For most of our lives we men have constantly been told to “man up”. To ‘grow a set’ or to suck it up. Often this means that we should be tough, we should stand up and be brave in the face of adversity. The unfortunate consequences to these statement is that most of us men interpret this to mean that we should bury or suppress our emotions. That we are not allowed to express any ‘unmanly’ feelings. As a result we learn from a very early age to suppress, hide or bottle up our sensitive side. We hide the emotion from the world for fear of becoming vulnerable and being seen as being less of a “man”.
As we move out of childhood and into our young adult and eventually adult phases of our life how many times do we men hear or use the phrase “Suck it up Princess” mocking those males around us who let themselves become emotionally vulnerable. Men are constantly reminded by society that it is not “cool” or “manly” to be emotional or to share our emotions. It is a very rare thing when you will hear men confide in each other about what they are feeling. I can almost hear the ribbing now as I write this from my male friends. Any time a man displays any emotional characteristics he will surely be chastised by his male peers. Any show of emotion is thought to be a weakness and to be avoided at all costs.
I was out for a beer with a woman friend of mine the other night and somehow we got onto this subject and I talked about how I really try hard to explore and grow in all aspects of my life. I talked about how it was such a shame that men are heartily discouraged from exploring, let alone sharing their feelings and emotions. As we talked I brought up how unfortunate the term “man up” is. I joked that men really needed to learn to “woman up”.
The more I thought about it the more it resonated with me. As a student of leadership and sales I pay a lot of attention to subjects like Emotional Intelligence, Self Awareness and personal growth. As I started exploring the concept of “Woman’ing up” I really started to see some strong potential application of this concept for my own development which is why I have decided to share.
While men are programmed from a very early age to ‘man up’ and hide our feelings women are more likely to be allowed to express and explore their emotions. It is culturally OK for a woman to display emotion but far less acceptable for a man to do so.
While I am typically fairly good at sharing my thoughts and to some extent my feelings there are still many times when I find myself not fully expressing my thoughts and emotions for fear of being told to “man up”. Being a strong, confident man is high on my list of “who I want to be”. I think what it really comes down to is revisiting the definition of what a “real man” is. Putting the term “real man” into a different context becomes a key factor for “reprogramming” how we behave when it comes to our emotions.
One of the most powerful speakers I have ever seen in my life is Frank Abagnale of “Catch me if you can” fame. Frank told the remarkable story of his life and had the audience riveted with his unbelievable tales of fraud, deceit and conning. At the end of his presentation he brought the entire speech around to what he believed the definition of a “real man” was. To the surprise, I think, of most in the audience he wrapped up reminding us that if you still have your mother and father, give them a hug and kiss while you still can. He went on to say for the men in the audience, it’s not about the money or the positions or the degrees. It’s not about what you accomplish or how ‘successful’ you become. He said a real man is faithful. A real man loves his wife. A real man puts his children first in his life. He went on to say that he has done nothing better than to be a good husband and a good father, and that’s the best thing he could possibly say about his life.
I do not come close to doing justice to the emotional connection he created in the room that day. In a room with about 2000 mortgage professionals in it when he was done he received a standing ovation and I can tell you there was not a dry eye in the house. Most of us men avoided making eye contact with one another. I didn’t really think about it much at the time but I imagine the reason for this was for the fear of being told to “man up” or to “suck it up princess”.
The lobby after that speech was packed with men on their cell phones phoning wives, children or parents. It was an absolutely unbelievably emotionally charged room and an afternoon I will never ever forget. I wrestle constantly with my failed marriage and wonder if I wasn’t “man enough” to keep it together sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I am a much better father today then I ever have been and I think the path we have chosen was truly what is best for our family.
So why do I think you should “Woman up” men? I have discussed this topic in great detail with some of my friends both male and female and here is what I have come up with. The views here are based on feedback from both genders and not simply my own personal thoughts. I am certainly not an expert in psychology by any stretch but these are my observations. Take them for what they are worth.
1) Self awareness – self awareness is the key to growth and personal development. We need to be aware of who we are and what we feel. The good the bad, and the ugly. If we want to grow we need to know where we are starting.
2) Emotional Intelligence: This is defined as the ability to observe, interpret, understand and manage both our own emotions and the emotions of those around us. We have already discussed the fact, that women, generally speaking, are better at being “in touch” with their emotions. Men, if we can make a concious effort to better observe and analyze our emotions rather than simply suppressing them then we have a much better chance of being able to manage those emotions as well. Once we have a deeper understanding of our own emotions and how to manage those we can look to apply those same techniques to others.
Imagine if you could actively be engaged in assisting your spouse, partner, or children in manage and direct their emotions by changing the way you interact with them based on a better understanding of what triggers their emotions and how they behave in a variety of emotional states. What would your relationship with your kids look like in 12 months if you mastered this skill? What would your relationship with your spouse look like in 12 months if you could master this skill?
3) Decisions are made based on emotion justified by logic
There is ample neuroscience to support this statement. Scientist Antonio Demasio studied patients who had had brain injuries that affected the area of the brain that generated emotions. These individuals who could not “feel” had a very difficult time making even the simplest of decisions. They could logically describe what they should be doing but in practice had a very difficult time making daily decisions about even the simplest things like what to eat or wear.
Couple this fact with Emotional Intelligence or Emotional Awareness and you have a very compelling reason to “Woman up”. Our lives are defined by the decisions that we make. The better we understand the reasons that we make the decisions that we do the more deliberate we can be about those decisions. This is a critical element if we care to have a purposeful life.