Neanderthol, primitive.
I love the fact that you bought this up. many men think women would lose respect for them because to them it makes them less of a man, but to me and other women alike, it shows that a man is human and isnt as black and white as we choose to believe. I showed my boyfriend this post!! Thank you!!
I’ll tell you angel guy, you’re right on the money here! Tried that ‘opening up’ bullcrap. In a word, DON’T. It wasn’t pretty. Better to hire a professional stranger (like a clinical psychologist). Remember, that society that’s been making us ‘hold it in’, well guess what, she’s grown up in, and is part of that same society!
Such an unfortunately common experience, bobbt.
Brene Brown sums it up well. “The story I tell that gets the biggest reaction from the guys in my audiences is when a man approached me after a lecture I gave on shame to say, ‘My wife and daughters…they’d rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall off. You say you want us to be vulnerable and real, but c’mon. You can’t stand it. It makes you sick to see us like that.'”