I am a man and I have emotions. I am a man who has learned to express his emotions. And, I am also a man who has been raised in a culture with mixed messages and feelings regarding my emotions and feelings.
Because of this, I have spent a great deal of my life unsure of how or what I am “supposed” to feel, and when and if I can even express those feelings at all.
I have been called “too sensitive” more times than I can count.
I have been told I need to “develop thicker skin” and that I “take things too personally.” I even had a partner repeatedly tell me that she should be able to say whatever she wants to me without me getting upset. Literally, “anything she wants.” Why? Because I’m a man? Because we are supposed to just suck it up and take it? Because nothing is supposed to bother us?
The truth is, I know this is what is expected, and yet I have not yet met a man who does not have some sort of reaction to “things” and “words.” We all have our triggers, and I do not know who this mythical creature is, who knows how to perfectly receive and respond to insults, among other things.
Having said all of this, it does not mean that we get to just run wild with our emotions either. We, as men, can do a lot of damage. As I share in my book “Man School: Relating with Women in the #MeToo Era,” the majority of women have an inherent fear of our reactions. Our testosterone can make us dangerous, and this is something to be mindful of.
“Mindfulness” is what ultimately lead me to love my sensitivity for the gifts it can provide. The first steps were challenging: I had to get that it is normal for me to have emotions in the first place. I had to get that my feelings existed, and existed for a reason. I studied with teachers who taught me to observe my emotions rather than live within them.
One teacher in particular, taught me how to use my emotions as a GPS system to discover what actions I needed to take. And ultimately, I learned that my emotions existed to inform me of what feels good and does not, so I knew where to put my energy and where not to. As the observer, I also quickly discovered how many of my emotional responses were based on things that happened in my past that were just being triggered by the person in front of me in the moment.
I understand that this can be a lot to manage at first. I often felt like I was the “Terminator,” visualizing, tracking and analyzing every little thing that came up, or was said, to determine if it was an actual threat or not. We, as men, have a wonderful internal mechanism that allows us to process things like this quickly. It is a survival thing.
I learned the important questions to ask myself:
“Is this really a threat?”
“Why is this upsetting me?”
“Is this about something happening right now or from my past?”
“What do I need them to know about why this is triggering me?
I learned to ask them:
“Did you mean to say this?”
“What did you mean by this?”
“What is it you really want me to know about this?”
As I learned to get curious about my emotional responses versus just reacting, some beautiful things happened: I relaxed, my relationships improved, I began to have more fun, and she (whomever “she” happened to be) began to appreciate me more.
Awhile back, I was dating a woman around the holiday season. I was working on New Year’s Eve, and so, we were not able to spend that night together.
The next day, she was really upset that I hadn’t called her to ask what she was doing that night. For me, in my man-brain, I figured we didn’t have plans, and I was working, so I compartmentalized that she was doing something that she wanted to do. Instead of saying that to her, which would have been a huge mistake as it would have invalidated her feelings (be honest guys, who has not experienced this), I said to her, “You are absolutely right, and I am so sorry.”
She told me that she felt needy for having even said anything because she knew I was focused on work. I replied with, “That doesn’t matter. You absolutely deserve to ask for what you need and to have the things you want.”
She was floored. Her words: “Wow, no man has ever acknowledged my feelings or said anything like that to me before.” Had I not spent time learning about my emotions, which helped me to understand hers, this situation would have quickly devolved into a fight.
It is good that you have emotions.
It is great when you learn about them and how to use them. And ultimately, understanding yours helps you understand hers, which is a win-win for everyone.
I have been called “too sensitive.” My response to that is: “My sensitivity makes me a better partner, better lover, better coach, better father and a better man.”