Why can't men talk about their feelings?
There has been much coverage in the news recently of high profile men talking about their feelings (Rio Ferdinand, Being Mum and Dad BBC 28/3/17; Prince Harry, all news) and how this can help ‘ordinary’ men open up. Both Rio and Harry found that if they didn’t identify and talk about how a traumatic event had impacted on their lives, then it was difficult moving on from it. In Harry’s case, it took nearly 20 years for him to ‘catch up’ emotionally with had happened to his mother.
There seems to be a reluctance in some men to name their feelings, to open up and say that they are feeling vulnerable – this seems to be tantamount to be saying ‘I am weak’. Vulnerability equals weakness.
But what is vulnerability?
In my work with men I constantly find that the thing they call vulnerable is a deep-rooted pain that they have never talked about. An incident or experience from their past that has left a painful mark. This in turn can lead to feelings that are so uncomfortable they must keep them hidden. Being able to express what is troubling them requires a leap of faith, requires trust. The fear that they may experience the pain of the original incident or situation means they mask their emotions.
They harden up – ‘man up’ – covering or denying that they have these emotions. They may be frightened of rejection or abandonment, afraid of humiliation or hurt, loss or insecurity. Whatever it is, it is buried deep. Even in their intimate relationships they are fearful of revealing their inner emotions or pain, for fear of being perceived as weak, or worse still, of it being used against them.
But these issues have a way or working their way out and for some men, instead of being able to disclose the original pain, it becomes an emotional trigger that they try to keep at bay by getting irritable or angry. Anger is the one emotion that is socially and culturally acceptable for men to feel. Unfortunately using anger to alleviate their inner turmoil can explode into abusive behaviours which can affect those closest to them. By evading dealing with their innermost feelings they can alienate and hurt the people they want to keep close.
Being able to talk about your vulnerabilities helps you develop emotional strength to deal with issues that may be impacting on your life and relationships. For some men, this can mean salvaging relationships with their partners and children, being emotionally available and learning how to trust.
Being able to show your vulnerability is a strength and a necessity in building open, honest, and loving relationships.
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About Donna Sullivan
Donna Sullivan is a BACP registered Integrative Counsellor who has worked with offenders in prison, women's outreach services and private practice. She specialises in relationship issues, particularly domestic abuse and is currently working on a domestic abuse perpetrator programme with both men and women.