Men and boys tend to meet challenges with multiple facades that only perpetuate the emotional pain. They tend to hide their genuine self by behaving nonchalantly, withdrawing, acting cheerfully, or displaying high levels of self-confidence and assurance. However, a man’s true emotions may entail feelings of shame, guilt, loneliness, vulnerability, confusion, uncertainty, depression, and fear. We must learn the “language” of men and become aware of the effects our society has had on the development of the male persona.
Here are a few general principles to apply to our relationships with the men in our lives:
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Listen intently. We appreciate being listened to, especially when we are feeling overwhelmed by life’s turbulences. Once an individual feels listened to and understood they are more capable of opening up to us in the future and feeling that they can share their deepest hurts, fears, and uncertainties without being judged.
Be compassionate. It is important that while we are listening we also show compassion. Compassion can be defined in multiple ways; however, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines compassion quite well as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” We must be compassionate and willing to experience the distress of the man who is probably very detached from his own emotions. We can use our compassion to mirror appropriate responses to pain and distress.
Do not suffocate him. Most men are very much like natural-born claustrophobics. They do not like to be suffocated or to feel trapped. Once they feel this way, they shut down and isolate. We want to encourage them to open up and feel safe when they share what bothers them. We want to express genuine concern, authenticity, and support.
If they want to talk about what bothers them, great. If not, that should be fine too. Give them time to open up, help them feel that you are available, and avoid pressuring them into talking about feelings right away. Men tend to express themselves in behavioral terms. In other words, they may talk about what they did or didn’t do as opposed to how they feel. Keep in mind that you may have to act as a catalyst for change on multiple occasions until that man or boy becomes comfortable with sharing their feelings.
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The most important thing to consider is how we are approaching the men and boys in our lives and how they perceive their role(s) in the world. We should also aim to eradicate false ideologies of maleness and help construct a more appropriate and mentally healthy way that men and boys could view themselves in the world. I encourage you to do just that.