"Why Do People Respond Badly When I Open Up to Them?"
I recently received this comment on one of my YouTube videos, and wanted to take some time to answer it since I think it’s very important, and one that doesn’t have a simple, straightforward answer. Here’s the question on my video, The Silent Suffering of Men: “I’ve found that whenever I’m suffering and try to open up about it, people treat it as if it’s my fault, whether that be the case or not. I’ve heard from other guys and this rings true with them too. Why is it that people do this?”
I always preface my responses by saying that every situation is different, and my main goal is to provide some common reasons for a certain type of response or behavior. So, there’s a possibility this may not relate to you, but I’m thinking it will, and will provide you some insight and understanding.
So, the question of why people react a certain way to a person expressing themselves is a very complex one, which includes many, many different factors within yourself, the other person, and other contextual ones. But for time’s sake, let’s look at some theories I have for why these people will treat your suffering as if it’s your fault.
Society creates the idea that men are in total control of our lives and emotions
In many places across the world, and certainly the US, men having certain emotions is almost taboo. It can be so difficult and risky for a boy or man to express their emotions (sadness, fear, abandonment, embarrassment, etc) because of how others will react, whether that be their family, friends, teachers, peers, or anyone else. At worst, we can be met with criticism for being so “weak,” and that it’s up to us to change our situation - it sounds like that’s what you’re going through.
This sentiment comes from the notion that the man is in charge of his life - that there isn’t anything that can shake his solid foundation. With this kind of thought, it makes it so much easier for another person to just tell us to get a grip of ourselves and our lives - if all men should be in control of it all, then there must be something wrong with us. This faulty logic makes it so that we almost deserve to get berated for not living up to what we should be. Obviously this isn’t reality, but it’s what many people think.
Many people don’t know how to comfort vulnerable men
For those that do have good intentions, and do try to provide comfort and support when a man is being vulnerable and expressing to them, there’s many people that don’t know how. Being faced with a vulnerable, upset woman can seem worlds different than a vulnerable, upset man, even if they need some of the same things. When I hear my clients talk about their friends & family, it’s almost always that I hear my female clients express how great and supportive these two groups are when they’re struggling. When my male clients talk about their friends & family, it’s not nearly as common that they would express gratitude for the support and comfort they provide.
I believe that it comes down to one important difference: in general, women are much more capable at comforting and validating than men are. There are many reasons why this is often the case, but there’s a surprisingly simple piece of advice for those looking to comfort another: no matter the gender, a human needing comfort needs to be heard and validated. No matter woman or man, when we’re really struggling, so much of what we want is to know that someone is with us, that someone hears us, and that someone understands us. Not practical solutions, or “tough love,” but comfort and validation.
Expressing your feelings is emotionally flooding the other person
I very much believe in putting responsibility on our society, but I also put a lot of weight into taking responsibility for our own actions when necessary. I’m certainly not saying I have any idea how you express yourself, but I have worked with many men who think that any method of expression is healthy expression. For example, someone who is upset and express themselves in a very guttural and distraught way, or someone who is angry and expresses themselves in an enraged way. Both of these can be very difficult for a friend or family member to sit with, and will often lead to the other person trying to get out of the conversation as quickly as possible.
These extremes of emotions certainly are real and bound to happen to any individual, but that doesn’t mean that others will respond well to them due to their emotional flooding. An easy example is an escalating fight between a person and their spouse. At the start of the discussion they’re both relatively calm and not communicating terribly, but as they continue to miscommunicate, they will get more and more frustrated, add more venom to each statement, and at a certain point will become emotionally flooded and will either continue to escalate, or run away from the situation. If both were able to remain somewhat calm, they would’ve been in much more control of the discussion.
So, what can you do about it?
As far as society’s views on men, there isn’t a whole lot that you can do to change that quickly. To change a fundamental view as basic as a man’s role in society and what it means to be a man, there needs to be a strong and consistent message throughout many years. However, just having that insight for yourself can be life changing. Many men go through their lives trying to be what society thinks a man should be, and are ashamed when they’re being themselves. Instead of going down that very limiting and painful path, think about what you value, and what you would want to define a man as. And for others that you come across that try to repe
atedly put you in that “what a man should be” box, continue to stand firm with your own values.
If there are people around you that are genuinely trying to help but maybe not actually helping, you could express to them the things you’re struggling with, and then tell them what you would like from them. A lot of my caseload is working with couples, and having them ask the other for how they would like to be comforted can totally change their dynamic. This can be so powerful because instead of one person guessing what the other person needs from them in that moment, if you tell them what you need, they will essentially have a roadmap of what they need to do. Again, this is if you have someone who is trying to help you and wants to work with you - this won’t work for someone who isn’t taking you seriously.
And finally, the biggest piece that you have control over is how you express yourself. You don’t have control over society, or over another person wanting to support you or not, but how your emotions are presented is all yours. This is something that can look and sound different from person to person, but all boils down to a few key points. You want to be in somewhat of a calm mood so that the other person doesn’t become flooded by receiving extreme emotions; describe the situation or person you’re upset about; express the emotions that you’re feeling; and state your need of the other person (validation, taking your side, etc.) All of these in combination will give the other person a much better chance to have a response that is helpful for you.
Expressing vulnerable emotions as a man can be extremely tough - especially seeing the disappointing response you’ve gotten - but I hope that these will help in some way. If you get to a place where you feel good at how you express yourself and there isn’t anyone you’re close with that would genuinely want to comfort you, or you’d like another support system, I would recommend looking up therapists in your area. It’s an invaluable resource for so many people who are struggling with any part of life, and so many are able to get to great places by having that.
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