When a man (Re)Learns How to Feel Again

This seems to be the summer for a long overdue upgrade on masculinity. I got back from Europe a few weeks ago, and since then the news has been flooded with stories of men, primarily white American men, who have difficulty experiencing their feelings, often with disastrous consequences.

150720_POL_SandraBlandArrest.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2On July 10th state trooper Brian Encinia pulled Sandra Bland over for the most minor of minor traffic violations. He wrote her a warning, and when returning to give it to her, he asked her to put out her cigarette.  That was where the trouble started. In a nutshell, Sandra Bland was not obviously overflowing with respect for the policeman:  you could hear it in her voice. The problem was that Brian Encinia had no way to deal with his emotions. Just a flicker of feeling disrespected threw him into a vast chasm of unmet feeling. Within seconds, he was out of control, dragging this lady out of her car. She died in jail three days later.

ht_wkrc_ray_tensing_kb_150730_16x9_992More or less the same thing happened to University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing. He pulled over Sam DuBose for a missing license plate. But the same story unfolded. Sam was friendly, not violent in any way, guilty only of not bowing down to the policeman’s fragile sense of self importance. So Ray did what so many other men like him have done before: he shot the man, who he felt was disrespecting him, in the head.Only problem was he did not feel: he acted impulsively anyway.

cecil29n-8-webThen we were all introduced to the strange world and psyche of Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. Besides drilling teeth, Walter is fascinated by wildlife. He loves to travel to far away countries, like Zimbabwe, and to seek out exotic and majestic animals: like Cecil the Lion, the pride and joy of the Hwange National Park. When faced with an animal with this much beauty and grace, Walter Palmer did what he likes to do best: he shot and wounded the lion, and then stalked it for 40 hours, while Cecil limped through the savanna in excruciating pain, before Walter finally killed Cecil, cut off his head and removed his skin. I was a little stunned when I read this story, because there is nothing I can find within me that could possess me to do anything like this to another living being. I had to ask myself, what would somebody be feeling, or experiencing, to possess them to act in this way? Then the answer hit me fair and square.  Nothing. He was unable to feel.  You can only do something like that if you have lost your capacity to feel completely. A man who has become emotionally numb and frozen has to go to greater and wilder lengths to try and feel anything at all.

trumpAnd finally, in a brazen and very loud display of masculinity in desperate need of an upgrade, we were all presented with huge doses of the Donald. He was everywhere, screaming insults at Latinos, at war veterans, and most recently at women. When a man cannot feel what is going on inside himself, he also cannot feel what is going on inside other people: and the result is a total lack of empathy or sensitivity. Just imagine for a moment, (I know this is a wildly ridiculous fantasy), the damage that could happen if a man like that  became the leader of the country. Crazy thought, I know. But just imagine.

John Gray, the author of Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, and I have just completed a new book called Conscious Men. It’s all about the upgrade to masculinity that we are all celebrating today. All of these news stories have reminded me of just how timely and welcome this upgrade is. So here is an excerpt from the new book for you to enjoy. It’s all about what happens when a man restores his capacity to feel.

The greatest barrier that a man carries to opening his heart and loving deeply is the wounding left over from his past. Probably the most relevant relationship that a man has to deal with is his relationship with his mother. She may not have paid enough attention, ridiculed him for his achievements, been emotionally abusive, out of control, or terrified him as a child. All of those things will affect not only the way he relates to a woman later in his life, but it will affect the way he relates to the world in general. Whenever a stimulus arises that in any way reminds him of these old and forgotten situations from his past, it will reactivate them, and then he shuts down.

The key is awareness. Whatever affects you from the past, that you are not aware of, will run your life. If your mother was emotionally erratic, or even alcoholic, and went through a huge emotional roller coasters that terrified you, you learn to shut down, to freeze and protect yourself. Later, if your wife or a coworker expresses strong out-of-control emotions, you will instinctively freeze and restrict your freedom for appropriate generous action, for doing the right thing. When we become the kind of man who freezes or isolates himself in the presence of strong feelings, we become weak and afraid.

