Maybe you’ve heard the song– “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman…” But men have their struggles too. Over the years many books and articles have explored the lack of emotional nurturance and support boys and men get. I have often referred my clients to a chapter for The Transparent Self, by Dr. Sidney Jourard, “Some Lethal Aspects of the Male Role.” He argues that men by nature are as capable as women at being emotionally responsive to life’s experience, but that male role training inhibits men risking self-disclosure. Without self-disclosure men may feel safer from failing to be a “real man,” but this is accomplished by “secrets” about their inner lives, thoughts, and feelings. Men are just not as “known” as women because they have learned to keep their true selves hidden and protected. Dr. Jourard says that as a man develops over the early years of life, he develops a “neuromuscular tension” to protect himself from the rejection that might come if he fails to appear to be as strong, tough, successful, objective and unsentimental as a man needs to be. Over time men lose awareness of and access to a significant part of their overall psychic being. They become “cut off” from parts of themselves.
But that is not all, this hiddenness that is part of male training also impacts how men relate to others around them. Men become less effective at empathy, and fail to make a connection with others. They have more “I-It” relational styles than “I-Thou.” This includes even their own health. Jourard points out that men do not notice “all is not well signals” in their bodies or their relationships. Men consult university health centers about half as often as women, and are often “sicker” by the time they obtain attention and treatment. In counseling, men often “wall off” from the probing of therapists and spouses or parents and just cannot cooperate with the good intentions of loved ones to know their problems or complaints.
The result of this entire conundrum is that men are “incompetent at loving.” Dr. Jourard argues that love requires the giving and receiving of self-disclosures in order to know each other and to develop a shared empathic bonding. Women receive more self-disclosures from others than men do, so they have more knowledge of others at a personal level. Men, not being self-disclosers: 1. Do not get self-disclosing information back, and 2. Do not get known, bonded with, or loved as often. In spite of good intentions and sometimes-strong desire, men will often miss the mark in trying to love others. Without the advantage of good information about others, men’s guesses about what others want and need may be “awkward or crude.” So, men can be difficult to love because the subtlety required to have a magical connection will go unfulfilled.
Finally, Dr. Jourard argues that this pattern of emotional life and hiddenness threatens men with “dispirited” living. Becoming more isolated from others than women are, being less inspired by meaningful choices and values of connection to others, being less attuned to his own well being or pain, “his morale will deteriorate, his immunity will decrease, and he will sicken more readily, or even commit suicide.” For most men this deterioration due to lack of emotional connection is a more marginal experience. However, the broader issue continues to be a concern for all of us such that we would find ways in raising boys, and relating to the men in our lives, that allow us to offer permission to feel, share, speak up, risk, play (non-competitively), trust and love.
We men also find it hard to be human. We also need the nurturing help of others to accept the insecure sides of our personalities. We also need to remember to balance our lives, not just with striving for mastery and success, but also with what the Bible calls “faith, hope and love.” Tenderness too.
Dr. Clark Barshinger, PH.D., M.Div.
Jourard, S. M. (1996). The Transparent Self. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.