The Emotions of Men

Like many survivors of child abuse, I have some screwy emotional responses to situations and people. And like many women, I was socialized to be particularly careful of and wary of the emotions of men. I live with two males – my fiancee and my son – and my rational mind does not believe either one would hurt me. Yet when they express strong emotions, even in healthy ways, I get instantly tense. My heart starts pounding, my arms start tingling, and my flight impulse kicks in.

It’s hard for me to permit the men in my life a full range of healthy emotional expression. I recognize this is something flawed in my response, not in their emotions or expressions of them. The irritation and anger need not be directed at me for me to fear them. Anger at a video game or a customer service rep on the phone makes me just as tense and nervous.

It’s very difficult for me to hear someone voice a complaint and not try to instantly address it and fix it (so they can stop complaining and making me so scared.) All too often, I am focused on finding a way to silence their emotions, rather than listening to them, acknowledging them, and then giving the men in my life the space to self-soothe and fix their own problems.

I don’t want to teach my son it’s a woman’s job to manage his emotions; I want him to learn the skills to be able to provide that for himself. And I want to give my son and my fiancee both all the opportunities they need to express their feelings, including their negative feelings, without having to make their pain about me. It’s a process. Any tips and advice for getting myself over this social-emotional learning hump would be greatly appreciated.

4 thoughts on “The Emotions of Men

  1. That’s one that I struggle with too. (To be honest, when I saw the title I had hoped you were going to be addressing that “advice to female parents of male children” post that was going around the other day, but to respond to the post in front of me…)

    I found I had particular difficulties because my late husband, after his stroke, became extremely emotionally labile, with moods that would suddenly spike into anger and even rage at the slightest hint of being thwarted, or when he became even slightly frustrated, something that happened a lot. The unfortunate combination of my fear when exposed to the strong negative emotions of others and his brain injury meant that I spent most of my time at home trying desperately either not to provoke him or to appease him once he was provoked. This is not a good dynamic, especially for a happy home life.

    I think (although it’s hard to say, being single as I am) that at this point I would probably cope better, partially just because my energy for other people’s anger has been almost completely depleted. To some extent I think you just have to recognize that sometimes people are angry and the best thing to do is let them be angry and get it out. If you feel safe, stay around it, if you don’t, either leave or make them leave. If I know I have a means of escape when I stop being able to cope, I can cope with a lot more.

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  4. Not speaking as a psychologist or psychiatris or similar professional, I’ll offer the followng advice.

    Most male anger stems from a steady build-up of frustrations within a sinlge theme. Your example of a video game is illuminating. Most video games, if played for a single round (say five minutes or less) are unlikely to create any kind of emotional response. This is because the guy playing the game has no emotional investment in the game or the outcome.

    On the other hand, if one has been preparing for an MMORPG instance for months only to have the entire event ruined by a “Leroy Jenkins” moment (google it), this is likely to inspore emotional responses, including anger.

    Men is the USA and some other cultures are also discouraged from exposing sadness, especially due to loss at a contest. As a result, we tend to channel these emotions into an anger response, and that anger response is often delayed until it is more violent, and triggered by apparently unrelated events, although the event is usually somehow tied to the frustration eliciting anger.

    Anger can be channeled productively into any number of physical and mental efforts: trial and error works best to pin down any individual man’s best method of releasing anger productively.

    Personally, I like to break things – not people – and the more an object can shatter into pieces and the more work it takes to break something and the more superficial pain I cause myself in the process the better. Afterward, the calming exercise is putting said object back together, usually such that it is more durable than before. Other men have other outlets, but physical exercise with personal risk seems to be a fairly common denominator.

    The key skill to teach men is to anticipate anger before it overcomes reason, then channel that anger in socially acceptable ways. Self-monitoring one’s emotional state is an important skill regardless of gender since it frees you of unreasoned responses so one may act rationally. Such skills are critically important for men since they are the primary means by which to avoid physical conflicts and behaviors for which there are legal sanctions.

    As a rule, men should avoid circumstances that are predictably frustrating, or plan such triggers to be of short duration with an escape vector.

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