October 2018 

Understanding & Expressing Emotions is Critical for Boys and Men

Showing Emotions & Being Authentic

Being able to recognize emotions and feelings is important for all people because it gives us the tools we need to process and deal with life events effectively. Being in touch with our feelings and emotions is also a first step in being able to show up as our true selves in everyday life and not make others responsible for our feelings.

When we can acknowledge and deal with our own feelings and act as our authentic selves, we create a space in our lives for healthy relationships rooted in equality and respect.

When Showing Emotion Is Seen as Weakness

We often see expectations from society and the media for men to always be strong, implying that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. From a very young age, boys are taught not to cry or express their feelings. In a TedTalk, Tony Porter of A Call to Men discusses how he treated his son and daughter differently when they approached him crying. To his daughter, he was an unconditional shoulder to cry on. In contrast, Porter would limit his son’s ability to express his emotions through tears and insist that he “talk to him like a man.”

However, it’s okay, and perhaps sometimes necessary, to cry. According to Dr. Judith Orloff, “crying is essential to resolve grief […] tears help us process loss so we can keep living with open hearts. Otherwise, we are set up for depression if we suppress these potent feelings”. Given that men die by suicide 3.53x more often than women, it’s important for boys to learn healthy ways to deal with pain and sadness at a young age.

Emotional wounds can also turn into or be misinterpreted as anger, which is commonly dealt with through violence and aggression. We often teach young boys and men that aggression and violence are acceptable responses to anger. At Emerge, the vast majority of the people we serve are women who have experienced violence at the hands of men.

Redefining What’s “Okay”

Having the tools to interpret and respond to interactions with others in a healthy and safe manner is critical to our own well-being and the well-being of those we are in relationships with. When we tell boys and young men that they’re weak or out of control when they express their emotions, we take away their ability to act as their authentic selves. We set them up for a life where they shut out emotions and vulnerability.

Do you have any young men or boys in your life? Encourage them to be open about how they’re feeling by showing interest when they express themselves and positive reinforcement when they open up to you about something heartfelt. As a man, being strong doesn’t have to mean that you can’t cry, and boys need to hear this early and often—especially from men in their lives. This is one of the simple ways we can create safety in our community for everyone.