My 8 year old son refuses to talk about feelings. He’s too cool for that.
Maybe this never bothered me before. It has bothered me a little, but for the most part I’ve focused on the empathy aspect. Long ago, I noticed that he doesn’t have much empathy. I assumed it was because he was just the center of his own universe and that it may come with maturity. I’ve tried to make subtle changes to how we discuss or communicate things in our house to work on what I’ve characterized (wrongly so or not) as his lack of natural empathy.
I never really thought that when you don’t truly welcome or acknowledge your own emotions, it’s pretty difficult to understand the emotions and feelings of other people. Recently, while listening to Brené Brown’s newest masterpiece, Rising Strong (pssst, go read it, it’s so good), something clicked in my head.
One of the things that I don’t do much and that my 8 year old NEVER does, is discuss our feelings. I can sometimes be weirdly unemotional. I’m trying to think back if this is something from my own childhood, but I think I just might have a view of sharing emotions like this:
Here I am, at 39 years old, figuring out that I may be wrong.
We numb creativity.
We numb problem-solving.
We numb self-reflection.
We numb empathy for others.
We numb progress.
We numb healing.
We focus on shame for girls a lot. Shame is truly a bitch. Shame about intelligence, money, body, behavior, looks, value, etc. can just be crippling and overwhelming at times for all of us.
I believe that male shame can be often neglected. Just like women have expectations surrounding sex, looks, behavior, body, volume of speech, assertiveness/non-assertiveness, girlishness, etc., men are facing expectations that also lead to considerable shame. Men are expected to be strong, the knight in shining armor, unemotional and problem solvers.
Men are not supposed to fall apart. Men are not supposed to express fear, hurt, guilt, shame, etc. (Brené Brown has addressed men and shame as well in much of her work – see this article and Men, Women and Worthiness). They are supposed to be strong, resilient figures who have answers to adversity and can fix anything. If they do show emotion, they can be called “sissy” or “Sally”, even if it’s only in their own heads.
My son, at 8 years old, has figured out that weakness is shameful for boys/men, and he’s determined to not let on that he’s ever scared, intimidated, overwhelmed, and, what I consider to be the worst of all, loving. Showing confusion or lack of understanding of his homework is not acceptable to him, he laughs as he’s making mistakes, saying “this is SOOOO easy.” If I show him errors, he doesn’t want to deal with it. He rarely wants to give kisses, he doesn’t want to be uncool for showing love or emotion. He doesn’t want to even consider he may be wrong. He wants certainty, he wants to believe that everything is known and nothing is unknown to him. Sometimes, I blame this on genetics (*cough* – my in-laws) but I realize that a lot of this may be environmental.
My mission, among other things, is to teach him this:
It. Is. Okay. To. Be. Vulnerable.
It. Is. Good. To. Be. In. Touch. With. Your. Feelings.
(I have a visual of me slowly yelling this at him while shaking him. I promise I won’t actually do that.)
It is okay to be in touch with your emotions. It is healthy to acknowledge how you feel, maybe share them with someone you trust, be curious about them, find out where they are coming from and how they are being fed, driven and how to use those feelings for solving problems and learning life lessons.
Now, how am I going to do that?
I have no idea. Well, I’m not 100% certain. But I do know that I can do much better in this department, so I’m starting as close to home as I can, me.