The Conscious Man has to relearn that feelings pass quickly. They appear briefly, and then they are gone. Most of us, as men, not only carry feelings from the past, but we also carry conditioning for how to deal with these feelings. Your mother or your father may have given you messages like, “You shouldn’t feel that… Big boys don’t cry… Well behaved boys don’t get aggressive… or revengeful. Happy healthy boys don’t get moody…” Equally, either parent may have tried to buy you out of what you were feeling. “Don’t cry, son, let me give you an ice cream.” Either way, most men did not adequately learn that when they don’t get what they want, feel sad, frustrated, angry or disappointed, that those feelings will go away very quickly.

A man who has lost his capacity to feel, moment to moment, will inevitably have a limited capacity to empathize with what other people are feeling as well. Hurt people, who cannot feel their pain, tend to hurt other people. When a man is not aware of what he is feeling, he tends to diminish it, to ridicule it, to put it down and then to seek for action oriented solutions, instead of simply feeling the feeling and allowing it to pass. The more he is not aware of his own pain, the more difficult it is to hear the pain of another. He wants it all to go away quickly.

As men and women have come to blend the traditional roles from a few decades back, this is now a much greater challenge for men than it is for women. When a woman is under stress, some studies have shown that she has eight times more blood flow to the emotional part of the brain. The limbic system is bigger in a woman. So she has a much greater capacity to feel and to express feelings.

This can easily lead to a ping-pong match of distrust. If a man has a limited capacity to feel, he tends to also diminish or ridicule his partner’s feelings. As soon as a woman senses that she is not welcome to express what she is feeling, she looses trust. She becomes critical. The man then seeks to defend himself against the criticism, to argue with the logic of what she is saying. She hears this is a further invalidation of her feelings. She becomes even more critical, he becomes even more defensive. This is how most conflicts erupt between a man and a woman: they egg each other on in a spiral of distrust.

Loving-Man-Listens-To-WifeAs soon as you even begin to learn, as a man, how to recognize what you are feeling, how to label it and communicate it, it breaks the cycle. Your ability to feel cuts through the need to take action, or to defend yourself based upon logic. When she criticizes you, you can experience a fleeting sensation of deflation, take a breath, and let it go. There is no need to invalidate what she is feeling, you can listen, and accept it as it is. Arguments last for a few minutes, and quickly turn into laughter, instead of a painful standoff that can last for hours or days. As soon as you begin to learn how to feel again, pain becomes a motivator for transformation, it becomes a positive loop. The more you can feel, the more your pain informs you of what you need to adjust in your life, the more you can put your life in balance, and the less pain you need to face. Sounds good? It is. Read on…

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13 Responses to “When a man (Re)Learns How to Feel Again”

  1. Ardis August 10, 2015 at 8:19 pm // Reply

    This sounds like a book needing to be read by a lot of men, and maybe women too. I enjoy reading all your books, and I really like the way you see the world and how you teach your philosophy to all of us. I wish there was an actual retreat here in the U.S. that I could go to. I am not good at the online computer courses.

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  2. Hilary August 10, 2015 at 9:48 pm // Reply

    I love the arrival of this book and have already enjoyed the work of David Deida pioneering Conscious manhood. I had a bit of a blip reading the exerpt you shared–when you singled out mothers being the most influential and rather negative influencers on men. I would say it is parents, then all societal conditioning that has separated men from their feelings.

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  3. Adrianna August 10, 2015 at 11:21 pm // Reply

    Thanks again, Arjuna, for the words about the masculine and feelings. I did not see it this way when I heard about those violent policemen. Suppressed emotions make soldiers and police and ordinary people dangerous. I hope your book will help to make the world (and this country in particular) a safer and more sane place. Joy to you!

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  4. Debbie Unterman August 10, 2015 at 11:28 pm // Reply

    This topic is brilliant and so needed. Great conclusion for why these white men are out of control. How do we let the quarter of the US to understand this about the Donald?

    One thing I’d like to add is that in my 32 years of looking into thousands of subconscious minds during Alchemical Hypnotherapy sessions, I’ve seen it is just as possible that a man’s father is responsible for his frozen feelings and the way he now treats women. Like father, like son.

