Disclaimer: Women are not immune to the suppression of emotions and the “tea kettle effect.” We are highlighting this effect in men because of the article and the shockingly high suicide rates in adult males.
Our practice was recently introduced to an article written in 2019 that we’d like to share and discuss with our readers today. The article is titled “Men Have No Friends and Women Bear the Burden,” and we’ll link it at the bottom of this blog post in case anyone would like to read the full article. The article discusses how toxic masculinity (the notion that only “manly men” are “real men”) has essentially stranded men on their own islands devoid of emotion, feelings, and connections. The article argues that it is the partners of these men who ultimately pay the price for this “emotional stranding.”
When men begin to feel as though they aren’t allowed to be emotional beings or to have and feel their feelings, their default becomes to turn to the women in their lives to fulfill these emotional needs. Their partners become their wife, housekeeper, lover, friend, therapist, etc., thereby filling all the roles men don’t generally know how to otherwise fill.
The original author states “for generations men have been taught to reject traits like gentleness and sensitivity, leaving them without the tools to deal with internalized anger and frustration.” When men feel as though they aren’t allowed to “feel their feelings” they instead stuff them deep down inside themselves, which can lead to tensions and possible explosions.
Think of it like a tea kettle: you fill the kettle with water and set it on the stove to boil. It boils, it whistles, and you take it off the heat source, so it doesn’t spill over and make a huge mess. But what happens when the kettle is left to boil over? We can think of men not feeling as though they can touch base with their emotions in the same way. If a man is the kettle and his emotions are the water roiling to a boil, when they can’t vent that emotional steam, a mess is sure to follow. The emotions boil over and wreak havoc, and it can be left up to the women in their lives to not only deal with the overflow and take the kettle out of the heat, but also to clean up the resulting mess.
This mess-cleaning results in women expending far more emotional labor to maintain their relationships than their partners participate in. This in turn leads to emotional exhaustion and resentment. Rather than causing a new “boil over” and sharing these feelings with their partners, many women stew in this “resentment soup,” which can have multiple negative effects on the relationship.
Seeking therapy is viewed as a weakness – something only women do and have time for – which has produced a generation of men who struggle with symptoms like irritability, aggressiveness, and increased expressions of anger. When men do finally seek therapy, they have a difficult time being able to express their emotions. This phenomenon has gotten so prevalent that researchers have coined a name for it: normative male alexithymia, or “the inability of men to put emotions into words posited to result from traditional masculine role socialization and reflected in the endorsement of and conformity to traditional masculine norms (Karakis & Levant, 2012).
Men’s reluctance to seek out therapeutic care is especially important as The Therapy Room Mind Health and Wellness has discussed suicide prevention during the month of September. Men tend to conceal pain and illness at much higher rates than women and are THREE TIMES more likely to die by suicide that women are.
Men can find great benefits from participating in the therapeutic process and a solid relationship with a therapist, where they can be allowed to discuss what masculinity means to them. Some men have better success in group therapy as opposed to individual therapy settings. Men’s support groups can also be helpful as men can discuss the issues they face with other men who are or have been in similar positions, fostering a sense of safety and comfort that allows for open and honest communication and sharing among group members.
For any men out there thinking they might benefit from participating in a men’s support group, there’s a handy guide for starting one yourself at https://www.mensgroupmanual.com/ which contains resources and contact information for men who have come before you and been exactly where you are and found a sense of community in support groups.
Also of importance is an article published in 2022 on the Psychology Today website titled “The Rise of Lonely, Single Men.” As women are starting to demand more of their partners, especially as related to emotional and mental health, men are being left behind. Dr. Matos states “dating opportunities for heterosexual men are diminishing as relationship standards rise.” He states that “competition in the world of online dating is fierce and that women are becoming increasingly selective, preferring partners who are emotionally available and good communicators.” He goes on to state that men have a “skills gap” where emotional connections and healthy communication patterns are concerned and that men should participate in therapy in order to address this skills gap. He ends his article with a question directed at other men: “Will we step up?” The women in your lives are sincerely hoping the answer is yes.
We leave you with the words of Scott Shepherd, who participated in one of the men’s support groups: “As a man, you’re not taught to listen, just get busy trying to fix things; you can’t cry, only get mad. This group changed that. They’re starting to see that embracing these things we’ve rejected out of fear of being called ‘gay’ or ‘a pussy’ are actually huge acts of courage.”
Hamlett, M. (2019, July 8). Men have no friends and women bear the burden. Harper’s BAZAAR. Retrieved September 17, 2022, from https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/a27259689/toxic-masculinity-male-friendships-emotional-labor-men-rely-on-women/
Karakis, E. N., & Levant, R. F. (2012). Is Normative Male Alexithymia associated with relationship satisfaction, fear of intimacy and communication quality among men in relationships? The Journal of Men’s Studies, 20(3), 179–186. https://doi.org/10.3149/jms.2003.179
Matos, G. (2022, August 9). The rise of lonely, single men. Psychology Today. Retrieved September 17, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-state-our-unions/202208/the-rise-lonely-single-men