Men and Empathy; The Struggle is Real.

Why do some men have a hard time with empathy?

Lets start with some definitions…

  • Empathy means to deeply understand, and share the feelings someone else is experiencing. Put yourself in their shoes.
  • Sympathy means to express feelings of pity, and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.

Empathy allows us to connect deeper, and listen more intently. If we are allow ourselves to be more vulnerable with each other through the use of empathy, we will experience healthier and more satisfying relationships.

Sympathy creates distance between people and prevents healing. Think of sympathy in terms of a sympathy card; the card offers some passive consoling from a distance. “I’m sorry for your loss” is much different from, “I am so sad to hear about your father passing. I know how close you were to him and you must feel devastated”.

Here is a great video from Brene Brown explaining the difference between empathy and sympathy!

So, why do men struggle with empathy?

In short, society told us not to show any emotions (other than anger of course) in order to maintain power and control over self and others.

From a very young age men are being told to hide or stuff their emotions. If a young boy is learning to ride his bike, falls and begins to cry, what is the typical response from his father? “walk it off kid, stop crying and act like a man”. That father has effectively taught his son that it isn’t acceptable to show emotion.

Remember, empathy requires you to access your vulnerable emotions in order to connect with others suffering.  So, if men have been taught not to express our emotions, how can we access them for others in order to connect? How in the world are we supposed to have the vocabulary for it when we have been spending our entire lives stuffing them deep down not allowing ourselves to practice this skill?

Emotions always get what they want, and they want to be expressed and heard! When a man feels those vulnerable emotions like, sadness, fear, embarrassment, disrespect, or anxiety, and he fails to express those emotions he will end up resorting to anger as a way to express the vulnerable emotions he is feeling.

3 things men can do to increase empathy

  1. Emotions do not mean you are “weak”, they mean you are human.
  2. Everyone experiences emotions, it’s okay to let people know exactly how you are feeling.
  3. practice makes perfect. Start by putting your vulnerable emotions out there for others little by little.

Men have been socialized for a very long time to deny our emotions, so rewiring our brains to become more comfortable with using empathy in our relationships will take some time and mindful effort, but it can be done!  I want to challenge you to re-think what being a man means to you. Lets start exercising our empathy muscle and start experiencing more loving, connected and fulfilling relationships!

Click here to schedule an appointment and start your journey to a more empathic life!

3 reasons why we hurt people we love

Why does it seem that we hurt those we love the most? It doesn’t seem to make much sense does it? Shouldn’t we be going out of our way to make sure their needs are met and be paying special attention to their needs and desires? The answer is yes, unfortunately this is more the exception rather than the rule.

Here are 3 more reasons why we tend to hurt our loved ones…

1) We take them for granted:

When we seek a partner, we are typically looking for someone to share our lives with on a long-term basis. When we expect or assume that our partner is going to be around long into the distant future, it’s easier to become lax with staying present in our relationship and appreciate and appreciate our partner. With this mindset creeping into the relationship, communication slowly begins to fall apart.

Staying present with our partner takes time and effort. If we don’t know how to be present, we fail to miss the signals being communicated by our partner. If these signals about what our partner needs and wants from you go unmet it could be a recipe for contempt and disappointment.

2) Unintended consequences:

More often than not, we don’t intend to hurt others. However, if we fail to take care of ourselves, we fail to take care of others; including the ones we love. What we don’t transform we transfer. If I don’t love myself, I will have a hard time truly loving others and receiving their love for me. when I don’t value myself, I have a difficult time seeing the value in others. If I don’t appreciate myself, I will often have a hard time appreciating others.  When we fail to practice empathy and compassion with our partners, we foster a relationship filled with tension, contempt, and emotional isolation.

3) Intentionally hurting them:

Misery loves company. “If I can’t be happy then you shouldn’t be either”, “It isn’t fair that you have peace in your life, so I will create chaos in our relationship”.  Anger is a secondary emotion. That means that there is almost always a more vulnerable emotion driving the anger we experience. It can be difficult and even painful to identify and express those more vulnerable emotions like, disappointment, embarrassment, fear, and sadness. When we fail to identify and express these vulnerable and painful emotions in healthy ways, we will likely respond with aggression and anger.  Anger is easy to access and people know what anger is. Unfortunately, responding with aggression and anger often results in hurting those we love.

Here is the good news; you aren’t alone in this and things can get better! We aren’t born knowing these things but we can learn from our past if we are willing to be more vulnerable, learn to be authentic to ourselves and those we love.

emotion. Anger is often referred to as a "secondary emotion" meaning that there is typically a more vulnerable or uncomfortable emotion driving that anger.

How to Manage your Anger

Anger is a “secondary emotion”

Anger is often referred to as a “secondary emotion” meaning that there is typically a more vulnerable or uncomfortable emotion driving that anger. If we can tap into being more mindful and curious about what that underlining feeling is and what it is telling us to do, we can effectively cope with anger. Some common vulnerable emotions under anger are embarrassment, betrayal, fear, pain, and feelings of insecurity. When we confront our more vulnerable feelings with self-compassion and empathy we can begin to disarm our anger and begin true healing.

Anger is normal!

Anger, we all experience it…maybe more than we would like. When it comes to anger we need to remember that it’s a completely normal emotion. Anger does not have to be a negative experience. When we experience anger (or any emotion for that mater) it is trying to tell us something; how to think, how to feel and how to act. Unfortunately when acting out of anger we tend to regret out actions as they often carry negative consequences.

Domestic Violence IS Child Abuse

Children learn from their environment

If the child’s caregivers are chronically expressing their emotions in a stressful, chaotic or violent way, and engaging in domestic violence, the child will begin to take on these behaviors as a way to manage their own emotions as well. 

How Children Think

Children also tend to internalize the things they see hear and feel. Children internalize these behaviors and messages from their environment because they are egocentric by nature. Everything is about them, not because they are trying to be narcissistic, but because they have not yet effectively developed the ability to take perspective of other people’s feelings or needs.

A young child often begins their sentences with “I want”… “I want a cookie” or “I want to go play”. They are also completely dependent on their caregivers for basic human needs such as food, clothing, shelter, safety and love. Again, it’s all about them. 

How Children Process

So, the child who witnesses domestic violence will begin to internalize those feelings of shame, guilt, and fear. The child will assume (since everything else is about them) that the violence they witness or receive is their fault, they begin to view themselves as a “bad” child and that they must be the reason for this violence and chaos.

Domestic violence sends messages of shame, guilt, and fear to the victim. 
When children are stressed and overwhelmed with fear, they enter survival mode. This does not allow them to focus on other things such as school, having healthy relationships and learning other important social skills and can result in behavioral issues. The child then often gets labeled as a bad or difficult child, which in turn validates the child’s egocentric thinking that all of this IS their fault. 

They aren’t bad children and it isn’t their fault, they are behaving exactly as they should given their circumstances. 

#domesticviolence #childabuse #children#enddomesticviolence#domesticviolenceawareness#familywellnesscounseling