Considering that this feature is all about how men express emotions, why is it that the women in their lives will be the only ones who will bother to read it? Is it that men don’t express their emotions? Or is it that we do, but do it differently to the way most people think we should?
I like to joke that a psychotherapist is someone you pay money to for them ask you questions your wife would gladly ask you for free.
Us men are not as emotionally articulate as women
While women tend to recognise and understand how they are feeling rather quickly, it takes us men hours or days to even recognise our feelings, never mind understand how they are affecting us.
Us men are not as emotionally articulate as women.
We don’t spend hours talking about our feelings because our brains are wired differently and cope with our emotions in a different way.
The female brain has a better connection between its left side – which is involved in speech – and right, which is involved in emotion. When women talk, both sides of their brain are activated.
Unfortunately, we only use our left side for speech without including our emotional right side. We talk without connecting with our emotions. So, yes, women are biologically designed to be better at talking about their feelings than men.
A code even we don’t understand
However, just because we aren’t as skilful at expressing our feelings verbally, don’t think for a minute that we don’t feel, and feel deeply. Most times, we express our feelings using a code that even we don’t understand.
We will also only express emotions in places where we feel safe
We tend to convert one feeling into another. For example, hurt and anger are two sides of the same coin. We usually express our hurt by becoming angry. Similarly, feelings such as sadness or vulnerability can convert into anger and pride.
We will also only express emotions in places where we feel safe, and where the expression of feelings is considered acceptable; for instance, at a football game, men will often hug each other and show huge excitement in a way that they would struggle elsewhere.
Our first instinct when we feel strong emotions is to look for a problem to solve, eg if I feel that my partner is hurting, I will instinctively try to problem solve, when all my partner might want is for me to listen to her.
Men, on the other hand, stop communicating when they are trying to process or solve something
Men usually hate it when a woman asks them during a quiet moment, “What are you thinking?” Women find this a natural question to ask, because women tend to go quiet when they feel hurt. Therefore, she thinks his silence means that he is upset.
Men, on the other hand, stop communicating when they are trying to process or solve something. This can be anything from a problem in work, to trying to figure out how Liverpool could lose at home to Aston Villa.
Understanding better how each gender processes emotions is probably one of the most important skills to learn in successful relationships. Men’s brains are wired for action during high emotion, whereas women’s brains are wired for talking things over. If a man instinctively knows his anger is likely to lead to action, he may try to stop it going that far by putting a lid on it and “clamming up”.
For men, emotions are a cue to physical action
Also, in evolutionary terms, men had to shut off their emotions while out hunting, so over time it has become natural for us to do so.
When we get very upset, a man’s first instinct is to leave and calm down. For men, emotions are a cue to physical action. So withdrawing is my way of ensuring that I don’t act. If a man stays put and becomes very emotional, his blood pressure skyrockets, and he is at risk of having a heart attack over time. It also takes him much longer for his blood pressure to return to normal after high emotion than it does for a woman.
Therefore, a man will instinctively try (without even knowing that this is what he is doing) to protect himself and escape the situation.
Women need to be more tuned into their emotions than men because they are, more often, the ones who rear children and rely on their emotions to warn them when something is wrong with their child.
In an experiment, boys were much quicker to try to switch off a recording of a baby crying than girls were. We originally thought that this was because of male insensitivity.
So, men are actually more sensitive to emotion and so more likely to avoid it
However, it turned out that the boys had much higher levels of stress hormones in their bloodstreams than the girls did on hearing the cry.
So, men are actually more sensitive to emotion and so more likely to avoid it.
This gender difference persists through life and old men are much more likely to die soon after the loss of a partner than an elderly wife when she loses her husband.
Understanding how men and women express emotions differently is crucial in helping men understand their feelings. Life would be a lot easier for us, if our partners realised that we may prefer to talk about practicalities rather than how we are feeling.
By focusing on action, your man will feel less threatened
If you notice something is up with us, think twice before saying, “How do you feel?” Perhaps say, “It might be a good idea if we do ‘this’ about ‘that’ situation.” By focusing on action, your man will feel less threatened. Remember strong emotion physically harms us and is a cue to action rather than discussion.
Give men time to understand the feelings we are having. Most men would rather solve problems than talk about their feelings. We prefer to get to the solution first and talk about how we got there later. Solving a problem tends to give us the time to process and understand how we are feeling, giving us the necessary time to think before talking.
Men often express their feelings in a physical way. We often express feelings outwardly through body language such as physical gestures, facial changes, muscle tensing and gritting teeth, instead of expressing with words.
We might use special events, big gestures, and showing support to express how we feel, especially towards our partner. So, judge us by what we do and not by what we say or don’t say.
Sometimes men will only talk about their feelings long after the event has passed. The greater the emotion, the longer it takes us to understand what we are feeling and to figure out what may be causing it.
By giving us plenty of time to process and understand our own emotions, you are showing empathy and respect for our experiences and creating a situation where discussing what’s going on in our head can be more meaningful.
Force us to talk about our emotions before we are ready and you risk alienating us, which makes us shut down. However, if you allow us time and space to process our feelings in a way that works for us, you are giving us the support we need to effectively deal with them.
Enda Murphy is a psychotherapist and director of SeeMe. For more details, go to www.seeme.ie. Please email your own queries to Enda to advice@farmers journal.ie