Men are often hesitant to express their true emotions, which can lead to serious issues in their lives. They may be viewed as cold or distant. They can even develop mental health issues when attempting to suppress how they truly feel. There are a number of reasons why men hide their feelings.
Gender Differences in Emotion Words
Emotional diversity is important to a person’s mental health. Individuals who experience a diversity of both positive and negative emotions tend to report fewer symptoms of issues such as depression. Emotions serve as a guidepost for the human experience, as they draw attention to the important markers in an individual’s environments, acting as warning signs of things that need to be noticed, processed, or changed.
However, research has suggested that emotionally diversity is not fostered in young boys. In one study of conversations between mothers and their young children, the mothers who interacted with daughters used an emotion vocabulary of greater depth and density. The mothers’ conversations with sons tended to focus on a single emotion, anger.
A Narrower Range of Emotions
Boys tend to grow up in a world focused on a narrow range of emotions. Anger is typically the emotion that is noticed and perhaps even cultivated among young males. The other emotions, especially those that indicate vulnerability, are ignored or are missing as their young minds develop.
The lack of emotional diversity in young males can have long-term problematic consequences, perhaps helping to explain why men hide their feelings. As boys who avoid strong emotions grow up, they are more likely to have issues with school and even engage in health-risk behaviors such as substance use. When those boys mature into men, they tend to suppress their emotions more than women, which can lead them to experience symptoms of depression.
Aggressive behavior can also develop when men hide their feelings, as they experience trouble regulating their emotions. The skills that enable an individual to control their emotions are gained through practice so when a man did not have that experience growing up, he may feel he does not have permission to experience and express a full range of emotions in a healthy manner.
Discouraging Displays of Emotion
Likewise, when men are growing up they are exposed to messages that discourage them from expressing any emotions other than anger. At the same time, they are encouraged to act dominant in any given situation. A young boy who expresses his feelings may hear responses from adults in his life such as “boys don’t cry” or “don’t cry like a girl.” He might be told to “man up” or to “be a man and get over it.”
Even when experiencing a painful physical injury, a young man may think he is not supposed to show emotions as he has learned to avoid expressing his real feelings. He will then begin to bottle up his frustration and sadness. Over time, this behavior can lead to a dysfunctional emotional expression as well as mental health issues such as depression.
Different Symptoms of Depression
An understanding of why men hide their feelings can lead to an understanding of what they go through when they are experiencing the symptoms of depression. A man can have very different depression symptoms than a woman. Men who are depressed may appear to be aggressive or anger rather than sad, given their training that has taught them to suppress their emotions.
Even though depression affects a large number of men, they are less likely than women to talk about their depression and to seek treatment for their mental health concerns. Men can become irritable or very tired, losing interest in their family and work. They may have more difficulty sleeping when they experience depression than women. They may even have physical issues such as a tightening chest, headaches, or stomach problems.
Family and friends may be the first to recognize that a man in their life is depressed, since the man himself tends to avoid addressing his feelings. It is important to support him and encourage him to seek treatment from a mental health professional, particularly if his depression has led to a substance use disorder.
Mental Health and Addiction Support for Men
If you are experiencing mental health or substance use issues, we want to help get you back on track with your life. At PACE Recovery, we optimize your recovery success with integrated treatment that will address both your addiction to drugs or alcohol and your mental health issues. We address your whole person, including your spiritual, medical, psychosocial, and relational facets.
The professionals at PACE understand the challenges you are facing during this period of isolation and uncertainty. We’re here to help. Our men’s-only programming has transformed hundreds of lives over the years, and we believe that you can recover. To learn more about our mental health and addiction services, contact our Admissions team.