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Men and emotions

Our emotional state often dictates how we behave. Men and women may handle emotions in quite different ways. 

When upset, women are more likely to express their feelings directly, and to seek the support of friends and family, whereas men might hide their emotions or withdraw. 

Men often feel that they need to be self-reliant. They are sometimes focussed on providing for their loved ones and hide their own emotions. This behaviour is reinforced everyday in the stereotype of the heroic male, so often represented in popular culture. Fearless, resourceful, stoic and usually facing adversity alone, these characters tell us a lot about what is considered to be ideal male behaviour within our society. 

More powerful than film characters are the roles we see our parents playing. Many men have experienced fathers who were emotionally distant, who rarely, if ever, cried or expressed affection outwardly. The way we see our parents behave becomes the unconscious template for our own behaviour. 

The four basic emotions 

It is helpful to think in terms of four basic human emotions: 

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Happiness
  • Fear 

Of these four emotions, happiness is considered the most acceptable in society. Yet anger, fear and sadness are universally felt by everyone. These emotions serve valuable purposes and are normal responses to threat and loss. 

As emotions such as fear and sadness are generally not as accepted, men might try to hide these from themselves and those around them. They feel that they should be able cope on their own. 

Individuals might try to cope with ‘negative’ emotions in one or more of the following ways: 

  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Working longer hours
  • Spending more time away from home
  • Consuming more alcohol
  • Behaving recklessly and/or violently 

We might not always be able to identify what we’re feeling or have the words to describe our emotions. Men may feel uncomfortable talking to someone about them, leading to frustration in relationships when they cannot express their needs, fears and grief. 

Why talk about it? 

The restriction of emotional expression in many men’s lives can lead to: 

  • A greater sense of isolation
  • Less support being available from loved ones
  • Health issues, due to carrying chronic tension in the body and other bad coping strategies
  • Relationship difficulties due to an inability to resolve emotional conflicts and/or a perceived lack of ability to be intimate 
  • Psychological problems such as depression, insomnia and anxiety. 

Getting in touch 

Men are often told they have to ‘get in touch with their feelings,’ but what does this really mean and how do you do it? Here are some strategies for getting to know your own feelings better: 

  • Be aware of the sensations in your body. Emotion always manifests somewhere in the body. Anger might be experienced as a flush of heat in the face, sadness as a tightening of the throat, anxiety as a knot in the stomach. Take a moment to acknowledge the feeling(s) and take a few breaths to help identify these sensations and understand what they mean. 
  • If you are feeling angry, ask yourself what other emotions you might be feeling? Are you really sad underneath, or afraid? 
  • Learn to put words to what you are feeling. Often it helps to write down or brainstorm ideas before a conversation. 
  • Identifying and expressing feelings is a learnt behaviour – and like driving a car, it only takes practice. 
  • Take the risk of showing your vulnerability with people who you feel safe with. Give yourself permission to be human, it could bring you closer to others and may even bring a sense of relief. 
  • Ask for help when you need it. You could start by contacting anonymous services such as MensLine Australia, for professional support. Access support today by calling us or registering for our free online or video counselling services.
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Copyright © MensLine Australia 2011 

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User comments

MensLine Admin
18-Jun-15 07:04 AM
Hi Rob, it is true that there are also many men who can and do talk about their emotions effectively. There are also those who struggle with this and who need some help with discussing emotions, that is often why they ask us for help. We know it is not a one size fits all approach for men and offer support to all men. Please contact us on 1300 78 99 78
18-Jun-15 05:42 AM
Your ideas about men appear shallow and stereotyped. This flawed male you describe who is unable to talk about their feelings is more usually unable to talk to their partners due to the response they receive. When are mens services going to "get over" this shallow stereotyped image of men!!
24-Sep-14 04:49 AM
@Seantrever scott. I really feel for you. English isn't my mother tongue so it is a bit hard for me. But your story made me sad a little. I want to give you a hug myself but I'm not a man and I don't live near Northern Ireland. I really hope you will get a loving, healing hug. And I'm glad that by writing it made you feel a little better.
Seantrevor scott
12-Jun-14 07:08 AM
Hi! I'm a mature guy - I'm 62 - and I need loving touch from another man. I need to be hugged, not given pills by the GP!! I never got hugs from my dad in my childhood, and I feel incomplete because of this. My dad couldn't watch two footballers hugging when their team scored a goal, so this example may illustrate what he was like. I'm an only child, a bachelor - I never wanted to get married - and I got involved with only a few women on a friendship basis. I was brought up with a strict code of morality - that sex outside marriage is wrong. When anyone reads this I imagine few will really understand what I've written. Where I live, near Belfast, in Northern Ireland , had witnessed much sadness and trauma, and many people are hurting inside. I am non-political, I'm just a guy who needs a lot of physical non-sexual loving touch from another bloke , for healing those hurts .
The macho culture in this land, especially in the past, does not auger well for men who are sensitive and loving, but perhaps the younger generation will promote love. I hope so
What I've written comes from the heart, and I feel that love for everyone is extremely important. Simply by writing my account has made me feel better.
pooja suryavanshi
22-Dec-13 04:10 PM
if a man love any one from bottom of his heart he can forget her when she out of his life ?
18-Apr-13 04:29 PM
I feel like society still just as generalizing as this article. Really sick of reading that,"Men just express it differently.". Then how come I am openly emotional? I've cried many times before and I regret being over-looked here. I had a girl tell me today that she didn't know guys had emotions. Society is so shallow and misguided.
08-Mar-13 07:12 PM
i really need help my boyfriend has been ignoring me and i feel so bad about it
24-Feb-13 03:08 PM
Thankyou just a simple man!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I havn't had the problems with the booze, but problems with dissassociation/being a vacuum and letting it buildup and then punching a door I suppose, lol. I know exactly what you're talking about. My last relationship got so crap I had to flee, because my home/kingdom/castle was not Our home but HERS. Next time I'll put my input into everything - carpet, inside colours etc. Sounds a bit gay but hey I have to live there too and my home is my place to replenish, buildup, relax and rejuvenate. If I need a giant picture of Yoda or a WW2 Spitfire hanging up, to feel at home I will. I know guys who seem happy where they live, they've made their house what they want to be like as well
18-Dec-12 11:10 PM
Excellent Coverage. Reality explained nicely
23-Oct-12 12:14 AM
Thanks for giving this mirror to look at myself.
22-Aug-12 10:50 PM
I honestly think this is true which is why so many couples break up or have a divorce.
03-Aug-12 01:26 PM
Balaji Canchi Sistla
17-Jul-12 10:59 PM
Well expressed article and useful to many people who seek the nature emotions
02-Jul-12 03:56 AM
it is just a wonderful paragraph
02-Jul-12 03:56 AM
it is just a wonderful paragraph
02-Jul-12 03:56 AM
it is just a wonderful paragraph
Ryan Sommer
29-Aug-11 08:35 AM
I have found this site and others like it to be an immense source of comfort and reassurance about recent upheavals in my life. I met a girl at my new place of work in Melbourne and after working together for a few days I realised I really wanted to take our relationship further. The problem was, she didn't seem to want to be anything other than a colleague. I hit the depths of despair within hours. For over a week I could barely function. I slowly came to terms with how I felt, the potential consequences of my actions (actual and planned) and that if I truly cared for her then I needed to take a step back, take a deep breath and proceed on her terms. If our relationship developes into something deeper and more meaningful, then I will be the happiest man in Melbourne. For now, it is more important that I enjoy being in contact with her on a daily basis.