The Danger of Letting It Out: Why Men Cage Their Feelings | Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

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The other day I posted a link to the Male Emotional Suppression Cycle and it’s been on my mind because I see it in action every day.

I see it in my office with my clients. I see men who are struggling to get past anger to connect with pain and sadness. I see men who aren’t even comfortable with their anger–many are afraid of it and what it would do if they let it out. These messages get laid down so early, too early. And they stick.

Many guys are not even aware that there are options.

Strong Messages: Stay Strong, Stay Tough.

I’ve had several clients in situations like the following: After attending a funeral and talking about how difficult it was I might comment on how sad the day sounded. I often get the response, “Yeah, but I was strong,” or “I stayed tough.”

They say that as if it’s the correct response. As if I was making sure they didn’t show any other feelings, or that, at least none of those feelings leaked out. If I question this response, if I ask how come they felt they needed to stay strong or tough, they say they did it for the other people. Their family members, their kids.

So there’s this message out there that they are getting that even the people who love and depend on them can’t handle it if they let out just how upset they really are.

Sometimes referrals come to me from wives or girlfriends telling me their men are angry and they need to talk to someone. I never get the call that says their man is sad all the time. I’d really like to challenge the messaging that men pick up on when they are really young.

And I mean really young: the GIF makes it look like this starts to happen at 10, but I’ve witnessed people treat a newborn differently once they find out the assigned gender.

What would be different in your relationships if the men you knew were more emotionally open and the women in your lives accepted this openness? How would romantic relationships shift?

Or would they? What about friendships? Parents and children?

There Is Another Way

I know from my work that when men get in touch with some of this stuff, they have less stress and anger and their relationships improve. But many are initially wary about the reactions to this shift and we talk about that. We discuss the shame that comes up because it’s easy to recall early times when you were mocked for having a feeling. Maybe this was at school, maybe at home. Maybe on the playground.

We could cry as babies, but at some point, only the girls could get away with crying–and often this message came from teachers and parents, not peers!

For myself, I know I heard it more from adults when I was a kid than my friends.

I think starting this conversation is helpful and leads to better work environments, better relationships, and a better life. If you’d like to talk about how it can be specifically connected to your situation, please contact me, either by email or give me a call at the number above. Take the quiz if you’d like to learn a little more about yourself too and whether talking thorugh this stuff could be helpful.

Hey, maybe the source of your anger is that you cut off all the other feelings?


Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working in family and men’s counseling for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.