"Are boys encouraged to express sadness, fear, or anxiety? In general, our society gives boys permission for one emotion: anger. If a boy is hurt or upset, he may be comforted briefly, but then he is told to stop crying and be a man. " This message usually implies he should hide his feelings. Boys and men are supposed to be solid unemotional rocks. Demonstrations of emotions are seen as silly. " Anger is seen as a sign of strength. Males are considered to be standing up for their rights if they react to a frustrating or undesirable event with anger. Outrage is often the only reaction to an injustice that is allowed from boys. " — Meg Kennedy Dugan
Being the mother of two sons, this topic is pretty much constantly on my mind. I wasn't inspired to write about it though until I read my friend Lynnette's blog post; A Small Glimpse Inside The Boy . In that post she discusses seeing a small glimpse of what her husband must have felt as a boy. It made me shiver.
I grew up with only one sibling. A sister. When my first child arrived and he was a boy, I thought to myself, what the hell do you do with these little guys?". I had no experience from which to draw on to raise this child. So, I did what I do. I read. I read a lot.
It turns out that most boys are raised to be men". This means to not show any emotions except anger. All other emotions are considered weak. By whom? By the men" who were raised the exact same way but deep down feel horrible about themselves because they do in fact have emotions other than anger. That's just not going to work for me. Talk about dysfunctional.
See, I don't want to be one of those moms on the news saying, No, I had no idea he was building pipe bombs in our garage. ". I don't want my boys to turn into workaholics, rage-aholics, alcoholics or any other a-holic just to numb the feelings that they aren't supposed" to feel. Uh uh. I want my boys to understand that emotions are normal and ok.
The tough part about this is that society still doesn't believe that emotions are normal or ok. Boys are made fun of when they cry, even at very young ages. In organized sports, boys are told to shake it off", man up", suck it up", etc. They are called crybabies or pussies. NO! Little boys who get hit with line drives are going to cry. It hurts. They are little boys. There is nothing wrong or unnatural about them crying. If a little girl on a little league baseball team got hit with a line drive and started crying, all the coaches and parents would probably rush out there to check on her, make sure she's ok, give her hugs and kisses and probably even tell her to sit out the rest of the game with a lollipop.
No wonder we have so many wars, high school kids shooting up their schools and men seeking power at all costs. We've raised them to be angry. Think of all the different emotions you can feel in just one day. Apply those same emotions to a man. If he is raised, as most boys are, to only show anger, then he would probably be angry most of the day. Every day.
So where do all those feelings go? No matter what they are taught, those feelings still exist. They are turned into anger and either directed inwardly or outwardly. Those are their only two options. Add to that the fact that they know they feel other emotions but that they are weak for feeling them and another layer of crap is dumped on them. Shame. If real men" don't feel emotions, but I do feel emotions, then I'm not a real man. That's the message they receive loud and clear.
This leads to a whole variety of problems during childhood and even more later in life. Bullies, rageful criminals or withdrawn depressed kids are the results of these lessons. They end up becoming emotionally distant adults at best or violent abusers at worst. The women in these men's lives are basically dealing with a man" with the emotional maturity of a five year old. So, their relationships suffer, causing them more emotions that are not manly" and they feel even worse about themselves. One of the theories on what causes narcissism speaks to this:
There are many theories regarding what causes a narcissistic personality disorder. Subsequently what you are about to read is one more theory, based on my experiences in treating many patients with narcissistic personality disorder. I have found definite commonalities between individuals from which one can draw conclusions regarding causation. As such, I believe one of the most common causes is impoverished self-esteem, occurring at a young age. These individuals often have a loss of a strong father figure in their lives. If they have not lost their father figure, then the father has been emotionally absent. These fathers are usually condescending, critical, and do not empower their children at a young age. Subsequently, as they grow older these children overcompensate for their lack of self-esteem, carrying with them some traits from their fathers such as the emotional distancing, while inflating their false sense of self worth. Sadly, individuals with narcissistic personality disorder really never find their true selves.
So, how do we stop this nonsense and let our boys and men know it's ok and normal to experience all sorts of emotions and stop the spread of anger, abuse and self-loathing? I don't have an answer to this question. It's a societal problem that most people don't seem to want to change, despite senseless, preventable events such as Columbine.
How I handle this with my boys is by telling them the sad truth. They have been told that society looks down upon boys who express emotions such as sadness, hurt and pain. They have also been told that while they do need to suck it up" out there in the world in order to avoid being ridiculed and targeted by their peers and/or bullies, they do have a safe place in which to express any emotions they have. They are encouraged to do so here at home. I have explained that while it's confusing, the fact is society doesn't like it but that's ridiculous and so home is a safe haven in which emotions are expressed freely. All of them.
There was a particularly grueling football practice last season. It was hot out. They practiced for 2 hours a day, every day of the week. It was a competitive league and the coaches were tough. This particular practice, my oldest son took some hard hits. By the end of practice he felt exhausted and beaten up. I saw as he walked towards me that he was fighting back tears. He was ten years old. I whispered to him that he did a great job at practice and to just hold it together until we got to the car. He nodded. Once we got to the car, he let it all out. By the time we got home, he felt fine. Tired, but fine. It was so simple. He didn't have to keep all that bottled up forever, just until we got to the safety of our car, away from the other dads and boys who would most definitely have made fun of him if he had cried at football practice.
I understand that this most likely started long ago when men went to war, when their lives were consumed with hunting and fighting. This is no longer the case. Most men in today's society have families with whom they spend time and go to work in a civilized office in a suit and tie. It's time that we let our boys and men off the hook. It's time that we accept them and their feelings, just as they accept us and ours.
Thanks for stopping by!