How Boys Learn to Repress Their Feelings and How We Can Do Better as Men

“Shoutout to all the men going through a lot, with no one to turn to, because this world wrongly taught our males to mask their emotions and that strong means silent.” ~Alex Myles

He is near tears. He’s not hurt. He is not injured.

Other boys make fun of him because he is so big.

Most of the time he pretends it doesn’t bother him. But I’m the coach, and it’s pretty hard to miss.

It was funny to see him try and smile again. Sometimes he will parry with a comment of his own—something about them that they’re sensitive of…

They are doing this. I call this “emotional arm punching.” It’s a rite of passage boys use to desensitize themselves to emotions, just like when they punch each other repeatedly in the bicep and try not to show how much it hurts

Two months out of every year, I have the privilege of seeing the children’s real emotions. The reason why I get to see them is because they haven’t yet been taught not to allow themselves to feel them. They haven’t been taught that emotions are a weakness. However, this can be confirmed: it’s beginning. This emotional arm punching is particularly common with boys.

This term I’ve coined—emotional arm punching—you see it all the time on playgrounds, middle and high school sports, probably even in the Boy Scouts. Perhaps you still remember this from your youth. It’s the tiny emotional jabs you take at your friends about things that you know they’re sensitive about that hurt their feelings.

This is something I have learned from personal experience. My coaches called me stupid, and I was raped by them because I couldn’t remember what the plays were.

The other players would use the coach’s opinion of my play to deflect the attention from their own failings by coming after me relentlessly for my inability to remember plays, or, even worse, if I let down my guard and told my teammates how the coach’s remarks made me feel.

In the end, my emotions were diverted and I began to hurl my anger at my colleagues about their performances.

If you ask most people they will tell you that this is a natural rite. You’re learning how to “be a man.” You’re learning to not let emotions affect you.

Unfortunately, I can tell you this firsthand: it doesn’t teach kids not to have emotions. It teaches children to suppress their emotions and not to tell anyone what they feel. This is exactly how I was taught to do.

My feelings were not being dealt with by anyone. I was unable to control my shame and embarrassment, which led me to vehement anger. This anger eventually became a lot more intense. However, with no place to go, it would erupt from me when I least expected it—often on my friends or my mom.

Kids are being called short, fat, ugly, or any unacceptable thing that their friends (or even those who aren’t their friends) say about them—under the flag of jest of course.

The result is: It’s a group of kids who learn quickly that their emotions are inappropriate. They pretend emotions don’t bother them. In reality, they are not. They hurt doubly worse because they can’t get any support or acknowledgment for what they’re feeling.

What is the point? Because those circles you see on the sports fields, in the schools, or even the Boy Scouts, you’re going to see when you’re grown up and go to the holiday party, bowling team, or men’s club. It’s the same people.

As they grew up, their emotions become more suppressed and can even lead to death. You can think of excessive drinking, anger outbursts and isolation as well as domestic violence.

Adults who learned to repress their emotions as children end up resorting to finding ways to numb those emotions that are seeping out because they didn’t learn the tools to process them.

And then there’s blame!

Blame is when our ‘uncomfortable emotions’ cup runneth over inside of us. We give our emotions, such as anger, fear and anxiety, a safe, secure home by blaming others.

in her Ted Talk, Vulnerability: The Power of Vulnerability, internationally renowned speaker, storyteller, and researcher Brené Brown said that blame is described in research as a way to discharge pain and discomfort.

Blame is acting out your anger instead of dealing with your emotions and the problem that’s in front of you. It was a habit I used a lot.  I realized the hurt my anger and words caused to my loved ones and friends. This kept me away from real relationships for many years.

If we want men to be more aware of and able to identify how they feel so that they have choices instead of reactions—choice of the challenges they will pursue in their lives, the relationships they will create, the work that will satisfy them, and the kind of father they want to be—we’re going about it all wrong.

One of the best tools I’ve learned when dealing with my feelings is what I call “emotionally testifying.”  This starts with developing a practice of becoming familiar with all of your emotions, not just the ones that we as men find socially acceptable.

Recognize how your emotions affect your body. Then, have the courage to express them to trusted friends and family, describing how you are feeling and why you think you’re feeling that way.

It is possible to become more comfortable with unpleasant emotions and to be confident in your ability to communicate them. They’re not foreign to you, or something to be afraid or ashamed of.

As you become confident at identifying and expressing your emotions with people you trust, you’ll be able to respond differently when you later find yourself with a group of other guys, and that emotional arm punching begins.

Instead of perpetuating this socially accepted, but emotionally unhealthy norm, you will have the skills to express how you feel about what’s being said in a way that is authentic to you without harming anyone else.

I believe it is more masculine to identify and understand your emotions and to acknowledge and accept when you hurt someone else’s feelings. Just because somebody said something to you that hurt you doesn’t give you the right to go off and put those hard feelings out on someone else. This isn’t a sign that you are strong.

Knowing how you want to feel is strength. It’s also about being honest with yourself and being able to interact with others from a place where empathy and honesty are key.

Tell your friends what you think. This will help you to be more open to your feelings and learn how to trust your emotions. You will be better off if they are honest with you. You never know when they will follow you and respond emotionally to you back. Either way, it’ll save a lot of emotional bruising.

Lou Bevacqui

Lou Bevacqui M.Ac. L.Ac. is an emotional resilience coach, national speaker, author, and founder of the START Right Virtual Performance Coaching & Acupuncture. Over 20 years resident of Vermont. Waterbury Vermont. He, like many other entrepreneurs, has restructured his business to offer acupuncture and performance coaching services online and at his Waterbury office. Visit for more details

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Tiny Buddha published the post How Boys Learn How to Resist Their Feelings.

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