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Men? Emotions? Um, Yup.

When it comes to recovery from addiction or other mental health issues, the myth of the emotionless man can be especially destructive.

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In this article

Emotions play a larger role in men’s wellness than most realize.

Stereotypes abound for all kinds of people. Unfortunately, often these stereotypes become little more than cardboard cutouts and vague generalizations; they don’t come close to reflecting the reality—that a complex and ever-changing set of beliefs, logic, emotions, and personality make up a person’s character, regardless of their gender or identity.

One pernicious stereotype for men lingers stubbornly in most Western cultures: that men do not act or form decisions based on emotion.

It’s bullshit, of course. But somehow we keep on believing it!

The amazing thing is that this myth keeps hanging around like that red pimple exploding on your nose that doesn’t seem to want to go away. What’s worse is that so many men try to live out the myth. It’s truly astounding how persistent it is. Author Daphne Rose Kingma wrote the following in The Men We Never Knew:

We’ve dismissed men as the feelingless gender—we’ve given up on them. Because of the way boys are socialized, their ability to deal with emotions has been systematically undermined. Men are taught, point-by-point, not to feel, not to cry, and not to find words to express themselves.

When it comes to recovery from addiction or other mental health issues, the myth of the emotionless man can be especially destructive. Life changes such as trying to quit painkillers are no piece of cake; most will fail if they go at it alone. And the more frustrating it becomes for men, the more pain, shame, and anger they’ll bottle up inside. Nine times out of ten, they’ll fail and revert back to using.

Here are three big points at the role emotions play for men when they’re trying to become healthy.

Emotions prevent men from honestly dealing with their addiction

The fact is that men possess the same wide scope of emotions as women and every other human being on the planet. But men may try to repress certain stereotypically “feminine” emotions like sadness, shame, or vulnerability may be repressed, and convert these feelings into more socially acceptable “male” emotions like anger, pride … or simply by clamming up.

It’s well known that parents, friends, or other loved ones of the person with substance use disorder have to deal with their own turmoil. Many times their own emotions get in the way of confronting a loved one about addiction. However, the men suffering from an addiction may not realize that their own emotions are hijacking their brain. Their emotions get in the way of seeking a healthier lifestyle.

What often ends up happening is that instead of dealing with the deeper emotional issues, some men will respond defensively when confronted about their problem. Others will bury the emotions deeper and refuse to address the truth of the situation. Men conclude that they are “just this way” and that “they can handle their liquor or drug use.”

Emotional repression may manifest itself in physical ailments for men

Stuffing all those feelings way down is hard work! Are you the type of guy who gets frequent headaches or backaches? It’s possible that these physical manifestations arise not just from heavy lifting or looking at a computer screen too long. Emotional repression frequently gets “converted” to simply feeling like crap.

The double-whammy for men is that if we do reach out, socially it can mean that others will react adversely—society doesn’t like men to talk about our fears, vulnerabilities, or weaknesses.

What does this mean for the guys struggling with an addiction or other mental health issues? They’ll end up reacting with the “most logical” decision that worked for them in the past—they’ll continue to misuse their drug or drink of choice.

And the whole vicious cycle continues. Fortunately, there is a solution.

Emotional support: Not as scary as you might think

Learning to live in recovery doesn’t mean that all men have to become fluffy emotional kitty cats. What it does mean is that men need to see that we are not weak or failures by addressing the deeper emotional realities in our lives.

Asking for help when a heroin or painkiller addiction gets way out of control is not failure; it’s wisdom!

Reaching out for advice from a coach or other professionally-trained addiction expert when your drinking has you spiraling is not weak; it takes incredible strength, in fact.

Finally, realizing also that many, many other men have already had to address their emotional lives is comforting. The way has been paved by heroes and other inspirational guys. You can do this! And your emotions are getting in the way. No, just the opposite—they’re guiding you to become a more authentic, whole human being.

Daniel D. Maurer is a freelance writer, an award-winning Hazelden author, and a public speaker on recovery from addiction. He lives with his family in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. Workit Health, Inc. and its affiliated professional entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.

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