A man's guide to managing his feelings
Reprinted from "Men's" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2 (5), p. 39
During the first session of a community college course on masculinity that I was teaching, I asked the men why they had come, and I will never forget what one middle-aged man said. “My wife pushed me to come. She’s always bugging me, asking me to tell her what I am feeling. And I’d love to. I just don’t have a clue.” The man was serious. Although a very competent man in most areas of his life, he did not know how to even begin to share his feelings with the person he was closest to in this world.
Many women can relate to this man’s wife, and many no doubt share her frustration over trying to deal with men and their emotions. Men can appear stubborn and mulish, but the reality is that most men simply have not been taught how to identify, label and appropriately express their emotions. For many of us men, it is almost as if, when we look inside ourselves, we see a terrifying, black void. As a result, it is no wonder we would rather do just about anything to avoid dealing with our feelings. This emotional restriction causes tension between men and women, puts limits on the depth of our relationships, and sets men up to have considerable difficulty dealing with mental health issues. After all, it’s pretty hard to manage feelings of anxiety or depression if you have zero practice in talking about what is going on inside your head and body.
To remedy this situation, David Kundtz has written Nothing’s Wrong: A Man’s Guide to Managing His Feelings. This is a book written for men by a man who appreciates and understands men. The author, a therapist who has worked for many years with men, explains that the book is “specifically designed for guys who never got a map for navigating the highways and byways of the emotional realm.”
As the title, Nothing’s Wrong, suggests, the author does not believe that men are inherently flawed beings who need to be taught what to feel. On the contrary, men are okay; they just need to be encouraged to understand and express their feelings in a way that is natural for them. Frequently, he says, this means paying attention to what a man is feeling in his gut, the place where many men seem to carry their emotions. Having stated that there is nothing wrong with men, the double meaning of the title also alludes to the large degree of defensiveness that is generated in so many of us men when the topic of feelings comes up, especially when women are the ones bringing up the issue.
Nothing’s Wrong offers excellent descriptions of the ways that some men dissociate from their emotions. It also provides an interesting description of the dominant ways that men tend to deal with their feelings. For example, many men are more comfortable expressing a feeling through action (such as engaging in an activity with a friend) rather than by talking about the feeling. And often men are more comfortable if they can discuss things logically. But while the author is careful to not criticize men for their preferred methods of dealing with emotions, he explains extensively why it is in men’s interests to learn other ways of attending to their own feelings and the feelings of others.
To assist the male reader, the book offers a simple three-step process for how a man can learn to notice a feeling, name the feeling and express the feeling. He offers useful suggestions for how a man can work his way through each step in the process.
Because the author’s appreciation of men comes across strongly, the book will be user-friendly for the average man. As such, it would make an appropriate present to give to an adult or adolescent male in your life. It would also be useful for counsellors to assign to men as homework reading.
Nothing’s Wrong fails in one aspect: it skirts around the issue of men’s anger, the one emotion that most men have plenty of familiarity with. My clinical experience is that many males (especially adolescents) tend to be able to identify anger quite easily, most likely because they perceive anger to be the only emotion that society allows a man to feel. As a result, I see many men bypassing the less ‘manly’ emotions of fear or sadness and flashing quickly to rage instead.
In working with men, I have repeatedly found that almost all men can be successfully taught to identify the other feelings that usually accompany or precede the anger. With effort and guidance, men can learn to slow down and think about all of the other feelings they are experiencing besides anger. It would have been helpful if the author had included a section helping men to do this on their own. Despite this oversight, Nothing’s Wrong remains a welcome addition to the self-help guides out there, especially as most of those guides are written for women.
About the Author
Aaron is Guest Editor for this issue of Visions. See his editorial and bio on page 4