AC­CESS­ING YOUR EMO­TIONS

IF WE LET BOYS EX­PE­RI­ENCE THEIR FEEL­INGS, MEN WOULD BE MORE OPEN AND RE­LA­TION­SHIPS WOULD WIN

Life & Style Weekend - - MAGAZINE | RELATIONSH­IPS - WORDS: JOANNE WIL­SON

What’s the most com­mon rea­son cou­ples seek re­la­tion­ship coun­selling? You guessed it, poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion and con­flict skills.

Last week I raised the con­cept of the non­clin­i­cal con­di­tion, alex­ithymia. It is the in­abil­ity to iden­tify and ex­press or de­scribe your feel­ings.

These in­di­vid­u­als who have dif­fi­culty ac­cess­ing their in­ner emo­tional words are said to fea­ture in 10 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion and are more likely, but not al­ways, men.

Stereo­typ­i­cally, men don’t seem to ex­press their emo­tions as eas­ily, as well, or as much as women do.

In­ter­est­ingly, the un­bri­dled emo­tion is com­monly found at the footy or the cricket when it’s com­pletely ac­cept­able to pas­sion­ately scream and wave your arms around.

I’ve also en­coun­tered many ex­as­per­ated men strug­gling to ex­tract the ver­bal com­plex­i­ties of their woman’s mind.

Un­for­tu­nately, the blokes char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally leave the re­la­tion­ship stuff to the women.

How­ever love and con­nec­tion is more of a learned team ap­proach.

When it goes pear-shaped, the guy will just want to fix it and move on.

In­ter­est­ingly, there is “nor­ma­tive male alex­ithymia”, which is said to be de­rived from so­cial­i­sa­tion that “ev­ery­one knows real men don’t cry”.

Many Aussie boys are raised be­ing emo­tion­ally un­der­mined with the mes­sages of sto­icism through­out me­dia that mas­culin­ity is all bravo and grunt.

Talk emo­tions and you’re a weak sissy. While I be­lieve this is im­prov­ing, it ex­plains the alarm­ing high male sui­cide rate.

Thank­fully, I fre­quently en­counter the ef­fects of this so­cial con­di­tion­ing when blokes front up for mar­riage ther­apy when the re­la­tion­ship fea­tures lone­li­ness, dis­con­nec­tion and repet­i­tive con­flict. How do we ap­proach this?

As we move to­ward en­cour­ag­ing a gen­er­a­tion of ex­press­ing in­stead of re­press­ing, we also can’t la­bel men as “feel­in­g­less” gen­der. Emo­tions are in there.

We col­lab­o­ra­tively nor­malise the ideal that we are all built with emo­tions and we can all ac­cess them.

Like any new task, it re­quires rep­e­ti­tion, con­sis­tency and pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment. Then a won­der­ful trans­for­ma­tion oc­curs.

Re­vers­ing a strongly held so­cial­i­sa­tion pat­tern takes time.

Men show up with the best in­ten­tions to be their woman’s hero, to take ac­tion and pro­tect.

When women can ap­pre­ci­ate and dis­play ad­mi­ra­tion for these in­her­ent traits men are more likely to be vul­ner­a­ble to shar­ing their in­ner world.

Wit­ness­ing those mag­i­cal mo­ments are one of the great­est gifts for a mar­riage coun­sel­lor.

Joanne Wil­son is a neu­ropsy­chother­a­pist, re­la­tion­ship spe­cial­ist, work­shop fa­cil­i­ta­tor and guest speaker. Find out more about this topic on her pod­cast Is This Love and at www.the­con­fi­dan­te­coun­selling.com.

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