MV OCTOBER, 2009
Three young women were talking, suddenly there was a scream, and a little girl came running to her mother, crying bitterly. Her mother takes her on her lap and tries to comfort her as she wails that her cousin had hit her. The mother of the culprit desperately tries to justify her daughter’s action, saying she had only pushed her. In the midst of all this, the third woman, who is the mother of three boys, says: “One has to be so careful with the feelings of girls, with boys you just ignore them and they sort it out by themselves”.
I was stunned, I could not believe that in this 21st century,something like that could still be said, or believed. Traditionally boys have always been raised to be stoic, not to cry when they get hurt. In fact, ‘boys don’t cry ‘has been the refrain through the ages. Boys are actually raised not to show emotion, and when they do, very often they are labelled as a ‘girly boy’. Parents talk less about feelings to sons, and they are often told to ‘act like a man’. Yet, feelings are part of what makes us human, and managing feelings is part of having emotional intelligence. Recent research has shown that you can have the I.Q. of an Einstein, but if you have no emotional intelligence, you will not be able to manage relationships effectively. Since emotional intelligence is developed after birth, the parent’s role is crucial.
David Powell, PhD, (president of the International Centre for Health Concerns) explains that “the connection of the left brain, home of logic, and the right, the seat of emotions, is much greater in women. Women have the equivalent of an interstate highway, so they move readily between the left and right brain. For men the connection is like a meandering country lane, so they do not have such ready access to feelings”. Bearing this in mind, it is apparent that unless boys are nurtured to be in touch with their feelings, and are encouraged to express them, this country lane can meander into dead ends forever.
In Islam, men have the onerous task of being the protectors and supporters of women. This is the role they have been created for; they have to take care of a wife, a mother, and sisters if these last two have no other means of support. We need to have compassion for the responsibility that is placed upon them, and as parents we should do everything possible to equip them for their role in life. Instead, we stunt their emotional growth by forcing them to suppress emotions, to be brave when hurt or injured. Recent research has proved that people, who behave badly, feel bad. Everything starts with a feeling, becomes a thought, and is then acted out. Years of suppressing emotions leads to anger, and burying stuff causes it to fester and turn toxic. One day a trivial incident will cause an eruption, damaging and destroying everything in its path.
The greatest irony is that while parents raise their sons to bottle up emotions, when they are adults these men act out their feelings in the most destructive behaviour. The ones who suffer are their wives, and then these women either get blamed for provoking the men, or they are told to be grateful because: ‘well at least he works and supports you”. It takes strength and being comfortable with you to show emotion. The problem, says psychiatrist Mark Goulston, M.D. is that men do not have a role model to show them how to be emotional and strong. Women expect men to be strong for them, but also want them to be emotionally open. He says that “women are asking us to perform these incredible emotional gymnastics, and it is messing with our heads”. One man said that he cries, but he regards it as his biggest weakness. Another one’s wife left him, he said it did not make him sad, it made him angry and he wanted to choke her. The only thing that stopped him was giving in to tears.
The question is often posed why do men get so angry? Psychologist, Kenneth W. Christian, PhD, author of “Your own worst enemy”, says:” the rage comes because there is frustration when you cut off something that is essentially you. If you don’t develop all of yourself in some way, learn how to work with your emotions, you are a shadow figure, a small truncated version of yourself. Soon the house of cards that you are falls apart.
When parents refuse to attend to the emotional needs of boys, when they leave them to ‘get over it’ when they fall and get hurt, when they tell their sons to ‘take it like a man’, they are not fostering bravery or courage, they are actually laying the seeds of vulnerability. The pressure is so strong to be ‘manly’ while still a child, that when they grow to adulthood and discover all the responsibilities expected of them, they are totally lost. Research has proved that men are far more insecure than they would admit. They feel powerless and either shuts down and withdraws, or vent their frustration on those closest to them.
One of the mistakes we make is that we tell ourselves that men cannot handle emotions; when in fact we nurture them not to do so. When there is a problem between father and son, boys are taught that Mom is the go-between in emotional issues. The son goes to Mom, who talks to Dad, Dad apologises via Mom, and Mom then Mom talks to son. In this pattern, father and son makes up without even talking to each other. As a society, we do not give boys the opportunity to work or talk through emotions and in so doing acquire emotional intelligence. Parents should help boys to cope with emotions, and not to dismiss or ignore them.
To deny our emotions is to deny an essential part of us. We must have empathy and compassion for the men in our lives; they have been entrusted with our safety, our sustenance and our comfort. We have the wonderful example of Rasullulah (SAW), and his companions, who freely shed tears. In fact, we are encouraged to express emotion and to shed tears when we are appealing to Allah. In denying our sons the ability to express their feelings, we are sowing the seeds of future frustration and anger. More importantly, we could be preventing them from achieving true spiritual connection. As parents, we can choose to follow the status quo. We can continue to emotionally stunt our boys, paving the way for future anger, frustration, and suffering. Feeling bad leads to acting bad, and ultimately the women suffer. Or we can recognize and acknowledge that we must take cognisance of their feelings, that they need our comfort as much as our girls do. In doing so, we will raise emotionally intelligent men, who will respect the feelings of others, because his feelings are respected. In doing so, we will stop the cycle, Insha-Allah.
Here are some tips for the men:
• Develop a creative outlet. Hobbies like painting or writing your thoughts can tap into your soul. Remember that much of the world’s greatest art, music and literature were created by men.
• Release stress and anger through exercise. Physical activity releases endorphins into the blood stream and release serotonin, the feel good hormone.
• Try expressing ‘a little’ emotion’. A good place to start is with a feeling you can control. Use the term ‘a little’. You may feel safer saying you feel ‘a little’ sad, or ‘a little’ scared.
• Acknowledge the feeling: saying ‘I feel sad’ brings ease because you are not denying the feeling, but acknowledging it. Don’t avoid it, or repress it. In his book “The Emotional Intelligence Quick book”, psychologist Travis Bradbury, PhD, says “Learning to handle emotions takes time and practise, because you need to retain your brain, but it does get easier”.
Tips for women on how to help the men in their life.
• Talk side by side rather than face to face. Sit next to your husband, rather than facing him. Getting in a man’s face makes him feel competitive or confrontational.
• Do something physical together. When you walk or exercise, his defences will come down. Don’t force him to talk, let conversation come up naturally.
• Don’t press him to talk about a bad day. “If he spent the day struggling, he may just want to get away from the pain,” says psychologist Ken Christian. “What’s the point of being miserable all evening, it won’t solve the problem?
• Let them know what emotional support you need. It is a fact that people need to know what you expect from them.
• Say what he means to you. Tell him that you feel grateful to have him in your life, and you are sorry for not letting him know often enough.
Tips for the Community
• Don’t tolerate aggressive behaviour. Make community building activities to promote respect and co-operation. Make sure each one is heard and understood. Create covenants for behaviour, respect and mutual care.
• Plan activities that are active. Plan activities that provide inter action.