Shame–The barrier to male’s lack of sensitivity?

I love that, on occasion, this blog pushes people to ponder.

Leaving comments on this blog can be very difficult–I write about matters concerning the soul, and to respond to it leaving your name for all the world to see to process how this affected you is tough.

Often the blog posts that affect people the most deeply are going to create thoughts that wouldn’t be comfortable to share to the outside world.

I received a comment via email (anyone can comment on a blog post via email using the “contact us” page—only I see it) that explored the recent blog post, “Social Sensitivity a Key to Group Intellect”.

The email related a recent incident by the male writer.He gave me permission to discuss this online in a way that provided anonymity. He had a traumatic experience recently that hit him like the proverbial “Mac truck” and so he was feeling challenging feelings that were very painful for him.Then, only days later, he encountered someone at his workplace that spilled out her experience of abandonment rather than focusing on the task at hand. He says: “Now when …[people] reveal emotions to me I can usually say/be fairly sympathetic. But this time was different. My mind immediately went back to about a week ago and my experience of trying to come to grips with the fact that …[insert experience here]. And it allowed me to feel for …[this person] in a much more personal way. I could understand her pain in a way I have not done before. And I think…[this person] could sense this in a way. At the end of the… [insert task here], she was very grateful, thanking me and told me I was “the best …[professional] ever”.

The writer goes on to say: “Personal experience, if one is open to exploring the feelings surrounding the experience, is clearly one of the greatest teachers. And perhaps this is why women are so much ahead of men in your study. Women generally have much more experience in exploring their feelings than men who typically do more suppressing and avoiding. And if you don’t really know or understand your own feelings, it becomes so much harder to tune into another’s.

Powerful stuff, spoken from a man’s perspective. One that I can write about because of this man’s thoughtful email. This being female thing restricts me from fully entering the male experience without considerable assistance! 🙂

This resonated with some of Bren Brown’s stuff that I’ve been spending some time with recently. She studies shame, belonging and authenticity…stuff that speaks particularly relevantly to groups of two that we know as marriages.

She says that the problem is what gets in the way of being able to do what we want to do in relationships or whatever: “the hustle for worthiness”.

The video is 20 minutes long, quite profound, and simultaneously entertaining…take a look if you can find the time. If you only have a few minutes…jump to the 13 minute mark to listen to the gender issues.

For those of you who can’t watch, I’ll highlight a few parts that are helpful to this discussion. She says about shame: “We all have it. The only people that don’t have it are those that have serious psychopathology. The only people who don’t have it have no capacity for human connection and empathy…Shame drives the tapes: “You’re never good enough. Who do you think you are?” Shame is best understood as the “fear of disconnection”…in a world where media tells us to be perfect and everyone is pretending to be, we
all struggle with others not accepting us for who we really are.

Men and women experience shame differently. She says

“When that warm wash of inadequacy
washes over me [a woman], it doesn’t feel different than when it washes…over
any guy…but the messages and expectations that fuel shame…are absolutely gender

Shame for women is
about…not being perfect, not being everything to everyone, not being able to do
it all and smile the whole time, not being thin, quiet and helpful…there is a
lot of competing and conflicting expectations that make it very impossible for
women to meet these expectations, especially without disappointing

For men, there are not a
lot of competing expectations. There’s one, I would argue, under which men are
‘Do not be perceived as weak.’”She says a man told
her, “My wife and daughters would rather me die on that white horse than fall
off of it

Women, can you imagine how feeling that kind of pressure affects every moment of every day for males, as they seek to provide the world (and themselves) with the “knight on a white horse” image…how that stops them from getting in touch with their vulnerable, tender, broken parts…and how that then necessarily stops them from being able to understand the vulnerable, tender, broken parts of others?

All of a sudden, the email made sense at a deeper level to me.

How are men supposed to be able to have “social sensitivity”, if our culture is telling them they dare not feel any feelings that expose them vulnerablyour culture mistakenly confuses vulnerability with weakness.

As men seek to avoid increasing their own secret sense of shame, they need to avoid anything that makes them feel weak…and thus avoid experiencing feelings that
would help them to understand and better be able to connect with the world.

She says: “One of the worst set ups I think for us in terms of male/female couples is this dynamic of ‘I feel shame as a woman, I feel like I’m not enough, and I kind of criticize and rage at you for not being enough’. And your shame trigger for men: that constant criticism and…ridicule of you’re not enough, do more, make more…be
more…is devastating and we get into these horrible, vicious cycles.”

She advocates for shame resilience as the antidote for all humans to fight against the very real feeling of shame…those that have shame resilience know what shame is, they know what triggers it, they talk about it, they use the word and they share their story.Shame resilient people have more authenticity, live with a greater sense of love and belonging, and are more resilient. Shame, as painful as it is, tells us that we are humans able to make connection, that we are healthily engaged in relationships in the world. The presence of shame, as difficult and as unwelcome as it may be in the moment, tells us that we are not psychopaths.

One of the goals of therapy is to provide a safe place where men can own all of their feelings, and while doing so feeling the inverse of weakness—empowerment.When a man can turn to his wife and say, “I wasn’t ignoring you when I left the house to go get drunk.I was feeling like there was no way to help you, I didn’t know how to turn the argument into something good.I had to leave, and I had to avoid my feelings of failure by numbing them with alcohol, because I feel so awful about not being the husband I want to be for you.”

Let me tell you, when those moments in therapy happen, the husband is not weak (though he is incredibly vulnerable).He is courageously owning his story, facing his shame and talking about it. Some women will be tempted to guffaw and hardly believe it…but with some facilitation may be able to meet her husband in his vulnerability and connect with him at a deeper level than ever before.

And at that moment a connection will be made that shatters the cycle, and creates new potential for the couple as never before…allowing the husband the space to experience all of his feelings, and thereby grow in his ability to be understanding and empathic to his wife.

Powerful stuff…to find ways of acknowledging the shame, by naming it so it can lose its power and free you to be authentic with others…fully living. Go to therapy with someone who knows their craft, read a book, watch videos, meet with a men’s group, talk with your wife–but do something that allows you to be free of limitations that prevent full expression of all of who you are.

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