Why men “stuff” their feelings
A friend recently commented that her husband often “stuffs” his feelings about difficult challenges associated with their disabled child. “He acts like my son’s health—and our financial problems—don’t exist. But it always bubbles up in the form of anger, which he takes out on me and the kids.”
Her husband’s behavior may be a direct cause of his upbringing. Men have traditionally been raised to believe that the appearance of emotional control and “being strong” is paramount to a man’s sense of self (1). It goes back to the cultural paradigm that “big boys don’t cry” or they should “man up” and they cannot be unhappy, disappointed, or hurt. However, conflicts can arise later in life, especially when the people men interact with expect something different of them. Men even put other men down by saying: “Stop being such a little girl/old woman/pussy, etc.”
In my psychotherapy practice, I have found that men are also adept at hiding their depressed feelings. Openly admitting to, or exhibiting criteria that would garner a diagnosis of depression, may be a strong threat to a man’s self-concept (2). Being able to name how they feel, or recognize that something feels off, may be very foreign for many men. When you are not trained to talk about a feeling or an emotion, it is extremely hard to recognize it within yourself. Working with an empathetic psychotherapist—who can help men establish a “zone of safety”— is paramount as they work to explore long-repressed feelings.
Many men, both younger and older, will benefit from a treatment plan that integrates methods to:
· Bolster their self-esteem
· Reimagine their personal narrative
· Investigate what it means to be a man in contemporary society
· Focus on where and how they derive personal value and pleasure
Being able to recognize one’s feelings can help men better manage them so they are not repressed—or become explosive later on—and expressed inappropriately. Understanding why we feel the way we do and react the way we do helps us be better partners, parents, colleagues, and managers.
1. Real, T. (2003). I don’t want to talk about it: Overcoming the secret legacy of male depression. New York, NY: Scribner.
2. Ribotsky, K (2018). The heterosexual male gender role stereotype: its evolution and psychological impact on contemporary American men. (Thesis). Available from ProQuest https://pqdtopen.proquest.com/pubnum/10746674.html.