“My second son is too emotional” she said. What do you mean by emotional? I asked. “He cries too often” She responded. “Let him cry” I said. “No, he needs to toughen up he is a man” She said. I have always had a different opinion when it comes to allowing men or boys express their emotions. I hence decided to probe further. “What makes you think it’s wrong to cry” I asked. “He even cries when watching movies, the brother is rarely bothered by such.” This made me want to dig deeper.
On further exploration I discovered that the boys were separated from their father some years back. The father has not made any effort to get in touch with them. The mother is convinced that the older son is coping well. Her definition of coping is however worrying to me. In her words, “He doesn’t worry about it, in fact he doesn’t talk about it. He however gets very rude sometimes and over exercises.” That was a red flag for me. “Many children in toxic households bury their feelings as a coping mechanism for dealing with verbal abuse” Peg Streep. They armor themselves and teach themselves not to respond because it feels safer. As adults they may have a problem knowing what to feel; they are unable to distinguish anger from fear, shame from pain or they may feel nothing at all.
One of the dangers of viewing crying as a weakness is that we are bringing up a generation of numb people. People who will not know how to express their true feelings. A friend of mine gave me a story that cemented this view. His friend lost his mother a while back. After the burial he and the brother went home to drop their father. Throughout the journey they had nothing to talk about. Neither did they have anything to say on reaching home. Three years later they have never talked to the father. They do not know where to start or what to talk about. They just realized that the mother was the only connection they had to the father. Needless to say that the father probably feels as lost. He however also does not know where to start. This is the effect of numbed feelings.
To add to this, a friend is making an effort to improve father-son bonds through a mentorship program. In this program there are two things that are key. The first one is that each boy is supposed to make a call to the father and tell him that he loves him. Your guess is as good as mine. Every time this call happens, deep silence is heard on the other end of the conversation. Actually most fathers hang up. They do not know what to say. They never learnt how to express or respond to feelings. To me this is a sad reality.
The second thing that defines this program is a father-son bonding day. The fathers are invited to come and spend time with their sons. Something peculiar also happens on this day: Five minutes after the bonding time starts, fathers converge back together while the boys retreat back to their group. It is a harsh reality. The pressure that we give boys to toughen up and young men to man up will come to haunt us one day. We will expect them to express love or disappointment as adults but they will not know how to do it. In fact, they feel confused; how do they express feelings and at the same time look tough. The explanation that showing feelings is a weakness is a sad lie that we have sold especially to men.
This explains why one would rather lose a family or a great relationship than apologize because that will make them look weak. It also explains why one would rather play strong even when hurting or having an extreme desire to express love because expressing emotions will be equated to weakness. We hence have people blocking emotions which are commonly expressed as;
- Being uncomfortable being alone leading to staying in toxic relationships.
- Feeling uncomfortable when you are not busy or have nothing to do hence always look for projects or activities to engage in.
- Being a workaholic or having poor work boundaries; working 24/7.
- Binge drinking every weekend because you are off work.
- Excessive use of social media and mindless scrolling.
- Excessive or mindless eating even when one is not hungry.
- Compulsive shopping for things you do not need.
None of this is a healthy way of coping neither does any of them lead to a healthy solution. Instead of shunning people from expressing their feelings we need to encourage them to journey through those feelings and find a healthy closure. This means learning how to process emotions. Below steps might be helpful;
1. Self-awareness – Progress starts by recognizing the emotion that you are feeling. Then accept it and feel it fully without judgement. Resisting what is happening leads to more pain. Remember emotional pain is as impactful as physical pain. In the words of Tara Brach, Let it R.A.I.N;
R – Recognize what is going on; recognize your thoughts, feelings and behaviors
A – Allow the experience to be there – do not try to fix or avoid it.
I – Investigate with interest – find out your truth; what does this vulnerable place want from you, what needs your attention. Honestly connect with your feelings, hurt, fears and shame in a non-judgmental way.
N – Nourish yourself with compassion. What does your wounded, frightened or hurting need? It could be reassurance, forgiveness, companionship, love; Open your heart to express what you need.
2. Respond – emotions need to be expressed to be processed; move the energy through and out of the body so that you can let it go. Healing occurs when body and mind integrate. What do you need to do? what feels right? Cry, scream, walk, run, dance, hit a punching bag, take deep breaths; free the emotions.
Write your feelings, talk to express how you feel– Do not censor or judge yourself; let it all out unfiltered. This gives your internal world a voice, helps you to process and make sense of what is happening within and around you. It helps to free yourself, get unstuck and move forward.
As you write think about; What is happening in your life right now ? What do you wish you could change? What is the biggest source of frustration? What needs healing, attention or change?
3. Self-care – realign back with your authentic self, reset back to a relaxed and open state, and come back into wellness and balance. Awaken to life’s joy and simple pleasures that will nourish your body, mind, and soul; take time to slow down and be alone, get out into nature, make art, listen to music…
“If you never heal from what hurt you, you will bleed on people who did not hurt you because unexpressed emotions do not die, they are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways”