For lots of men, their emotions are like a black box after a plane crash – scattered somewhere, hidden in the deep, and hard to access or make sense of.
When you grow up, school teaches you all about math, writing, and reading. If you’re lucky, your dad shows you how to light a fire, change a tire, cook a steak, and tie a knot. But the one thing neither your parents nor teachers taught you was to deal with your emotions in a healthy way.
“Why do I care?” you might say. “My life’s going well. I’ve got the success, the girls, the body, the friends, the everything. I’m a rational man and I want to keep it that way.” If that’s the case, congratulations – but here are some cold, hard facts:
- Humans are emotional beings. You make even your most rational decisions based on how you will feel about the outcomes. Not understanding your emotions makes your life unnecessarily hard.
- You close yourself off instead of connecting with others.
- You suppress your pain until it eats you up from the inside like termites a wooden cabin.
- You recreate past issues and trauma, holding yourself back.
How do I know? Because for years, I did to my emotions what governments do to nuclear waste – bury it with no intent to ever pull it back up.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned to understand my emotions better – and while it was a painful process, it also improved almost every aspect of my life.
If you want to become a well-rounded, grounded, and mature man who’s in tune with his emotions, you need to learn what nobody ever taught you.
This Is What Makes a Strong Man
Amongst my high school friends, the worst thing you could do was to show you feel something.
A small circle of testosterone-driven pubescent guys was the embodiment of toxic masculinity. We used in love as a swear word, met every mention of sadness or hurt with a crybaby, and called everyone who didn’t want to put his health at risk through insane dares a pussy.
Any emotion that wasn’t anger made you seem weak, which is the last thing you wanted to be both as a teenager and as a grown man.
You have to understand that even though emotions are sometimes overwhelming, hurtful, or scary, they don’t make you weak – running away from them does.
Who is stronger? The man who goes to battle with his demons, facing his pain, sadness, and disappointment? Or the one who cowardly hides from his feelings, suppressing them in a never-ending attempt to escape the inevitable?
When your partner leaves you, your boss fires you, or you find out your so-called friends have been talking mad smack behind your back, it hurts. Your ego’s natural reaction is to build walls and pretend you’re too strong for these events to even phase you. But the real strength lies in mustering the courage to embrace what you feel.
Emotions aren’t weak – suppressing them is.
You Can’t Control Your Emotions, but Something Much More Important
Emotions are like the weather. You can’t move the clouds or dial up the sun. You can only dress accordingly.
Let’s do a little experiment. Try to make yourself happy, sad, or angry – you won’t be able to. You can only think of something that causes these feelings, but you can’t control how you feel.
Yet, that is the approach most men use, which causes a devastating battle with themselves.
Does that mean you should always cry when you’re sad, complain when you’re disappointed, or punch a hole in the wall when you feel angry? No.
You have to distinguish between your feelings and actions.
It’s fine to get angry when your partner can’t decide on where to eat for the 18th time in a row, but that doesn’t mean you have to scream at them.
It’s fine to feel disappointment when your boss doesn’t give you a raise despite working hard, but that doesn’t mean you have to kneejerk your two-weeks-notice onto his desk, or more likely: Passive-aggressively phone it in from here on out.
It’s fine to be afraid of leaving your comfort zone, but that doesn’t mean you have to turn around and chicken out.
How do you do that? By giving your feelings space, experiencing them fully, and separating your actions from them. The more you embrace your emotions, the easier it will be to let go and make a rational decision.
The powerful man isn’t the one who tries to control his emotions but the one who gives them space and acts with rationale nonetheless.
If You Don’t Give Your Emotions Space, They’ll Take It
Have you ever chucked a Mentos into a Coca-Cola bottle then screwed on the lid? The bubbles rise alongside the pressure until the container bursts and gives your kitchen walls a new coating. The same happens when you suppress your emotions, which is why the biggest arguments in relationships are usually about the smallest things.
