Emotional repression is an issue that most men I have encountered have had to deal with, or are currently dealing with, as a result of how we are raised in the United States. Growing up as a boy here, you are far more likely to hear the phrases “Don’t cry” or “Be a man” than you are to hear something like “Let it out, it’s ok to cry.” While this may seem like a small difference, it results in some unhealthy consequences.
I cannot possibly speak for every man, but in my personal experience I am still feeling the effects of emotional repression.
In middle school, I was teased because my eyes would water; this was mostly due to the fact that I needed glasses, so my eyes were strained. This led me to force myself to keep tears in until it became my natural state to never cry, and that continued for roughly three years.
This brought me to the point that not just tears were beyond my grasp, life became a constant line in terms of emotions, rather than containing the natural highs and lows that most experience.
Eventually, I made friends that helped me to begin the long process of letting my emotions out, which leads me to my next point: that these bottles of emotions must be uncorked. To keep all your feelings deep down and not show anybody leads to very unhealthy behavior, such as snapping and going volcanic.
What I mean by this is that emotions cannot be held in forever and if we do not learn how to release them in healthy ways, the floodgates will open and we will end up losing control of ourselves.
Again, this perspective does not speak to everyone, but in my experience, it is widely true of those of us who listened when told that we should not cry. In terms of solutions, there is no quick fix. I wish that there were, but the fact of the matter is that it will take a lot of work to eliminate this self-imposed numbness that plagues men.
However, it can be worked on. The beginning points in my mind revolve of course around children, with teaching kids that anyone can show emotion, but it does not stop there. In terms of our peers, if one of your male friends opens up about something, do not — I repeat, do not — shame them. Our ingrained views of masculinity make it incredibly hard for many men to speak about their emotions with others, and if your response is negative, it will be that much harder for them to open up again.