    Debbie Unterman

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  5. Kathryn August 10, 2015 at 11:53 pm // Reply

    Thank you so much Arjuna for this very timely article about men learning to feel again. My son has just had a baby boy and we were remembering how his father treated us both and how he treated me as his wife. These memories flood back of very emotional times and constantly being told I was too sensitive. Then the very next day here I am opening your very timely email and reading your article about men who are not able to feel their feelings. and it all falls into place. He accused his own mother of breaking his leg when he was 4 years old and he carried that memory with him all that time.
    So I thank you for your very insightful and timely words for me at least. Seems I was guided to your article that has helped me to deal with these memories in a better way. So I say thank you for a man talking about how men can be.

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  6. Lenn August 11, 2015 at 1:17 am // Reply

    I think we should all re-think “masculinity” and “femininity” as they are both neutral terms which describe amorphous energies that have been defined for us by patriarchy as “sex role” stereotypes. The truth is, everyone embodies both these energies in some ratio and to some degree. There are masculine females and feminine males and intersexed people who can be either, and it’s all natural and fine. Yes, men must slough off their “manliness” programming and learn that it’s not only okay, but it’s essential for the survival of the human race for them to feel their feelings. This is good work!

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  7. Larry Weiss August 11, 2015 at 3:41 am // Reply

    Thank you Arjuna!Exactly what\’s needed to be learned now by men. I\’m excited to get my hands on the new book and apply the insights to my life and with my clients! By the way, aligns so well with my work with Mankind Project.I stand in gratitude and wish you so much good fun in rolling out Conscious Men!Blessings,Larry

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  8. Joyce August 11, 2015 at 6:38 am // Reply

    Finally, a man gets to work through “his” feelings during a discussion. It’s about time…..men can do this…..they are capable….women can finally expect that a man will do some of the work in the relationship, too. Love it.

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  9. Lion Goodman August 11, 2015 at 6:58 am // Reply

    Well said, Arjuna. It describes my reactivity to a “T.” I’ve been working on feelings and expression for decades, and amazingly enough, my partner can still trigger those feelings I had when I was a child, confronted by my mother. As they say, “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.” I appreciate your articulate description – is it one you know only theoretically? Or did you learn it through observing your own reactions? I look forward to seeing your book. Congratulations!

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  10. doug webb August 11, 2015 at 8:09 pm // Reply

    I liken the feelings many of us harbor as balloon that is over-inflated. The Balloon is inflated by the feelings we don\\’t like or are considered out-of-place, and that we make \\”Go Away.\\” But, where is \\”Away?\\” When the rejected feelings get sent away, they go into the Balloon, which is further inflated, and when an event causes a trigger reaction, it immediately feels like the Balloon is about to pop, and disaster is about to happen, so what happens? The lower brain takes over and anything we decide seems right, from yelling at the kids, to beating up the neighbor, to even shooting somebody. The lower brain deals with immediate survival, not long-term consequences. Most of us go through many lifetimes without ever acknowledging that we have hidden and potentially explosive feelings trapped and waiting right there inside us. I have yet to encounter anyone who finds nothing, and most find a lot in the first five minutes of actually looking! It is our responsibility as conscious adult people to discover what is running us, what we are avoiding, and what is blocking our expression of our humanity. This is where real courage lies, not shooting someone or some poor defenseless animal. Try this: Sit in a quiet place and begin to breathe in and out through your mouth, feeling the breath move through your chest. In only a few seconds, you can begin to feel the anguish inside, the sadness and pain that have been trapped, for decades, or eons. You will be amazed at the sheer amount of feelings just waiting to be felt. If we look around our world, we can easily see the Balloon that is being barely held in place in so many people, so that the least bit of stress becomes a life-threatening scenario, and heavy over-reaction results.

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  11. Azarmard Zorba August 11, 2015 at 10:49 pm // Reply

    Thanks Arjuna,Right timing

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  12. Karin August 12, 2015 at 7:54 pm // Reply

    Thank you Arjuna for a very interesting and spot-on article! I have a question…: What to do, as a woman, to break that ping-pong match of distrust? That\’s exactly where me and my man end up every so often. Makes me sad he can\’t just be with me and listen but takes it personal and as criticism. Thanks!

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