After the Tears, Men and Shame

Men have been trained since childhood to not cry or show emotions. It is part of our toxic masculine culture that tells boys and men to “be a man.”


When they are young boys cry when upset, scared, lost, etc. They then get the message that that is not OK, even from their family. Fathers who were themselves trained out of their feelings also join in telling their sons to, “suck it up!”

So as the boy grows into manhood he finds himself unable to cry. He begins to use expressions like, “There must be something in my eye,” or “I lost control there for a minute” to cover up the grief of a loss of a parent, friend or pet. So, a dam is built that becomes un-breachable. In fact, crying then becomes a way that shame is activated in the boy, and the man that he becomes. The message of shame is that “I am bad.” So, crying is avoided at any cost as it means the boy inside and the adult man is bad, unworthy and to be made fun of.

When all the training has done its job, there are times when the damn breaks. It can be a sign of great growth and strength that it has broken, and the tears begin to flow.

I have witnessed it many times with male clients, and especially in the men’s group I run. Men find a safe place, begin to connect to all their unmourned losses and the grief comes. Unbidden at first and then, as if a conduit had been opened they come again and again. At some point later the old training kicks in. Shame washes over the men who expressed their tears.

Men have many unexpressed losses that needs to be dealt with. It is important they have the community and the tools needed to do grief work. It helps them to experience the cleansing that comes from feeling their feelings.

The ancient Greeks knew about the cleansing of emotions. In performing these early dramas, they noted that the audience had a catharsis of emotion as they watched the protagonist triumph or be defeated and suffer. And they also noted that the expression of tears was a type of cleansing. In fact, the root word of catharsis means “cleansing.” The catharsis left the audience with a sense of relief and feeling more alive.

Taking this ancient knowledge, we can experience the lightening of the spirit that comes when men feel their feelings and express their tears. A rebalancing of male energies occurs with the expression of emotions.  Greater aliveness also translates into greater empathy and compassion.

I heard a women member of a group say that she didn’t think men had any feelings until she was in group and witnessed men moved to tears and deep emotion. Having and showing feelings result is greater connection to others and empathy.

So as men learn to stop seeing their tears as a sign of weakness and let go of the shame they were trained to feel a new day begins. That day finds men being better husbands, fathers and friends.

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