Men out there: when was the last time you checked in with yourself? No, I don’t mean the last time you had a guy’s night out or spent time in your man cave; I mean really looked inward and assessed your emotional health. In my professional practice, I have found that men tend to skip this incredibly valuable practice and, in doing so, threaten not only their emotional health but also the health of their relationships. Repressed emotions can lead to self-dissatisfaction, relationship turmoil, and even the destruction of relationships with infidelity. To avoid these pitfalls, men can make use of techniques of mindfulness and selfishness to improve their relationships and gain more satisfaction in their daily lives.
Men and the Tendency to Suppress Emotions
One of the root causes I have discovered that can make men disconnect from their relationships is avoiding or ignoring their emotions. Wanting to be the stereotypically strong figure in the relationship, these men often work not to tap into how they feel and what they want, but rather to simply make the relationship work. Some are even afraid to share how they feel because they think it is not their place in a relationship to do so. When these feelings are not addressed, though, the self is left to find other ways to cope. It’s a slippery slope: some small, unresolved emotions can easily snowball into frustration and hostility because, no matter how hard you try to tuck those feelings away, they won’t disappear until they are acknowledged or addressed. Without the appropriate processing or response, these feelings are left to fester and can ultimately result in a disconnect from the relationship, growing animosity with a partner, or even a wandering eye to an affair with someone else that seems “easier” than solving issues at home.
Top Signs this Suppression is Occurring
Having worked with a number of patients grappling with these issues over the years, I’ve uncovered some telltale symptoms of an untapped well of feelings bubbling behind some men’s facades. One is that they make statements that hint at deeper anxiety underneath the surface. Phrases like “my wife complains about my Sunday golf games every week, but I don’t let it bother me,” tell me that such comments actually do bother the patient but that he is unaware of how to resolve them. Another sign is that a patient will displace his personal or relationship frustrations onto things or places. When a patient tells me, “I cannot stand our couples’ Florida vacations – there are too many people,” I tend to dig deeper and often discover that his dislike is not of Florida or vacation; it is the stress that he feels in his relationship that he is projecting onto these trips. As with other relationships, it is much easier to cope when we can assign our frustrations to things or places rather than the people we love. A final sure sign that my male patients aren’t getting to the root of their problems is when they qualify every statement they make. “I find my wife’s attitude a little annoying during conflicts,” should not be shrugged off as a passing irritation but rather should be read as if it is the tip of the iceberg: if a male patient has held on to this “little” annoyance, it obviously is of a much more substantial proportion underneath the surface.
Why Men Should Make Space for Selfishness
If any of these patients sound like something you have said in the past, the good news is that there is a simple salve for these scenarios: tap into your self, let those emotions out, and make space for you by setting healthy boundaries. This is where SELFishness comes in: if you can pay attention to yourself and your feelings and respond to them directly, you can resolve conflicts before they even begin. By attending to your feelings, you bring the whole you to your relationships; you are no longer distracted by those repressed points of anger but rather have tapped into your true motivations and can be your genuine self. With that self revealed, it is equally crucial that you set realistic and healthy boundaries in your professional and personal relationships. This means that, beyond assessing your self, you should also set limits for yourself in the workplace and at home. You should strike a balance between professional goals and personal pleasures, and you should also explore your relationships – whether fraternal, familial, or romantic – to ensure that you are engaging in them all with your true self.
From My Experience
I know, you’re probably saying to yourself that this is easier said than done, and I wholeheartedly agree. I can appreciate that sometimes we want a relationship to work so very badly that we abandon our true feelings and emotions thinking we can make any scenario work. Having worked with numerous patients who come into my practice in that frame of mind, I can safely say that tucking these feelings away never ends well. Many relationships in jeopardy that come to my couch are in such a perilous state because emotions were not addressed and the self was lost in a larger quest to keep the relationship on an even keel. This is where we begin the work together to tap into the self, and typically soon after my patients begin to realize that by being selfish they actually become better people in the other relationships in their lives.
Be a Man . . . and Be Mindful of Your Emotions
It can be hard to admit that our feelings hold such sway over us, but what is easy is tapping into those emotions and rediscovering the self. The more we are in tune with our self, the more we will be able to give back to those around us. Regardless of whether this means a healthier working environment or a more positive home life, it’s time to man up and mind those emotions.
Dr. Laura Dabney has been in practice in Virginia Beach for almost twenty years and has treated patients in more than a dozen cities across Virginia. Her psychiatric expertise has been featured on radio and in print media, and she consults for a number of large institutions, including the Virginia Veterans Administration Medical Center. She received her MD from Eastern Virginia Medical School and has been Board Certified in Psychiatry. Laura Dabney, MD has made a career of taking on psychiatry’s toughest challenges from treating complex, combined medical and psychological conditions, to ensure the absolute privacy of powerful, high-profile patients. Dr. Dabney has, for decades, helped her patients change their lives and relationships for the better. And they recognize her for it.