Posted August 1, 2023 | Written by Stephanie Underwood, RSW
Societal norms places undue pressure on boys and men, inhibiting their emotional development and expression.
There are consequences of emotional repression on men's mental health, relationships, and general wellbeing.
The Avoidant Attachment is more prevalent in Men, possibly as a result of emotional repression in males.
The key to undoing years of emotional repression lies in redefining masculinity to be inclusive of emotional expression and vulnerability
From the moment we take our first breaths, society assigns us expectations based on our gender. For men, these expectations often revolve around strength, stoicism, and emotional repression, arguably a form of toxic masculinity. These societal norms can place undue pressure on boys and men, potentially inhibiting their emotional development and expression. In turn, these influences may have lasting effects, influencing their relationships, self-perception, and overall mental health.
Emotional Repression in Boys
In numerous cultures, boys are conditioned from a young age to embody an antiquated archetype of masculinity. They are frequently told to “man up,” suppress their feelings, and present a facade of emotional invulnerability. This form of upbringing does more harm than good, as it shoves boys into a metaphorical box of emotional repression that, over time, becomes increasingly difficult to escape.
Boys who are taught to stifle their feelings and grow into men who struggle to understand and manage their emotions. The long-term impact of this emotional disconnection is significant, potentially leading to problems such as poor mental health, increased stress, difficulty forming and maintaining relationships, and even an increased risk of substance abuse or other unhealthy coping mechanisms.
One of the most significant consequences of emotional repression is the struggle many men face in expressing their feelings. Communication is crucial for building healthy relationships and maintaining mental well-being, yet many men find it challenging to identify and express their feelings because they were never given the tools to do so
Instead of being encouraged to communicate openly, they were taught to conceal their feelings to avoid appearing "weak" or "unmanly". This lack of emotional literacy often translates into an inability to constructively express feelings, articulate emotional needs, or understand the emotions of others, impairing both personal and interpersonal wellbeing.
Understanding Emotional Regulation
Emotional regulation refers to the ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience. For those who have spent their lives repressing their emotions, understanding and applying emotional regulation can be a herculean task.
Emotionally repressed men may not only struggle to identify their feelings but also to react to them appropriately. They may often resort to unhealthy coping strategies, such as aggression or substance abuse, instead of processing their feelings in a healthier manner. This lack of emotional regulation not only harms their mental health but can also strain their relationships and general life satisfaction.
Men and the Avoidant Attachment Style
The Avoidant attachment is characterized by a reluctance to rely on others and difficulty in forming deep emotional connections. People with an avoidant attachment style tend to avoid emotional intimacy, prefer self-reliance, and may have trouble expressing their emotions openly.
When examining men’s tendencies towards avoidant attachment, socialization plays a significant role. From an early age, boys are often encouraged to display emotional stoicism and independence, while vulnerability and emotional expression are sometimes discouraged or seen as signs of weakness. This socialization can contribute to the development of avoidant attachment behaviours in men.
Some factors that may influence the prevalence of avoidant attachment in men include:
Traditional Gender Norms: Societal norms that expect men to be strong, self-reliant, and unemotional can lead to the suppression of emotional expression and vulnerability.
Parental Influence: Early experiences with caregivers can influence attachment styles. If caregivers discourage emotional expression or respond inconsistently to emotional needs, it may contribute to an avoidant attachment style.
Coping Mechanism: For some men, an avoidant attachment style may develop as a coping mechanism to protect themselves from potential rejection or emotional pain.
Fear of Vulnerability: Men may fear that showing vulnerability or emotional needs could lead to a loss of status or be seen as a weakness.
Communication Patterns: Men may be less likely to openly communicate about their emotions due to social expectations, which can reinforce avoidant attachment behaviours.
Breaking the Chains of Repression
The key to undoing years of emotional repression lies in redefining masculinity to be inclusive of emotional expression and vulnerability. It starts with creating safe spaces where boys and men can express their feelings without the fear of judgment or ridicule.
Educational institutions, families, and society at large must take a proactive role in normalizing emotional conversations among males. Therapy and counselling can also provide a supportive environment for men to explore their feelings and learn healthier coping mechanisms.
Moreover, the media and popular culture need to do more in portraying diverse models of masculinity, which includes men who are emotionally open and expressive. This can help to dismantle harmful stereotypes and affirm that vulnerability is not a weakness but a part of human nature.
The impact of societal norms and upbringing on the emotional repression of men is substantial and undeniable. It affects their mental health, relationships, and self-perception, often leading to an emotional struggle in their adult lives. However, it's never too late to change. By embracing emotional expression as a part of masculinity, we can create a society that allows boys and men to grow without the constraints of emotional repression. This change won't occur overnight, but every step taken towards emotional honesty is a step away from the shadow of toxic masculinity, and towards a healthier society.