Your great grandfather, grandfather, and even father lived in a culture where they went off to war, came back, and at the most got a pat on the back and a “Good to have you back. You survived, good job. Now get back to work”. Let’s step into their boots for a moment and imagine the worst war movie you’ve ever seen, imagine even worse than that for 12-16 hour days for 2-3 years at a time. They experienced unthinkable pain and trauma and then had little to no outlet to release or heal it. These are the men who raised the people who raised you.
Aside from having meaningful emotional conversations, another gap that I have observed amongst boys growing to become men is losing “rights of passage” traditions. Rights of passage traditions mark important life transitions and are especially significant for boys growing into men. When I was growing up, one of the big rights of passage was for young men to build their own cars. They would get out in the garage, get dirty, and figure it out. Usually a dad, grandfather, or uncle would provide guidance and assistance, and it was in that co-building that important conversations were had. Whether or not the cars were drivable was the least important part of the whole process. It was the connection that created a bond that was so significant-an older man showing a younger man, “You’ve got this. You can do it.”
So what do we do? Where do you start breaking down some of these barriers associated with talking about your emotions and needs?
Learn how you’re communicating and why. Get comfortable knowing yourself, and then you can more easily express yourself. You have more freedom to do this now than any of your forefathers. Men, there is no better time than now to really get to know yourself.
I recommend starting with taking the enneagram personality test. The enneagram is an ancient assessment that takes a look into our motives, behaviors, fears, and strengths. It is a great way to get to know ourselves better and is an excellent springboard for understanding those important people in your life, too. After you take the test, read through your top 3, really dig deep and assess which one resonates with you the most, and then learn everything you can about “your number.” Once you’ve done that, ask your significant other to do the same and really get to know theirs.
If you really want to learn the language of emotion, grab a copy of social scientist Brene Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart. She explores eighty-seven of the emotions and experiences of our human experiences. Not only does she cover all of these emotions and give us language for them, but she guides us to ways to craft more meaningful connections with ourselves and others. This is an excellent book to read with your partner and family.
Don’t be afraid to mess up. Get to know yourself, connect with yourself, and express yourself. You’re not going to get it all right, and that’s all right. When you fumble over your words or can’t quite express something, that is powerful because it shows your willingness, desire, and vulnerability to work towards a deeper connection, and that is a beautiful thing for those loved ones in your life to witness and will open up doors for them to do the same.
Understanding and expressing emotion takes a lot of courage, and it’s so important.