It’s hard not to ignore the common theme of male characters in movies: The stoic silent type that doesn’t blink an eye in the face of danger, the bad boy who is always emotionally out of reach, or the gruff male character who prefers to display his feelings in actions rather than words. It seems that aside from anger, most male characters rarely show their emotional side. Sadly, it seems that art may be imitating life – or perhaps even the reverse. Take the Sherlock Holmes series for example. In Jeremy Brett’s interpretation, he stuck close to the character profile developed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Clever, calculating, and logical, but with a blatant appreciation and affection for Dr. Watson, and at least some desire to help others just for the sake of helping them, and not just for the thrill of intellectual stimulation. The modernized Sherlock, while stunningly and brilliantly interpreted by Benedict Cumberbatch, has more of a darker side. Take, for example, his now famous quote, “I’m not a psychopath, I’m a highly functioning sociopath.”
“Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side.”
Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock (BBC)
Analyzing data from 4203 people who took our Emotional Intelligence Test, we looked into how men deal with their emotions. What our study revealed was an evident difference between the emotional attitude of younger and older men. While both groups (men under 40 and men over 40) still struggled to accept their emotional side, the problem was more prominent for the younger age group. Here are some of the results of our study:
- 31% of men under the age of 40 struggle to identify their feelings (compared to 8% of men over 40).
- 31% of men under the age of 40 find it hard to express their feelings (compared to 17% of men over 40). Why? Well, according to 36% of younger men, talking about their feelings requires a degree of vulnerability that they are not comfortable with (compared to 21% of older men).
- 24% of men under the age of 40 are uneasy displaying affection or appreciation; 23% are uncomfortable when expected to console someone (compared to 13% of men over 40, in both cases).
- 44% of men under the age of 40 said that they will do whatever they can to keep themselves from crying (compared to 30% of men over 40).
- 24% of men under the age of 40 have difficulty snapping out of a bad mood (compared to 13% of men over 40).
- 13% of men under the age of 40 have difficulty calming themselves down when they are anxious, 23% when they are angry (compared to 8% and 14% of men over 40, respectively).
- 18% of men under the age of 40 get angry when the smallest thing goes wrong in their life (compared to 8% of men over 40).
- 32% of men under the age of 40 admit that they are incredibly impatient (compared to 26% of men over 40).
- 32% of men under the age of 40 avoid discussing touchy or sensitive topics (compared to 25% of men over 40).
- 33% of men under the age of 40 indicated that people who are overtly emotional make them uncomfortable (compared to 26% of men over 40).
- 23% of men under the age of 40 said that they don’t know what to say or do when someone gets upset around them; 18% said all they want to do is get away from the person (compared to 11% and 8% of men over 40, respectively).
- 46% of men under the age of 40 feel awkward in social situations (compared to 33% of men over 40).
- 11% of men under the age of 40 said that they would rather be feared than loved (compared to 3% of men over 40).
- 17% of men under the age of 40 said that when they make a decision, they “rely purely on logic” rather their gut feelings (compared to 8% of men over 40).
“Your highly emotional reaction is most illogical.”
Dr. Spock, Star Trek
I believe that we’ve done a great disservice to men – and while it’s partly a media issue, the root of the problem starts at home. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen parents (including my own) discourage their son from crying, telling him that he’s “a big boy, not a baby.” As boys grow up, they’re told to “man-up,” “toughen up,” or “act like a man” when faced with difficult times, which often translates to not showing any form of emotion that would be considered weak, like fear, anxiety, or sadness.
Yet at the same time, many women complain that their boyfriend or husband is distant, and that he doesn’t share his emotions. So men are constantly being bombarded with wildly mixed messages. And the result is destructive. We end up with men who don’t know how to deal with their emotions, or who are only able to show “appropriate male emotions,” like anger. As our study shows, this is particularly true for younger men. They either deny their feelings, or keep them pent-up, unable to cope with them. The problem is, bottled-up emotions will find their way out eventually, often by lashing out in what seems like anger. But anger can often mask emotions that men are unwilling to show, like fear and sadness. I think it’s about time that we stop sending mixed messages to men about the appropriateness of their emotions, and allow them to express what they really feel – without judgment.
“Young men just don’t know what it means to be a man. There are so many lies about what it means to be a man whether that be get a bunch of girls or get a bunch of money or don’t cry and don’t have emotions. Nobody is teaching them how to be men.”