As men we're taught to shy away from our emotions. Emotions are seen as weak and the person expressing them as failing. Men and emotions don't mix in society. As men we're expected to be infallible by maintaining the perception that nothing bothers us, that we do not feel. Because as society sees it, the one that feels is the one that loses the negotiation and thus his advantage. And for a man to lose his advantage is for him to lose his sense of masculinity.
Men are conditioned to be rocks, but we're above all human. We love, hurt, regret, celebrate, empathize, feel just like all other human beings. So, why is it so hard for us to let go and feel?
Perhaps we don't have emotional competence.
What is emotional competence? According to a study in the November issue of Emotion titled "Increasing Emotional Competence Improves Psychological and Physical Well-being, Social Relationships, and Employability" reported on Goodtherapy.org, emotional competence is our ability to manage and express emotion and respond appropriately to the emotions of others.
Our emotions act like muscle memory. If we don't have a particular strength or skill, we can train ourselves to beef up, stretch out and expand.
Why would we want emotional competence (or EC)? Delphine Nelis at the University of Liege Department of Psychology Belgium, and lead author of the study, says: "At a psychological level, higher trait EC is associated with greater well-being and higher self-esteem as well as a lower risk to develop psychological disorders."
Other researchers argue that we need healthy emotions. In the book, The Development of Emotional Competence, Carolyn Saarni writes that "the components of emotional competence are those skills needed to be self-efficacious." We're taught that our ability to succeed is based on how skillful we are at suppressing our emotions, but in truth it's our emotional management that brings long-term rewards.
Delphine Nelis finds that higher EC levels lead to better relationships, "greater likelihood of being chosen as a romantic partner," and higher academic and work performance. Essentially, being able to understand, express and use emotions in a healthy manner increases your self-confidence and sense of self-worth. And that's contagious!
When asked what men want in a survey posted on Gay Life, majority of respondents (at the time of the publishing of this article) say they desire men who show confidence, self-assurance, and a clear understanding of themselves and those around them.
"As your emotional competency increases, you may experience a variety of positive transformations in your life," writes EmotionalCompetency.com. "Destructive behavior patterns of the past may transform into more constructive behavior as you begin to solve the mysterious puzzle of human interactions and gain a quiet and confident understanding of them."
Imagine all of the men in your life, including yourself, running around freely expressing emotion and empathizing with others. Even my suggestion of it sounds wonky because the idea of masculinity is everything but a bear hug. But many times what makes us uncomfortable is probably the right personal direction.
Even French Renaissance essayist and philosopher Michel de Montaigne agrees that society's idea of manhood, especially men and emotions, is sentimentally backward: "He who establishes his argument by noise and command shows that his reason is weak." And isn't reason all we truly expect in our personal and professional lives?
So, how do you boost your EC levels?
Six months after Nelis subjected study participants to trainings to boost their abilities to understand and manage their own emotions and understand others, she saw significant improvement in their psychological well-being. They were more extroverted, had better heath and more fulfilling personal and professional relationships.
"These findings bring hope to people who have not had the opportunity to develop their EC as children. With motivation, effort, and guidance, such individuals can still improve their EC later in life, and thereby enhance their adjustment in many domains of life," Nelis adds.
In other words, you won't find better emotional health and happiness by continuing to reacte to others. You have to actively choose to train your emotional muscles to work in your best interest. If your emotional response doesn't increase your sense of self-worth or compromises your wellbeing, change your reaction one incident at a time. If you find that your emotions are like a leaf in a wind storm, practice stability. Think you first, others second.
This doesn't mean others shouldn't be a concern. We are social beings and we need a sense of communion with others, even if it is only one other person. However, those relationships improve only when we seek to understand our emotions and the emotions of others. This doesn't mean we react in the way they want us to (remember, protect self first!), but it can help us see our powerlessness in controlling other people's actions and emotions. We become autonomous and responsible for our own emotional health. We exude that sense of self and self-confidence that others are attracted to. It's a chain reaction. We begin to love ourselves and all of the emotion that comes with it and others will be attracted to the stability that used to be a spectacle.