By MARK GREENE
We have all heard it said, over and over, that many men do not share their feelings. That these men can be good friends, husbands and lovers but that they remain, on some level, hidden.
That they do not communicate feelings well. The tendency to remain emotionally guarded is a matter of practical survival that men learn early in life.
They are taught that revealing their feelings is not safe. It is dangerous. It will cost them. It is result of a culture of male emotional withdrawal reinforced by generations of male traditions which value toughness and stoicism over communication and emotional connection.
While millions of men are choosing to try to move beyond these archaic ideas of what it is to be a man, millions more continue to endorse outmoded and emotionally limiting ideas of what it means to be a father, a lover, or a husband.
Leaving many men trapped in gender roles that are often brutally enforced by other men, women and sometimes, their own families. But whether one is attempting to move past old ideas or not, all of us continue to be haunted by fears born out of generations old ideas of manhood.
One result of this ongoing emotional suppression of men, is that our public dialogues (that of both men and women) are increasingly angry and binary, indicating that although both sexes are still invested on some level in our culture’s more archaic gender roles, no one’s all that happy with them anymore.
And we see these angry public discourses everywhere, in the media, on Facebook and at the local bar. But ask anyone who knows. Anger is just fear talking. Fears unspoken and unexplored. Below is just a sample list of some of the fears that men face. This list is by no means complete. But men’s fears must be acknowledged. Because they are so deeply rooted, men’s fears can determine the course of an entire lifetime without ever being examined. As hidden as they are, they are not to be taken lightly.
So what are men afraid of? Here are a few examples.
1. What I Want Sexually is Wrong (In One Way or Another)
Men carry the deep seated fear that their sexual needs are, in some way, just not right. Whether it’s something as complex as a fetish, or as simple as frequency, men carry the deep-seated fear that sexual love in relationships isn’t sustainable because what they want and need sexually is too much, is too selfish, is wrong.
This shame is compounded by a lack of emotional connectivity in their relationships; connectivity that can create a vibrant holding space for sexual exploration and generosity. For many men, this central fear that sexual love doesn’t last can lead to a preemptive callousness about sex and relationships. “I want what I want and to hell with you.” Sexual expression can become intertwined with anger. This, coupled with underlying shame about their sexual appetites, creates a self-fulfilling fatalism, contributing to the collapse of their relationships, time and time again.
2. I’m Never Going to Earn Enough
Being the financial provider is the central role that many men assign themselves in relationships. Although self-assigned, this role is also encouraged by our culture and sometimes by women. This emphasis on providing money is often taken on by men in lieu of the more challenging task of developing crucial interpersonal capacities like emotional connectivity, empathy, and child-raising skills, (emotional skill sets which can validate men in ways other than financially.)
Initially, being the breadwinner may seem like an easy way out for men. The implication is, “if you bring the money you can take a pass on the messy emotional side of your family relationships.”
But this breadwinner mode tempts some men to compound their self induced isolation by leveraging the authority associated with economic control over other family members.
Some other relationship killing parts of this equation? When judged solely on their earning capacities, men can end up being relentlessly tested by a spiral of accelerating consumerism.
And, when unemployment or retirement strikes, men have no alternative emotional resources or sources of validation to draw on. Game over.
3. Other Men Will Find Out I’m Weak
Men fear their worries and sadness are a sign of weakness; and that if they are found out, they will be rejected and condemned by their friends, family members and spouses.
Men are taught to hide their fears, collectively creating a cultural myth of male toughness. This culture of toughness is deeply isolating. When men have no way to share their stories of uncertainty, grief or fear, those fears can become overwhelming.
The suppression of wider ranges of male emotional expression becomes a source of intense internal stress for men, which in turn is expressed as anger or authoritarianism. Although we don’t allow men to cry, we do allow them to express anger. It is this one-note anger mode of expression that can eventually result in alcoholism, addiction, depression and early death for many men. All in the effort to avoid appearing…human.
4. I’m Getting Old
Men are often judged solely on their economic and physical vitality. Typically, men are not valued for their “feminine” soft skills, like diplomacy or emotional availability. This sets men up for an inevitable decline in value, tied directly to aging. Meanwhile, because society does not typically encourage the development of soft skills in men, some must face old age without the emotional connectivity that will cushion the impact of aging. And that makes aging terrifying.
5. I Don’t Know Who I Am
Often men spend their lives battling an uncertain world in order to provide for their families financially. Preoccupied with this struggle, men resist committing time for self examination or emotional growth. Eventually, men come to fear the person in the mirror looking back at them. After a lifetime of putting up a false front of confidence and authority, many men feel they are barely keeping a lid on their emotions. Absent the parallel journey of growing emotional connection with their families and friends, our fathers, brothers and sons are condemned to live lives of isolated desperation, ultimately unsure of who they are and what they might become.
There is great hope for us men as we break out of the age old, emotionally closed off, authoritarian models of manhood. Being strong and being confident are important parts of being healthy human beings. But strength and confidence must come from the rich and rewarding relationships we create with the people in our lives, not from the economic or physical power we wield, regardless of our gender.
Only a rich network of relationships holds the power and flexibility to carry any of us through life’s challenges. And a big part of building those robust relationships is to first admit to ourselves and those we love the fears that we carry every day.
Because in doing so, we can change our hidden fears into sources of strength, mutual support and ultimately, love.
This is a version of a post that was originally published on The Good Men Project and has been republished with full permission.