Emotionally healthy family at dinner table

Dude Skill #4: GROW – Part 5


Grow Emotionally — Develop Your Heart

You imitate the manhood lived out before you. I had my dad, three uncles, and two grandfathers. All were blue-collar, put-on-your-roof, change-your-own-oil, and get-it-done dudes. I can count on two fingers how many times I saw them craw. The not-so-subtle message: crying is for women and children.

On the other hand, these men were very tuned in to anger. In a thousand ways, most of them while working on cars or homes, my male models taught me to express anger. I remember hammers and fists being thrown, and language being used that would make Hollywood blush. I was taught to express anger, apologize if necessary, and then move on. Not exactly the picture of emotional health, but at least I knew what anger was. It wasn’t modeled, nor was it taught, that there were other emotions that a man should seek to engage and negotiate.

How Did That Make You Feel?

I have a friend who came from a home that provided him with a few more tools. I met him in college and was amazed at the breadth of his emotional responses to various situations. I was great at anger and terrible at empathy. Rob could be appropriately angry, but could turn on a dime and experience extraordinary patience. I learned why. He grew up with a dad who was an accomplished artist and a mother who was an elementary school teacher. He also had two older sisters. His family had long discussions during dinner, and each person shared what happened during the day.

Emotionally healthy family at dinner table

The person who was sharing held a wooden spoon, which meant he or she had the floor. The other family members asked questions of the one holding the sharing spoon. The questions were more inviting than penetrating. the most common question was: How did that make you feel? everyone was expected to identify, process, and respond to his or emotions from that day. These discussions trained Rob to engage and talk not just about events from his day, but also about the internal and external responses in his life. Doing this enabled Rob to share his fears, hopes, and dreams with those close to him.

My guess is that your experience is closer to mine than to Rob’s. Most men weren’t taught how to identify and respond appropriately to the emotions that are unearthed through challenges. More than likely, you don’t know how to deal with anger, fear, worry, and grief, which is evidenced in the way you struggle to be warm and affectionate with some people and to be decisive and firm with others. You might have the wooden spoon in your hand, but you don’t know quite what to say.

We Must Grow In Our Hearts

Many men don’t know what to do when they are really happy any more than they know what to do when they are really sad. Some of us are terrified at taking compliments. Others are destroyed by critiques. In each case the heart has decreased in size as it has disengaged emotionally. Men are like old cars with engine troubles when it comes to emotions. Oil, antifreeze, and transmission fluid leak out slowly — or worse, all at once! Emotions are the same way. If we con’t pay them attention, if we don’t acknowledge them and talk about them, they’ll leak out in our snarky comments or our passive-aggressive swipes at our friends, spouses, or kids. Or we’ll just blow up, putting those around us in danger and creating an environment of fear and uncertainty. That is why we have to grow in our hearts.

If we want to move toward growth and health, there are two basics we must start working on: 1) Stop stuffing down our emotions, and 2) Name those emotions. I’ll dig into these two action points in my next posting.


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