Little David Junior comes limping home, blood dripping down his knee. His cheeks are covered in tear streaks. He fell down while playing with his friends, and quickly went home to seek comfort from his father. When David Senior takes one look at his son’s face, he says a familiar statement we have all heard; “Don’t cry. Be a man. Men don’t cry.”
This is a narrative that has become all too common. For eons men have been discouraged from freely expressing most emotions. This is because socially, emotion is equated with femininity and femininity is equated with weakness. That on its own is wrong on so many levels, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. Today I’m here to talk about how enforcing “emotion phobia” in men is irrefutably and massively damaging to the individual health of men, to their relationships with women, to family life and to society itself.
Emotion is a huge spectrum. Happiness, sadness, fear, anger, shame, the list goes on. From personal observance I have noticed that men do not actually shy away from expressing all emotions, they actually tend to limit themselves to two — anger and happiness. On one hand happiness is universally socially accepted, on the other hand anger is not seen as “feminine” because it projects the image that society has built up of the stereotypical macho man. As a result, many tend to limit their expression of emotion, either by physically refusing to show it or by not communicating their feelings with others.
The problem with consistently bottling up emotions, regardless of your gender, is that eventually the bottle will pop.
Emotions don’t just disappear. If you refuse to express them, they will manifest in other ways. We all know that one person who is usually calm but completely loses it the rare moments when they are angry. That’s a symptom of holding on to pent up frustration for far too long. Suppressing emotions has a heavy toll on both physical and mental health. Physically, it affects your blood pressure, memory, and increases risk of heart disease and diabetes. Consistently holding on to the frustration of unexpressed emotion takes a toll on the body. Psychologically, constant suppression of emotion can cause chronic mental disorders. For instance, there is a direct link between suppressing emotions and depression. In a society where men are shunned for expressing their feelings, is it a wonder that (according to the World Health Organisation) the international suicide mortality rate for men is 5.785% higher than that of women?
As if that isn’t horrifying enough, being out of touch with your emotions hurts the people around you. Research from University of Texas at Austin and the University of Minnesota shows that suppressing emotion leads to increased aggression. Cases of domestic violence and men physically lashing out can be partially attributed to their failure to properly process their emotions. The failure of some men to emotionally connect with their own children is the reason why so many people grow up distant from their fathers. Society’s attitude towards men and emotion is significantly detrimental to family life.
There is also the matter of men expressing their emotions in unhealthy ways. Perhaps you don’t bottle up your emotions, but you express it by lashing out at others or it manifests in unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcoholism, overeating or drug addiction. That ain’t it chief.
Let me not mince words — failing to manage your emotions can kill you. It can hurt the people around you. The problem is that our society thinks “manage” means “suppress”. Learn the healthy ways of managing emotion. This goes for all people: allow yourself to feel. The first reaction to an emotion should not be to push it down. As a society, we must change our attitude of emotion being something negative. People imagine that someone in touch with their emotions is a person who cries at the drop of the pin. This is simply untrue. Nowhere is it written that emotion does not go hand in hand with rationality. Someone in touch with their emotions acknowledges them, rationalises them, and finds healthy ways to express them. The solution to being sad is not to pretend that you are not sad. The solution to being sad is to acknowledge it, confront the cause and allow it to run its course within rational boundaries.
Instead of unhealthy coping mechanisms, one can find healthy creative hobbies like craft making, drawing, dancing, writing, and exercise amongst others as an emotional outlet. Relaxing activities like meditation also ease the pressure. It is critical to learn to freely discuss your emotions and communicate with others, in order to prevent misunderstandings and ensure you can logically solve grievances. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. And never shun those who reach out to you.
Hopefully in the next generation, it will not be considered socially unacceptable for a man to cry in public. Hopefully, we won’t have to deal with emotionally constipated men who insist that their incapability to express their feelings is “manly”. It’s high time stop viewing emotions as a weakness. Emotions are simply part of being human.
So this is to all the men who have been raised to ignore and suppress their emotions: allow yourself to feel. It’s hard. I know. I get it. Learning to manage your emotions is a journey. It may not happen overnight, but you need to do it for your own sake. I believe in you.
Click here for a detailed guide on how to healthily manage your emotions.
What was your experience in learning to manage your emotions? Let me know in the comments.
Cynthia Kinyera is a Ugandan freelance content writer who is enamoured with words and their role in the human experience. She is currently balancing Law School and life in lockdown. As a women’s wellness writer, she uses her work to entertain, educate and empower women, as well as help her clients make a dollar or two. You can find out more about her work at cynthiawrites.com. This Medium blog is meant to inspire thought and discussion, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section or join the conversations on her socials: