Men may be ahead of the curve in a lot of ways in our society, but the study of men and mental health is sorely lacking. When it comes to men and emotions, we tend to fall back to old wives’ tales and cliches that tell us men don’t feel emotions the way women do.
The old adage, “boys don’t cry,” is just not true. All human beings feel the same way. Unfortunately, from a very young age, men are conditioned by our society to bottle up their emotions rather than express them freely.
Our society is changing, and these outdated archetypes deserve to be changed with it. Just as we work to close the gender pay gap and systemic problems women and minorities face, we also need to change the way we view men and their feelings.
When men do not allow themselves to express emotions in a healthy and positive way, they internalize them in unhealthy and negative ways. Burying their emotions leads to social isolation, depression, anxiety, and mental distress.
Most of the time, these issues arise when men do not know how to communicate their feelings to others. A lifetime of fear concerning emotional expression has created a system where they cannot talk about how they feel. Read on as we discuss some of the ways this occurs, and what you can do to break the cycle.
The Myths About Men and Emotions
While our society encourages girls to embrace their feelings, from a young age, men are taught that they should rise above emotions. Let’s go over a few myths about men and emotions and learn the facts.
Myth: Boys and men must be emotionless leaders who do not express their feelings freely, because that is a sign of weakness. (This fallacious ideology is called emotional stoicism.)
Fact: Do we also label women expressing their emotions as weak? No, of course we do not. Emotional stoicism leads to loneliness, requiring self-isolation from surrounding social groups. This isolation leads to depression, anxiety, and poor mental health.
Myth: Men are naturally incapable of feeling emotions the way women do.
Fact: There is neither biological nor psychological evidence for this myth. In fact, the reality is that men feel the same emotions as women, but often do not feel safe expressing those emotions because they fear being viewed as weak.
Myth: Men can’t empathize with others the way women can.
Fact: Studies on infants confirm that there is no neurological difference between genders and their ability to empathize and express compassion. Instead, scientists have found that many men don’t empathize because they have learned not to. However, they still have the capability to exhibit empathy and compassion.
The Emotional Experience and You
Emotional experience is a very important part of developing good coping mechanisms. In order to know how to cope with life and its challenges, you need to know how to express your emotional responses in a healthy way.
When boys are children, they live in an echo chamber of people who tell them that boys should not feel. They may hear phrases like “boys don’t cry,” “suck it up and be a man,” and the like. These phrases are detrimental and abusive to young men’s psyches.
When boys and men are taught to bottle up their emotions and not express them, they are being emotionally invalidated. Emotional invalidation occurs when someone is told their emotional response is wrong.
Invalidation hurts. We all want to feel like we are valid. When this happens to boys and men, it causes them to become insular with their expressions. Eventually, they may say that they don’t feel emotions, but deep down, they know they do.
When men become isolated, they are at a greater risk of mental illness. Loneliness often leads to feelings of extreme sadness, depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. Learning to express emotions can overcome this isolation and reconnect you to the social world around you.
Emotional Intelligence and Mental Health
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and express one’s emotions in a healthy and productive way. When people can access and talk about their feelings, they experience a host of benefits for their mental and physical health.
Expression of feelings in a progressive way is a predictive factor of good mental health. Research shows the greater the emotional intelligence a person exhibits, the less likely they are to experience common mental health factors including depression, stress, and anxiety.
Having a high degree of emotional intelligence is predictive of good socialization skills. People who know and understand their feelings can engage socially and build communities better than those whose emotions are suppressed.
Being a part of social networks allows men to have a sense of purpose and belonging. We all want to know that there are places where we feel safe, loved, and validated. For people in recovery for mental health and substance use, having these places is key to success.
The Importance of Your Feelings in Treatment and Recovery
Because men and women experience different standards from the society we live in, they will need different kinds of treatment for mental health and substance use. In order to overcome emotional walls, men need treatment designed for them.
A big reason that men are more likely to engage in substance use is because they internalize their emotions. When that happens, it is very easy to fall into patterns of self-loathing, in which men blame themselves for problems rather than expressing hurt or frustration.
Now that you are in recovery, you have resources available to you, like the Band of Brothers alumni program. Just talking about how you are feeling with a peer sponsor or making yourself available to listen can make all the difference in the world.
As a society, we tend to think of men as pillars of strength, hard and emotionless in their interactions. Men, we think, would never show how they feel. You have probably been told that girls wear their emotions on their sleeves, while boys keep their emotions inside. This is simply not true. When boys and men internalize their feelings, they put themselves at risk for mental and emotional strain that can affect them for a lifetime. The cathartic release of emotion is important to our health. As an alumnus of the Renaissance Ranch treatment program, you know the importance of emotional intelligence. If you are struggling, Renaissance Ranch is here to help today at (801) 308-8898.