The Way a Man Feels

What are some of the specific ways that the world sees men as different from women in the expression of feelings? We might begin with an overall description of men as feeling “from the gut” and women as feeling “from the heart.” That begins to set the stage for the differences. “Gut” carries feelings of spontaneity and power; “heart” of caring and gentleness.

There are many ways of describing these differences and every commentator seems to have favorites. Here are eight characteristics of “feeling from the gut” that I have culled from many. These seem to be the dominant qualities of the way men–specifically–deal with feelings. See if they ring true for you:

1. We tend to be aggressive, rather than passive, favoring what many see as the "typically masculine" approach.

2. Related to that, we favor competitive feelings with firm expression, rather than cooperative feelings with gentle expression, a tendency that certainly has deep roots in the culture in which we were raised, and perhaps an historical remnant from the ancient male role of hunter/provider.

3. We like to be literal, rather than symbolic. So while we sometimes miss symbolic or non-verbal emotional expressions–a sigh, a smile, a gesture, an absence–we’re good at picking up literal and physical signs.

4. We favor logic rather than emotion as a motive for acting, and thus will often be moved to do something based on a rational, not an emotional, process.

5. We often get to an emotion by way of a thought, rather than directly to the emotion. Often our first response to anything is thinking about it or acting upon it. Feeling follows.

6. Similarly, our preference is to express a feeling by an action–doing something, like enjoying an activity together with a spouse or a friend–rather than by talking about it.

7. We typically express feelings infrequently, rather than often, leading some to judge wrongly that sometimes we don't have feelings.

8. We tend to favor feelings that foster a sense of independence, rather than a sense of connectedness to others.

But do you see the problem here? The traits mentioned are stereotypes. For every one of those eight traits, I–and surely you–can name people in whom they are reversed. It's the very nature of a stereotype to be oversimplified and uncritical. I know of relationships in which the man has more nurturing energy than the woman; in others, the woman has more aggressive, competitive energy than the man. There are same-sex couples whose combined parenting skills, for example, cover all the bases.

Also, please don't see the characteristics listed above as negative; nor as positive, for that matter. I'm sure I indicate my own attitude when I use many qualifying expressions in this section, such as "perhaps," "tend to," "often prefer," "favor," etc.

So what does all this mean? How does a man feel? I believe it comes down to this: The way a man feels is the way you feel right now, in this situation, with your background and your experience. That's how a man feels. If it's different from a women, fine. If it’s similar, fine. That is not important. It's what you are in fact feeling that's important.

American writer Robert Jensen seems to have this idea in mind when he says, "I have never met a man who didn’t feel uneasy about masculinity, who didn’t feel that in some way he wasn’t living up to what it means to be a man. There’s a reason for that: Masculinity is a fraud; it’s a trap. None of us are man enough." In other words, the popular idea of masculinity is not based on reality, but on, perhaps, a collective and oversimplified wish or an unrealistic and historically influenced dream.

There is no hidden and pre-determined form of masculinity waiting in some dark corner for us to find it. There is no "secret way" out there that you need to discover, or an "eternal practice" somewhere that you must constantly seek in order to know how to feel like a man. No. What you feel is what and how a man feels!

© 2009, David Kundtz

Related information: Issues, Feeling Books: anger, assertiveness, depression, fear, forgiveness, general, grief, joy, loneliness, shame

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We know too much and feel too little. At least we feel too little of those creative emotions from which a good life springs. - Bertrand Russell


David Kundtz is a licensed family therapist in Berkeley, California. He presents seminars, workshops, retreats, and conference presentations in the areas of men's emotional health, stress management, and spirituality. He is the author of Managing Feelings:  An owner's manual for men and has recently completed a second book, Nothing's Wrong: A Man's Guide to Managing His Feelings. He makes his home in Kensington, California and in Vancouver, British Columbia. You may contact David at E-Mail or visit his web site at www.stopping.com

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