Quick search for synonyms for the word “manly” on Thesaurus.com will return words such as “bold”, “heroic” and “self-reliant”. It’s no wonder that the society portraits a typical man as tough and unbreakable. Don’t show your emotions for the risk of getting labelled as “weak”, an antonym also provided by the same website. That’s what is expected of us.
The only socially acceptable emotion for men to show in public is anger. And that has become our answer to every negative emotion. Vulnerability and shame researcher Brene Brown talks how we mask our sadness, insecurities and frustrations into anger because it’s where we feel comfortable. It’s our armor and a mask so we look like we are in control and confident. Yet the truth is that once we have to resort to anger, we have already lost control.
WHY WE DO IT
We don’t show emotions because we are afraid of what others think. It takes courage to be open, kind, caring and warm as that will involve the undeniable risk of being labelled as “weak”. Being vulnerable means that we have to remove the armor that is protecting us. We have to strip away the mask that we wear to uncover our insecurities.
It’s no wonder we do what we’ve always done: shutdown, ridicule and show aggression because it’s what keeps us comfortable.
ARE WE ASHAMED?
Shame is us not being strong enough, muscular enough. It’s us not making enough money to support our families or not being good enough in bed. Since no one talks about anything, we ponder things in our head, building them into a mountain of worries. We feel shame about talking how we’ve failed, how something is hurting us, and so we keep it to ourselves. Once it becomes unbearable we turn it into anger and show it to our partners, kids, friends or dogs. But that’s fine because in our society being angry means you’re a man.
The only situation where most men show emotion is in team sport or when we’re drunk. “I love you, man” comes out easier after a dozen or so beers. But whatever happens, let’s not talk about it in the morning. Let’s act like it never happened. As the great philosopher Peter Griffin once said “let’s drink until we can’t feel feelings anymore.”
WHAT CAN WE DO
It would make our lives better if we open up more to other men around us. Yes, it will be awkward and unbearable in the beginning. I am definitely not good at it. Not by a long shot.
We will question what others will think of us. Will other men label me as being weak for talking about this? And not everyone you talk to is going to be ready for dealing with the emotions that come up. But if we can work our way through that by showing vulnerability we will end up happier for it.
If you are feeling a little bit uncomfortable while reading this maybe it’s a sign that you know exactly what I mean. Hell, if you’d only know how uncomfortable the thought of publishing this makes me feel. Am I getting a “weak” label?
But you know what, fuck it. This is bigger than some of my own insecurities. Because if this gets even one man thinking then it was all worth it.
Having the awareness of what’s happening is the initial step forward towards a better life and better relationships. And maybe by doing so we can save another man from depression, or worse. Only because he thought he wasn’t man enough for being unable to shut down what he was feeling.