Monday, November 27, 2006

Men have emotions too? Cave dwellers Anonymous!

I was out for a meal recently with friends and the topic of men being shallow and unemotional came up. The argument went that basically men don't talk about their emotions, only talk about football/sport/gadgets/cars etc... when they are together and can't deal with it when a woman mentions something emotional. The very stereotypical viewpoint often reinforced on TV and in magazines.

Now I had to speak up at that point because that stereotype really winds me up. Now don't get me wrong, I totally agree that many men are like that. They come across as having the emotional depth of a wet teabag. The nearest thing they get to showing any emotion is when their team doesn't win a match. That is a slightly tongue in cheek remark but it is sadly true of some men. However I know many men who talk openly about emotional struggles and difficulties and are not emotionally closed books. I realise that this may largely be due to the fact that many of the men I know and have had dealings with are Christians and so are more likely to have had cause to express such things.

Now it is a total ridiculous to believe that men don't have emotions no matter how tough they appear on the outside. We are all human beings, created with emotions, able to hurt and be hurt by others. The big problem comes when women expect men to be like women in the emotional area. The fact of the matter is that men and women are different. Our brains are wired differently to enable us to perform the different roles that God created us for. Shock, horror, what men and women are different and have roles to fulfill in life that may actually be slightly different. YES!

These roles I believe, created by God, are not mutually exclusive. They are designed to work together and complement each other. Neither is less or more important than the other. Women, like it or not have a more nurturing role, hence they are far better at dealing with emotions, whereas men have a protective and provider role. Now of course I know this flies in the face of all the PC nonsense around today. But this is not saying that men are better in any way but just different. Also neither of the roles are exclusive to each sex. Men are capable of nurturing and women are capable of protecting and providing. However each has a natural tendency.

All these incidentally are characteristics possessed by God. God has both the female and male characteristics perfectly represented.

Now men are very solution driven. A mans brain is wired around focusing on one particular task at a time whereas women are better at multi tasking. This stereotype I happen to think is true and is born out by experience and observation.

In the emotional realm men work in the same way as they do in the physical realm. Presented with a problem a mans immediate thought is 'how do I solve this?' whereas in my experience a woman similarly presented with a problem wants to talk and share about the problem and how they feel about it, the solution ultimately being less important than the sharing experience. This fundamental difference is where the heart of the debate is. Gosh its taken a lot of waffle to get here.

Man generally wants to fix, a woman generally wants to share and be understood!

I have to continue to learn to shut my mouth when talking to my wife about issues and not present a 5 point action plan on the best way to solve the problem. I have done counseling training and how to listen to people and still that doesn't come naturally to me. I am constantly amazed that a solution isn't always required when talking to a woman, just listening and giving that time to do so is what is required. Similarly ladies, when talking to men don't expect a long list of all the things bothering a man at that time. If a man has a particular problem then yes he should share it with you but it will likely be in the vain of 'what am I going to do about this?'.

Culture and upbringing of course has a huge influence on the way a man deals with his emotions. Your natural personality combined with upbringing and culture plus you life's experience is what I believe really shapes how you respond to emotions. I was brought up in a very middle class family and was privately educated through all my schooling. My dad is a typical middle class British man. The emotional side of things was dealt with by my Mum in the family. Since my dad left when I was 12 his influence obviously reduced somewhat on me. My schooling culture, especially secondary school, was one of being moulded into an high achiever. Also even though I was bullied I was expected to really deal with it myself or shut up. The psychological impact of bullying was not considered 20 years ago. Now I did become very introverted and angry inside but consequently have had to deal with the emotional results of my childhood. Sadly many men never get the opportunities of support and care I have had.

Many men never grow up in families where the father is openly emotional and so never have that as a role model, I certainly didn't. Many I would say have the opposite, where the male role model is emotionally distant, feelings are not discussed and the impression is that men should show strength of character through burying their emotions. The British Stiff Upper lip is so prevalent even today. Teenage boys are not encouraged to discuss feelings or show emotion seeing it as weakness. No wonder there are so many angry and self destructive youth around. Teenage years are hard and confusing enough emotionally without the extra pressure of not being able to talk about it.

Of course the perfect Role Model is Jesus Himself. No cold, distant and unemotional man was he. A master at asking the right questions and getting to the heart of an issue when talking to either male or female. He expressed his sorrows and emotions openly with his disciples.

Ladies, if you want a man to talk to you don't pressure him and expect him to talk in depth about how he feels about everything. Ask the right questions, learn when to back off and when to push a little harder. I think the best thing 'Men are form Mars ...' described was the whole men in their cave thing. If a man is feeling stressed or down he is likely to retreat into his 'cave' until he has dealt with whatever is bothering him. While there you will not get any response from him if you ask him to talk, he needs space. What a man needs to learn to do is to express what was going on when he emerges from the 'cave'. To tell you what was bothering him and how he has resolved it, if he has. That way you can learn to see the signs of cave retreat and maybe help him not go there in the first place. This is likely only possible if he has already learned how to express what he is feeling.

Compromise is required from both parties. Men need to learn that a woman is expressing concern and love if she wants to know what is going on and not nagging him to talk. They need to see that it is generally totally alien to a woman to retreat when troubled therefore it can be very frustrating for a woman to have to wait. Likewise a woman needs to understand that once in 'cave' mode a man needs space. He will return if given time, nagging will prolong the time spent retreating. If a man needs help he will/should ask for it and can learn to share what is going on inside him if given the space to do so.

Men do have emotions, lots of them! We just struggle to put into words what they are. Given love, security and an unjudgemental atmosphere we can do it.

My Name is Andrew! I am a 'cave dweller', but with hard work and support I don't go there as much anymore!

(edited 03/12/06 to reduce the number of number of 'Now' statements, since there were many, as pointed out by my lovely wife, who is a trainee teacher so I had better listen!)

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