Men being bullied is such a huge part of the boyhood experience it is seen as normal. A punch in the arm from a friend, wrestling to see who’s stronger, a dog pile. Some might say that is just how boys are. Sometimes, I hear stories from men who had parents that encouraged them to be tougher, to “act like a man.” When young boys integrate these beliefs about themselves as being tough, that they are supposed to just take things like a man, they ultimately get cut off from the more sensitive sides of themselves that are needed later in life. Intimacy and relationships can become a major struggle.
Say for instance, you were told as a young boy that you need to man up and crying is for girls. You learn that your emotions are not ok, so you bottle them up. 20 years later you meet an amazing woman that you love, yet she says she doesn’t feel close to you. She wants you to open up more and you have no idea what she is talking about because you have never opened up in your life. You may even have an adverse reaction, opening up is for those new-agey vegan sissies. Sound familiar?
When anyone is told who they are and how they are feeling is wrong, they begin to hold back or try change their internal experience. How this plays out in relationships is the person is never quite sure who they are or what they want. They begin to run by a script that does not have any real depth or roots.
Another form of this: boys who get bullied at school and in their adult lives are still angry about the way people treated them. This can be expressed in two different ways.
One way is fear of the anger that they have inside from never getting to express how wronged they felt from the bullying. In relationships, these men often have a hard time time saying no or standing up for what they want. Sometimes they end up getting placed in the nice guy category in fear of ever being a bully. Inside, when the anger goes unacknowledged it functions subconsciously, often as a little internal voice that runs in the background always telling the person how bad, ugly, or stupid they are. The voice will often stop at nothing to make you feel bad. Almost taking the place of the bullies.
The other way this gets expressed is a belief develops that people are bad, mean, and untrustworthy, and letting them close will inevitably hurt. On a deeper level, this belief can get set that if their peers are bad and mean, they must also be bad and mean, and therefore unlovable. When someone at their core believes they are unlovable, letting in love or giving love becomes nearly impossible. Making intimacy very difficult.
How about the boyhood punches and dog piles? Studies have shown that baby boys get touched less than girl babies, simply because they are a different gender. Shere Hite in the 1981 Hite Report on Men and Male Sexuality found that most men go to or turn to sex because it is the only place they receive positive physical touch. Otherwise, their lives are basically void of physical contact with others. Imagine if your only experience of touch is someone trying to hurt you. This creates an internal personal struggle with physical contact making the nourishing one might normally get through touch difficult to take it in.
When we combine sex with being cut off from our feelings, we get bad sex. People function from their heads and scripts that have no meaning behind them. Sex or relationships can feel empty, lonely, and pointless. The script that one learns to stay safe or not express emotion often cuts you off from experiencing any true pleasure.
This is a complex topic and issue that many men will stumble over in their lives. If you or someone that you love is showing similar symptoms of what is shared above know you are not alone. Many people still believe that to be a man you have to show no emotion and that it is ok to act aggressively with little boys because that is how little boys are. I don’t buy it any longer. I am done drinking that Koolaid. All children are sensitive regardless of their gender.
One thing you might want to do to start to free yourself from the script is to talk about this with someone. If you yourself have a story from childhood, see if you can share it with a close friend, family member, or lover. If you feel stuck, reach out to a therapist to get help working through these emotions. You do not have to live cut off from the intimacy and love that is possible for you.
I’d also like to offer some advice to women; there is a need for hardened men, we will always need rough men to stand the walls and tend the land, but we need to teach them how to be affectionate at a young age for them to be connected emotionally in relationships. It takes embracing and encouraging the strength and hardness that is commonly associated with being a man as well as developing the depth of character and emotional insight that lends itself to a connected dynamic in a relationship.