Recently I have been exposed to different convictions regarding the topic of men and their emotions, and much of it has primed me to begin writing a little bit about it, as not only does it pertain to my own gender, but is also a fairly important topic of discussion, particularly in the realms of psychology and well-being. Given my current studies and career transition (counseling), my own experience in having had therapy and a philosophical backing, I think I’m more than capable of getting into it. Note that this is somewhat of a rant, too.
Let’s start with a very commonly said quote, and explain the agenda behind it..
“It’s Okay To Talk About Your Feelings”
The above quote is a very popular thing to say, and linguistically it doesn’t really have any agenda – just that it is fine to express yourself.
Yet it has been somewhat hijacked by a number of groups that perpetuate the idea that it’s fine to speak openly, but at the same time cast a significant value judgement on people who do. A note: I won’t be talking about any groups or naming them. I don’t sanction what I do not support. Anyway.
The above quote is conditional, in that it only pertains to feelings that the individual saying it accepts. It comes with a hidden “BUT”. Many men, especially in the modern age, are afraid to talk about how they feel because they feel like they will be judged and ostracized for it. This is partially due to the idea that masculinity is “toxic”, but another, more pervasive issue is the lack of appropriate empathetic responses and communication.
The Unconditional Paradox
There is something in the field of counseling called “unconditional positive regard”, which was a concept created by Carl Rogers, and pertains to accepting a person along with their actions and words regardless of what those particular things are. In essence: it is removing the value-judgement and conditions when it comes to the individual. Taking in what they say and how they feel without actually judging them on it: just accepting them for who they are. I have a fair few criticism’s of it as a whole, but that’s not the purpose behind this post. There is some merit to the concept which I’ll discuss below.
Now first, here lies the apparent paradox behind this: how does one not judge another human being, even when that person has potentially done terrible things? Doesn’t living and interacting with others not imply a value-judgement implicitly? Furthermore, how can an Objectivist of all people say this, given that a primary virtue is justice?
All of the aforementioned things are true: we judge implicitly, and we measure value constantly in our daily lives. However, before this judgement, there must be something to be judged and to have a certain nature. Another individual exists, and they have a certain nature, a sense of life and particular values. They also have emotions, and those emotions are at the mercy of core beliefs and other factors in their upbringing and environment that influenced how they are. The ultimate factor behind their character is their agency, but particular environments can have very powerful effects on an individual’s development, both physically and cognitively.
What unconditional positive regard is, is the acceptance of how a person is, metaphysically, regardless of who they are or what they feel. It is the acceptance that they are real and there are certain facts about them. This means accepting people who you see as inspirations, and people who you perceive as monsters, too. Those are all value-judgements, but separate to that judgement comes acceptance of the fact that they exist first. Now how does this relate to men, emotions and masculinity?
The Fact of Emotions Existing
Men in today’s societies tend to be judged quite harshly, particularly in the west (which is where I do not currently live). If they speak up about what they feel, they are usually shut down in a number of ways, the one I dislike the most being “What about X?!”, this being an argument from need and a measuring contest on which gender, class, race or whatever needs more attention currently.
However, there is also the fact of denying what they feel and implicitly shaming them on it. There are many men out there who have very deep and worrying concerns about the political climate, laws and other matters, and it frightens them greatly. There are also quite a large number of men who feel abandoned and broken, perhaps because of a traumatic childhood and other environmental factors. There are also many men who feel they are unlovable – a core belief that is extremely difficult to change about oneself.
And yet, when these feelings are expressed, they’re often shut down or told why their emotions or concerns are wrong. It could be a number of reasons why: for example, their emotion regarding X is just a fabricated concept based on “toxic” masculinity, or “you shouldn’t feel this way about it, because it’s actually good.” – but I digress, it’s not about the reasons why they’re told this, but the fact that they are told their feelings are wrong. This is also armchair psychoanalyzing – a dangerous game that a lot of people seem to enjoy playing.
This essentially tells them that those feelings should not exist – they’re “bad” or “wrong” in some way. Now consider what this kind of implicit judgement does to a person’s psychology, regardless of gender: it’s essentially telling them that what they feel or have concerns about isn’t something that should be there, so what do they do? They repress and push it down. And what does repression do to a person?
It breaks them. Those emotions that they ignore manifest themselves outwardly in other ways – whether it be in addictive compulsions, violence, isolationism, etc. It’s an extremely destructive thing for any individual to go through, and all because they are essentially told that those feelings should not exist.
But they do exist, and they should be recognized. Whether one does not like how another feels is irrelevant – what first matters is that the person is capable of expressing themselves freely. The fact that one’s feelings are in opposition to you does not imply that their feelings are wrong. Their feelings exist objectively, and they should be recognized as such. There is no moral compass behind that.
Masculinity is Honesty
A final note on masculinity and the nature of it (and I’ll be generalizing here).
Men are competitive and enjoy building. They are naturally the more physically capable gender biologically speaking, and are generally more aggressive. Masculinity is men explicitly acting upon those characteristics that makes man, man.
What this means is that men will create, compete and express their capabilities to the world. There is a certain drive to achieve – a major part of it being the pride and self-esteem, but another is to impress. There is an element of greatness felt when the people you value the most see in you the radiant pride you have. It is the explicit recognition of our strength and capability to achieve in reality that makes us want to continue to build empires, either for ourselves or for the ones we love the most.
The physical realm is not just the only aspect where masculinity exists, however. There is also the psychological and expressive realm.
Masculinity also means the full expression of emotions and adhering to reality as is. Taking pride in how one feels after a monumental achievement and showcasing that, or feeling the full extent of the sorrow felt when losing a loved one. These are expressions of masculinity in full, too – in that you are unafraid to show who you really are and what matters to you. I wrote about this in my previous post regarding emotions, but being honest means also adhering to reality and being honest to yourself first. There is of course the element of having the right philosophy guide your life, too, but this post isn’t for advertising!
This also means knowing that your feelings are real and they are yours, and expressions of them when necessary are being honest to a fault. What others think of it don’t matter unless you make them matter. This is integrity, and there is strength in that.
Finally, if you are going through a difficult time or feel that you cannot express yourself, find a trained counselor and work with them. It’s their (and soon to be my) job to help you out with these things, and generally speaking they know what they’re doing.
Have a great weekend.