Most men are stoic when it comes to physical pain and are willing to hang tough until it subsides. If that doesn't work, they have no problem seeking out the most effective physical therapy to help them heal quickly and get back in their game, which for some men is just being able to walk without pain.
However, emotional pain is a very different matter. Many of the same men who're in touch with and take excellent care of their bodies have no clue how to process and heal from their emotional traumas. That inability to work through emotional stuff stems, in large part, from their boyhood training that stressed acting like a man. And that meant sucking up physical -- but, more importantly, emotional -- pain. By the time some boys grow to manhood, they've been denying their feelings for so long that they have no idea what they really feel about anything let alone what to do about it. And before guys can begin healing their emotional pain, they have to learn how to get in touch with and manage their emotions.
Men who don't do this emotional work suffer, whether silently or noisily, at their own peril and at the expense of everyone around them. Few people willingly tolerate a guy who either pretends his issues don't exist or keeps flying off the handle. Many men think that expressing feelings is women's work and complain that women don't have any control over their emotions either. I agree that many women have their own emotional issues to deal with, but those have nothing to do with the work men have to do. The responsibility for their emotional control rests squarely on men's shoulders. And relationships can't work until both sexes look into and heal themselves and meet on a level emotional playing field.
I never met a man who was so satisfied with his lack of emotional control that he refused to accept that change was possible. The problem is learning how to deal with their feelings when they arise. Most never got this lesson from their fathers, who most likely never learned much about emotional control themselves. I understand this intimately, since my father was a violent, raging, out-of-control brute and -- big surprise -- I modeled my behavior after his until I was 40.
I was 40, miserable, and sad over being abandoned, and raging at how I'd been abused -- despite being a successful entrepreneur and having all the toys I ever dreamed of. My anxiety meter was permanently stuck in the red, and I drove men away and women to tears before they, too, abandoned me. My manic behavior negatively affected every aspect of my life except my business, where -- fortunately or not -- it worked to my customers' advantage. I was relentless on their behalf.
Old lessons die hard but, as I discovered, though there's no shame in being out of control, it's a shame not to do anything about it. And it's never too late to work on emotional issues. But where can a man go to get the kind of emotional support he needs to help him deal with the anger, sadness and pain of issues like failure of relationships, problems with parenting, conflicts with coworkers, financial stress and unemployment? Individual therapy is one choice but, for most guys, men's groups are a far more effective alternative -- and they're free.
The information men share with each other in a men's group is experiential, and the guys quickly discover that, though each has his own issues to resolve, some -- or even all -- of the others have had the same, or similar, experiences. What's shared in the group also stays in the group, and this confidentiality enables the guys to get to know -- and learn to trust -- each other at a deep level. This trust soon dispels their fear of looking weak or foolish in front of the others and helps them develop a level of authentic friendship that therapy simply can't offer. These are the kinds of friends a man can call at 3 a.m. and count on to show up quickly. Try calling your therapist in the middle of the night and see how long it takes him to call you back, let alone come to your door. Therapists can't replace authentic friends, and a man would do well to put his faith in his friends first.
So what does doing the emotional work in a men's group look like? My new book, Act Like a Man, follows the eight guys in my group over 20 years and is a handbook for every man who wants to improve the quality of his relationships with everyone -- including himself -- and the answer to every woman who wonders where all the good men are. I promise that whatever issues you face have been stared down and overcome by the men in this book. Pick up a copy and learn that acting like a man means being in touch with and healing your emotional -- as well as your physical -- pain.
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