“Daisy, is it ok for a man to cry?” said a man who felt the emotion, sadness very intensely.
Emotions influence the way humans live and interact with others. They are our bodies’ response to the environment. We feel emotions. Feelings stem from emotions. They are what our bodies sense when an emotion is triggered. Hence the popular statement, “Emotions are felt in the body”.
According to Paul Ekman, there are 6 primary emotions: Happiness, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Surprise. All the other emotions- anxiety, contentment, satisfaction, hostility, etc. stem from these basic ones either in mild forms or very intense forms.
Emotions are felt in various ways. They may make us feel like running, or jumping, or shutting out, or laughing, or playing, or crying, or even spending. A person can feel emotions in his body. When a person is happy, he may feel like raising his hands in the air as if to say, “Yes! I got this one. Whoop” or he may smile and walk away. The way he feels the emotion is largely dependent on his conditioning.
While some of us repress emotions to avoid feeling them, some are aggressive during an emotional experience, and still some are fully expressive. Often, we find many of us either:
- Repressing our emotions – Pushing them away or hiding them such that we do not feel the emotion. It can be thought of as a kind of defence mechanism, where we shove away the negatives and instead focus on the positives. This does not make the ‘pushed away’ emotions go away. OR
- Showing aggression during an emotional experience – Yelling or spanking or exercising forms of behaviour with an intention to cause harm to oneself or another.
- Being expressive – Fully experiencing the emotion in its basic state and managing it and the lessons it brings to us about ourselves are learnt.
Whether we are repressive, aggressive or expressive of our emotions is dependent on the way emotions management was modelled to us by our primary caregivers especially in childhood.
I came across an article describing what we call the `Boy Code` to be a set of unwritten societal expectations about what it means to be a boy and man. According to this article, the codes are often enforced by parents, teachers, peers and even coaches. The rules are simple, and violations are enforced with shame, humiliation and ridicule. Such rules that teach the boy child to be:
- Be independent, self-reliant, tough and aggressive;
- Pursue achievement and status;
- Inexpressive of what they term vulnerable emotions (fear, sadness, love);
- Unaccepting of all things that are feminine. No sissy stuff;
- Rejecting of closeness with other men.
So we find that the more frequently an expression of vulnerability or sensitivity is repressed, the male child will then begin to lose the capacity to feel such emotions. This is in line with what neuroscience teaches about strengthening neuro-pathways when we constantly get engaged in an activity. Soon enough, it becomes a habit. An example from the article – a little girl who falls and scrapes her knee will be held and comforted, whereas the little boy will be told to get up, clean his tears, and “be a man”. The more events as similar to this occur in the child’s life, the easier it is for the child to learn to either repress the feeling of certain emotions or feel emotions aggressively.
The child then grows into an adult who oftentimes is:
- Unable to approach true intimacy and connection in relationships;
- Aggressive and violent;
In my work with parents over the years, I have found that many of these parents are usually surprised as to how unconsciously, they teach their male children to imbibe these codes. I have also found that there are the very many others still pruning children into adults who will ask, “Is it okay for a man to cry?”, but this time, maybe not to Daisy.
The webinar – BREAKING THE BOY CODE was conducted in May, 2020 and is a very relevant resource for parents who see the need to raise wholesome children and men who seek help in managing their emotions.
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