I once had a huge fight with my ex because she wouldn’t let me try her banana bread dough. As it later turned out, it reminded me of my mum doing it to me as a kid and unearthed the anger and feelings of inferiority I suppressed back then. They had 20+ years to fester and blew up with the force of Mount St. Helens in 1980.
Every time you choose to look over something and suppress how you feel, it accumulates. Your buddy’s snarky remark. Your partner’s socks on the floor. Your dislike for your work when you get up in the morning. This is like carrying a kiloton of TNT in your pocket.
Not only are you easy to set off, but the pack of pain also influences your behavior. You take harmful jokes personally, have your day ruined by seeing your ex, and leave the room when someone talks about their awesome job. But what’s the alternative?
Accept what you feel, take down your resistance, and let the emotion flow and go.
Every time you do, you let out a little bit of the pressure. You feel lighter. Instead of cultivating a nuclear bomb in your intestines, you choose peace.
Putting the lid on your emotions only makes them stronger, so embrace and let go regularly.
Emotions Are Great Feedback Mechanisms but Bad Decision-Makers
How many times have you said something you regretted later?
Two weeks ago, I wrote an angry email to customer support because they messed up my order and strung me along. I earn my living as a writer and can curse in multiple languages, so after the initial “you should know I’m typing this email with my middle fingers,” things got a little out of hand.
It felt like the right thing to do at the time, but looking back I cringe and feel the urge to compose another email saying, “you’re still dicks, but I apologize for the way I expressed myself.”
Whether you call your girlfriend a bitch, tell a friend you never want to see them again, or promise another one to help him move without thinking twice, emotional decisions can cause a lot of trouble.
Embrace what you feel, but delay your decision until the powerful neurochemical cocktail in your brain has dissolved and your head is clear again.
Sleeping over something, taking a few deep breaths and counting to ten, or going for a stroll outside can save you from a lot of blunders.
Your emotions provide the map, but use your rational mind to choose your path.
You’re Responsible for Dealing With Your Emotions – And Others Are Responsible for Dealing With Theirs
Railed-up emotions aren’t an excuse for shitty behavior, neither from others nor from you.
You made me angry, so I hit you.
You made me feel unappreciated, so I cheated.
You made me horny, so I couldn’t help myself.
This makes it seem like there was no other option and what happened was the fault of who caused the emotions – but that’s not the case.
You can’t do much if someone makes you angry, happy, sad, hurt, or horny, but you’re a grown-ass man and you can decide how you react to it.
This also holds the other way around. When I pondered quitting my master’s program to become a writer and coach, my mum wasn’t exactly pleased. She threatened that if I made “this stupid-ass decision,” she would be utterly disappointed.
I told her she’ll have to find a way to deal with her disappointment because I’d live my life the way I see fit.
Be aware if others emotionally blackmail you with pressure, threats, or attempts to control you. If your girlfriend says she’ll find someone to keep her company if you go out with your friends, your boss explains you’ll let the team down if you take your paid time off, or your buddy pleads that if you were a good friend, you’d do this and that for them, that’s a red flag.
Don’t make others responsible for the actions that result from your feelings and don’t let them do it to you either.
Wrap-Up so You Can Become a More Mature Man Who’s in Tune With His Emotions
Emotional intelligence – understanding and learning to deal with your feelings – is a skill like any other.
Practice makes perfect. Reading one article won’t make you a master of your feelings, just like watching a porn video won’t make you a sex god. If you want to become an emotionally mature man, you have to apply the knowledge regularly.
A simple way to do this is to conduct small check-ins throughout your day. Take a minute to close your eyes and feel into your body. What’s going on inside you? What sensations do you feel? What causes them? Becoming aware makes it a lot easier to apply these five lessons:
1. Having emotions doesn’t make you weak.
2. You can’t control your emotions, but you can decide how you react to them.
3. When you try to eliminate or suppress your emotions, you make them stronger.
4. Emotions are great feedback mechanisms, but bad decision-makers.
5. You’re responsible for dealing with your emotions – others are responsible for dealing with theirs.
Last but not least, remember that emotions are an integral part of the human experience – if you want to be a mature man, you have to learn to embrace yours.