How Being Male Can Make It Hard to Heal

Boys and men should never be, or even appear, weak or vulnerable.
It's a message we get every day, from many directions.

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‘Real Men’ Don’t Have These Experiences

It’s a myth, but still a powerful one, that males are never sexually used or dominated in ways that leave them sometimes feeling vulnerable or overwhelmed.

Thanks to this myth, guys tend to find themselves in one of the two situations below. Both make it hard to move on and achieve the lives they want and deserve:

  • Suffering from negative effects, but not realizing what happened was harmful or that it’s related to current problems.
  • Aware the experience(s) were harmful, but too ashamed to seek help dealing it.

Both predicaments are made worse by widespread ignorance in society – about the facts that such experiences are not rare for boys, that they can have lasting negative effects, and that men can overcome those effects and be manly at the same time.

The all too common result: Increased odds that a man will get stuck with needless suffering and lost potential.

‘Real Men’ Don’t Have or Show Vulnerable Emotions

Thanks to this myth, many men don’t pay attention to the emotional effects of their unwanted sexual experiences. And if they do, they don’t allow themselves to seek the support and help they need.

Believe it or not, males are biologically wired, from birth, to be more emotionally reactive and expressive than females. For example, baby boys become distressed more easily, and cry sooner and more often than baby girls.

Blocking out ‘vulnerable’ feelings blocks good ones too.

Yet every step of the way – by how parents, teachers, and other kids relate to them, by the games they play, and by what they see on TV and in movies, computer games and the net – boys are constantly trained to be just the opposite: emotionally unaware and inexpressive, especially when it comes to vulnerable feelings.

Boys also learn, without even having to think about it, that they should be ashamed of such feelings, even that they should hate themselves for having them.

Capacities We All Have – And Need

The abilities to be aware of vulnerable emotions, express them to others, and accept them as part of being alive, are human capacities. Every boy and girl is born with the potential to develop them.

Biologically speaking, boys may be better equipped to develop these capacities. It’s cultural values and habits that cause them to be suppressed in males (or literally beaten out of them).

All males get the messages: ‘Don’t acknowledge your pain. Don’t express it. Don’t talk about it with anyone else.’

Most boys and men take those messages to heart: ‘No way they’ll make me cry.’ ‘I’m not gonna be weak.’ ‘No one’s calling me a girl.’

Such rigid and unrealistic rules about what’s ‘manly’ lead many boys and men to feel insecure. They also push men away from the very capacities they need to get over the negative effects of unwanted boyhood sexual experiences: awareness and acceptance of vulnerable emotions, so they can be mastered, not fearfully run away from with self-destructive behavior (like immediately jumping to anger or aggression).

And it’s not just a matter of men rejecting such capacities.

Even if a man wants be become aware of vulnerable feelings and deal with them in ways that bring mastery and the life he wants, it’s easier said than done. He must work against decades of ‘masculinity training’ and conditioning of his brain.

Thankfully, the capacities that everyone has for dealing with vulnerable emotions can always be cultivated. It’s never too late.

Any man, especially with some help, can learn to be aware of such feelings and to master them. Many men have already learned some of this, usually through friendships or intimate relationships with women.

A Few Final Points

First, we are not suggesting that men must ‘go cry to a therapist.’

We’re just saying that blocking out vulnerable feelings can be a major block to achieving the life you want and deserve. When and how a man chooses to deal with such vulnerable feelings is entirely up to him, and any good therapist (or friend or partner) will understand and respect this.

Second, learning to experience and express vulnerable emotions (at times and places of your own choosing), means becoming more masculine in many positive ways.

It means becoming stronger in the face of pain, and more in control of your emotions. It means having greater freedom to respond to situations based on wise choices rather than knee-jerk attempts to prove your manhood. (For more on this, see Values.)

Finally, for many men it can be incredibly helpful just to recognize these unique challenges they face, to cut themselves some slack, and to take some time to re-think their assumptions about what it means to be a man who’s had unwanted boyhood sexual experiences.

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