On Hiding the Pain of Being a Man

Male pain needs to be spoken about. I have no doubt that unaddressed male emotional pain is the foundation for most of male violence and addictions and is a main contributor to failed relationships, broken families, and social isolation. Hidden male emotional pain causes men to die early through suicide, heart attack and to suffer from numerous psychosomatic illnesses.

Male pain is an uncomfortable topic, and my speaking to it breaks what therapist and author Terry Real calls the ‘Core Collusion’, which is that even though men are hurting, and because of that unaddressed hurt we hurt others, don’t talk about the hurt. I have all sorts of stigma attached to speaking my pain. I am scared to name it and risk being seen as weak or emotionally broken or narcissistic.

Despite living a life full of all the benefits of a white male in a first-world country, I deeply hurt inside. Pain under the surface has rarely let me be truly content or happy and I’ve felt terrified to talk about it. I have noticed a similar experience in 100s of men I have worked with. It is clear in drug rehab settings with men with addictions or gang affiliations, but also clear with the very wealthy, “successful” men too.

It’s clear that as a man, much of my emotional experience is socially buried under the surface achievements of my life. With fortunate support, I have found and followed emotional threads that lead to hidden burning anger, tornados of anxiety, bombs of terror and rage, pits of shame and wells of grief from past hurts that were all nearly completely obscured from my awareness because I rarely felt safe to talk about them. Instead, the expression of this pain in my life came out through the manifestations of chronic pain, addictive behaviours, numbing out patterns and ongoing relationship failures.

Being raised as a boy I had been given few skills or capacities to sense or work through and communicate these painful feelings. I’ve come to understand that my emotional repression is the dangerous impact of the dominant culture’s gender norms on me.

As a boy, I see how in obvious and subtle ways I was socialized out of my inherent “feminine” traits that almost every human is born with to some degree; sensitivity, gentleness, emotionality, receptivity, nurturing and modesty. Meanwhile, I was celebrated when I expressed the masculine traits of assertiveness, independence, courage, strength, power, and leadership. Media and peers still celebrate me for these. I love these masculine traits, but without the traits of the feminine, I am only half whole.

I began to internalize the cultural script and began to proactively punish my feminine aspects on my own accord. That proactive inner punisher didn’t stay inside; I began to punish those expressing their femininity around me: “weak” men and emotionally expressive women. My way to enjoy the life-giving feminine traits was to access it through connections with women, sex, nature, alcohol, drugs and porn.

With this socialization, I couldn’t stand seeing others express their femininity unless it served me. When it was not benefiting me I would express anger or annoyance (the only emotions generally supported to express as a man) or isolate women who were “too” emotional, “too” sensitive, I’d think they were crazy or broken, I had homophobic tendencies and ostracized other men who expressed their feminine traits. All these were behaviours I developed to unconsciously avoid the pain, shame and grief of the loss of my feminine traits and my wholeness.

Although there have been major improvements over the last few generations, still men like me are often lacking the emotional intelligence: the sensitivity, receptivity and gentleness needed to even notice that we are hurting others. When women and others harmed by my behaviours would address the impacts, instead of taking accountability, shame would arise in me with a story of “I am not good enough”. Instead of feeling that shame and working through it, I’d usually quickly withdraw from the person, use violent words or shut down to avoid it.

I don’t share this because I feel there is no hope and men are fully broken, but because this is what transformation looks like. I share this because finding ways to feel and speak about the pain and patterns I feel as a man helps me to shift it. Connecting with myself and others about my pain is exactly what helps me heal my pain.

Having safe spaces to be seen in my authentic feelings has made all the difference. Even though the socialized part of me thinks therapy and support groups are for the weak, these supports leave me feeling truly strong when I go. I am learning my true strength and power come from connection, not domination.

I hope that all men can find the space in themselves and with others to be vulnerable and in connection about what hurts inside, and as a result heal their pain and their relationships.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *