Ask a 7-year-old how he feels and he’ll usually say, “Good” or “Bad.” That’s because he hasn’t really learned enough feelings words to fully and truly describe how he feels. If you challenged him to name 10 feelings to earn a prize, he could probably come up with: Happy, Sad, Mad, and Scared, but he’d probably try to add similar words like Glad and Angry to round out his list. He’d probably also try to add words like Great, Awesome, Fantastic, Awful, Terrible, or Really Bad when he ran out of more descriptive feeling words. Little kids don’t know the right words to describe their feelings. They have to be taught words for what they’re feeling and only adults who know and use feeling words can do the job.
Ask a 35-year-old man how he feels, and you’re likely to get almost the same responses as you get from a 7-year-old. He may be able to compose a list of 10 feeling words more successfully than his younger counterpart, but it’s also likely that his list includes things like Bored, Tired, Okay, Fine, and Cool, which are also really not feeling words, but rather, more like descriptions of temporary states.
Why are men likely to be unable to express their feelings? Often, they were never taught how to express their feelings. As boys, they may not have been encouraged to experience, express, and process their feelings, especially any negative ones. We tend to tell little boys “Shake it off” or “Get Up” or “You’re Okay,” when something happens that might actually hurt them. They learn, early on, not to express their emotions, and then, later, not to even trust them.
When women complain that boyfriends or husbands aren’t sharing their feelings, they need to be compassionate and determine if feelings are something that the man has ever even learned about. If not, take the time to teach him and make sure it’s okay that he express his feelings around the household and to you, personally. Keep in mind that it is largely mothers who teach their boys about feelings and that if we want to have men that express their emotions, we have to raise boys who can do that, and it might start with training their dads first.