‘Big boys don’t cry’
This is possibly one of the most dangerous things we can say to a boy, who will one day become a man.
I see the effects of this messaging in the men I work with. And the men around me - friends and family.
The shame in expressing sadness or disappointment.
The feeling of being ‘less than’ for expressing an emotion that comes bubbling up autonomously without request.
To ‘grow up’ and ‘be a man’.
The only choice that boy has is to hold the sadness in and to deaden themselves from the sensations they experience when in their sadness.
And often what can replace it is anger.
The sadness becomes stuck in the body but the energy of it lingers and fizzes and transforms into anger.
Anger with friends, anger with siblings…
Anger that wants to be directed at the adults that say ‘no’ to crying, but it just isn’t safe to project it there.
What the anger really wants to say is ‘look at me’.
I want to be recognised.
I want respect.
I want to be validated for how I feel.
I want to be heard.
I want to be seen.
The sadness in feeling of neglected and lonely can transform into anger.
The sadness of wanting approval and attention and not getting it can transform into anger.
The sadness of not fitting into the idea of what a man is can transform into anger.
The sadness of not being noticed can transform into anger.
What then happens with that anger can take one of two roads - projection outwards or projection inwards.
That anger can become displaced towards women. It is projected outwards. Rejection is taken personally. The need to be recognised transforms into a sense of entitlement and a man can get drawn into the manosphere. An online space where other angry and bitter men meet and project their boyhood frustrations out onto the women around them.
The second road is learning to suppress the anger. The anger is projected inwards with bitterness and resentment about who they are. The conditioning around us that anger is an emotion that is dangerous. That shouldn’t be expressed. That men who are angry are displaying toxic masculinity. Which creates a shame spiral, because the association becomes that all masculinity is toxic. It creates a shadow and shame around the emotion of anger. It becomes muddy with the idea of what masculinity actually is. The body goes into shut down. Men begin to disconnect from their masculinity and their masculine power as they are seen as dangerous and damaging.
So men stop asking.
They become ‘Mr Nice Guy’.
Firstly, because they are in shut down, they don’t know what they want.
Then, when they do figure out what they want, they don’t ask for it because they feel it’s too direct.
Because directness and asking might be seen externally as trying to control another.
Asking is ‘needing’ and men have been taught that they don’t have needs.
That they are stoic creatures.
That they are independent and should be able to do it all by themselves.
And when they can’t, more feelings of shame arrive. A numbness can be created. Blocking oneself to the emotions and sensations inside as it’s unsafe to feel.
Having needs creates the possibility of rejection.
Having needs can create the possibility of conflict.
It becomes easier to be passive than have boundaries and say ‘no’.
Many of the men who come to me have issues in their relationship to anger, which creates two problems - they don’t know how to move forward and they don’t know how to step back.
Men need to access their anger.
They need access their sadness.
They need to allow their emotions to be felt and move through them.
They need space to understand what their needs are and then ask for them to be met.
They need to give themselves permission to say ‘no’.
When a man taps into his healthy expression of anger, he taps into his own power.
It’s the energy of anger which can teach a man his ‘no’ and with it self-respect.
It’s the energy of anger which can teach a man to move forward and make things happen instead of being passive.
When I say ‘energy of anger’ I want to be clear that it isn’t lashing out or projecting it outwards on those around them. The energy of anger is about feeling the emotion and sensation and using it as a guide of what they are feeling about a situation to then take action - from a healthy and grounded place, not a reactive one.
We need to be giving men permission to recognise that life can be difficult for them too and giving them the space to express that.
Allowing them to acknowledge their struggle and holding them in their shame for being brave enough to come forward.
We hold space for them while they process it all.
We do it in a way which is loving and grounded, so that they can come home to themselves.
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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