David Earl Johnson, LICSW

7 minute read

Why Do Men Have Such Trouble With Intimacy? (Full article at the link in alternet.org)

Real intimacy, unlike sex or hanging out, requires a vulnerability the ‘man code’
Cropped screenshot of John Wayne and Angie Dic...

Cropped screenshot of John Wayne and Angie Dickinson from the trailer for the film Rio Bravo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

prohibits….  The answer is that most men are taught from an early age to be competitive, that feelings are a sign of weakness, and to avoid vulnerability and dependency at all costs. The ideal for men is fierce independence and strength. Herb Goldberg writes in The Hazards of Being Male that 85% of the men in this country have no friends…. Because men are taught to be competitive, strong, never cry, and not show emotion, they may either buy into this wholeheartedly or consider all intimacy-creating activities as weak and stupid, or they may feel like a fraud for having feelings and sensitivity at all…. All this is not to say that men are incapable of intimacy, dependency, or vulnerability. They are quite able, but our culture does not support it. One of the main reasons for drug and alcohol use is for medicating pain, and that would include emotional pain. Men, who feel bottled up, sad, angry, and depressed will often become workaholics, drink, or do drugs to avoid feelings. For men to understand how to be intimate, they must first learn more about who they are, what they want, and what is truly important to them. Feelings tell us what we want and what we need, so without them, we are like a ship without a rudder. So many men lead lives of quiet desperation, never letting anyone in or themselves out. A man who takes a look at who he really is and allows his essence to be known is far stronger than the burly, silent type who lives his life in utter isolation.

This interesting article only begins to untangle the influences of our US culture on gender identity. The elders of our society is now baby boomers who grew up with John Wayne and the like for male role models. Women grew up watching women who lived a standard of subjugation to the male dominated world. Some baby boomers rebelled in a big way. They have had a significant influence on our culture. Gender roles are in flux, a period of transition, changes that Gen X and Y are continuing. The male liberation movement has lagged behind, adapting to try to maintain some semblance of compatibility with increasingly liberated women. 

None of us get anything like a formal education in emotional intelligence, even though it is the single most predictive factor in academic and job success. Rational thinking is valued highly. Emotion is considered the extra baggage of being a fallible human being. What people forget is that we’ve been living with both a rational and emotional side for thousands of generations. Emotions must serve a purpose. Indeed they do. Click to enlarge From Dare To Dream blog:

Our motivations are largely emotionally driven. Negative emotions push us to face and act on those things that make us most uncomfortable. Positive emotions allow us to enjoy success and give us energy to meet new challenges. But negative emotions inspire us to make changes. Misery is perhaps the most creative force in our lives. Seldom do we make major changes in our lives without considerable emotional pain. Each negative emotion comes complete with an intuitive [but incomplete] guide to action. Anger pushes us to stand up for ourselves and speak up when we’ve been treated with disrespect. Fear makes us hyper-vigilant to potential danger and readies us to duck or run away if needed. Sadness makes us review over and over again what we’ve lost. That ruminative search is for the knowledge to compensate for our loss [as well as reassess its meaning and purpose. Ultimately, such learning leads us with the wisdom to understand our lives from a new perspective and make our actions more adaptive.] Guilt reminds us of our responsibility in the errors we make and motivates us to work to understand our mistakes and learn how to avoid repeating them….

Emotions are made to be understood by experiencing them, by sitting with them for a time so as to make some sense of them. By trace emotions to their origins you can come to understand what they might mean for you today. That will enable you to make a reasoned decision about what should be done. As hard as it is to sit with a profoundly negative emotion, you will find that emotion an amazingly creative force for change.


Emotions serve us in many ways. They are a check on our initial judgments by providing substance for our first impressions. They provide us with information we can use immediately and quickly when confronted with the need to act now. They provide us with a rough measure of the importance a decision that must be made quickly, and give us a sense of when it's time to act. Our emotional reactions combined with our initial thoughts provide what we call intuition. Despite the bad press intuition has gotten over the years, it is an important component of our choices when all the data is not available. Think about it, that amounts to most of our decisions. 
Our culture denigrates the value of emotions. Rationality is held in high esteem. But, think about it, when was the last time you made a major decision without feeling an emotion? How sure can you be that emotion wasn't a component of that decision? In fact, I believe, emotion is a part of EVERY decision, whether we are aware of it or not. Emotion chooses the time we act, and serves as a check on our rational judgments, by considering our personal perspective, checks on our values, preferences, and personalizes the decision in a way that could not happen without emotional input. Women have intuitively known that in recent generations despite the philosophical swing away from emotion in our culture.
Because our culture dismisses the value of emotions, men in particular are not taught how to make good use of them. Instead, we are taught that we must suppress them and be purely rational. Emotions are equated with weakness, with retreat and with failure. 
By stifling and ignoring our emotions, we interfere with our judgment. Emotions are a part of our judgment whether we recognize it or not. Our awareness of our emotions is critical to containing their influence. When we suppress our emotions, we lose the ability to contain them. They are left to operate at an unconscious level influencing our decisions beyond our awareness in ways we can't predict. 
When we engage with our emotions and our thoughts while making judgments, we can fine tune their influence based on our experience with the emotion and the object of our attention. We activate our skills at a deeper level, one that has been polished over thousands of generations while we created and developed this civilization. 
Its only since we have been aware of our rationality have we sought to suppress our emotions. By doing that, we have slowed the development of our civilization and continue to make seemingly rational judgments that others readily recognize as heavily weighted with emotions. I believe that is, in part, the cause of many of the ills of our world.
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