Why Are Men Bad At Sharing Emotions?
Updated: Feb 17
I recently watched a documentary about Rio Ferdinand, being a bereaved father. In it, he shares intimate thoughts and experiences about losing his wife to cancer. I was never a fan of Rio as a player nor a football pundit and that’s merely down to my allegiances but you’ve got to admire his courage in revealing a more vulnerable side to himself. That resonated with me because his story is so honest and heartwarming. It’s typically not something that men, especially of his caliber would share, something so profoundly personal.
Men are half as likely to seek help through counselling than women, according to the BBC.
In the absence of his late wife, he talks about having to play both mum and dad and he shares his concern for his kids and worries about how he might be able to fill the role of both parents, which is especially important for the mental and emotional wellbeing of his children.
Despite what you may think of him, at the end of the day he’s a dad and his concerns are very sincere. No amount of money or fame can replace a loved one, and he’s had to deal with all the emotions.
The big issue is that the perception of what a man should be like in modern society hasn’t actually caught up with the millennia of conditioning & propagation of the type of behaviour expected of a man and this is not being talked about enough in mainstream media.
What is really interesting about his story is that being open about his grief and talking about it, he says, has helped him to cope better with the grieving process and there is something we can all learn from that.
For people who are capable of sharing their emotions with others, particularly women, this may be difficult to understand. To a further extent, people who don’t openly share their emotions may be viewed by others as being cold or detached, but it’s important to put everything into perspective.
While the role of men in the world is evolving, like the Stay-At-Home-Dad. The big issue is that the perception of what a man should be like in modern society hasn’t actually caught up with the millennia of conditioning & propagation of the type of behaviour expected of a man and this is not being talked about enough in mainstream media.
We are being told what to do, but not how to do it. We have been socialised to believe that being a man means that we are independent, strong, we protect and we’re not at all vulnerable.
It means that if you share too much of what you are feeling, that you may be criticised or rejected. Instead, you may be withdrawn or say to yourself you can handle it or it isn’t that big of a deal. That is why men generally feel they can’t really talk about their feelings, and it is especially difficult to share them publicly. Psychologists refer to this as normative male alexithymia.
If you consider that in the UK, men are 3 times more likely than women to commit suicide, then it makes for an even more interesting story.
Change isn't simply going to happen overnight, but there are a few things that can be done to overcome this behaviour. Here is some food for thought -
Unpleasant emotions are inevitable - The focus here isn’t just about learning how to reduce the number of times you spiral out of control, but also how to deal with it when you do.
Emotions may be undesirable, but they’re not harmful - Negative emotions can be undesirable, but not necessarily detrimental. It is the first step in changing the way we label our emotions, and ultimately, the way in which we deal with them.
Retaliating to your emotions only makes them harder to deal with - This resistance to what we perceive as a negative state of mind either exacerbates the current emotion or compounds it with another undesirable one.
Emotions are acceptable, but the way in which we manifest them may not be - We are complex emotional beings, but we are also civilised and should aim to harness these emotions in a socially acceptable way.
Treat your emotions as a friend and not a foe - Endeavour to respect your emotions rather than embodying them in a way that is apathetic towards yourself and others.
Talking about how you are feeling helps you in understanding what it is that you’re feeling - We don’t need to make sense of our emotion before we can talk about them. It is the process of talking in itself that helps us to make sense of what we’re feeling.
(Credit: Luke Marks)
This last point circles back to what Rio was saying about being able to share his emotions, in that talking about it made it easier to deal with what he was feeling.
If you're suffering from mental illness and need to talk to someone, here are a few numbers to call for support -
CALM - Helpline 0800 58 58 58
NoPanic - Helpline 0300 772 9844
Mind - Helpline 0300 123 3393