There were clues all along the way. They meant nothing to me when they happened, but looking back now they stick out like flashing fluorescent signs.
There was the day I shared my college plans with a friend. I’d been accepted to my dream program at a great school. I said I was “really excited to go.” He burst out laughing. A little hurt, I asked why he was laughing at me. He said, “In my whole life I’ve never heard someone say they were excited while looking and sounding so completely not excited at the same time.”
There was the college friend who called me a “pod person,” because she could never get a rise out of me.
And then there was the recurring complaint from friends and eventually, from my wife. I felt fine in our relationships. I thought things were mostly good, but they would say I felt distant to them, or that they couldn’t get to me, or that I wasn’t hearing them. They wondered if we were really even friends.
At the time, I didn’t think any of this really mattered. I was strong. I was able to handle a crisis. I was a clear-headed thinker and problem solver. These complaints were their problem, right?
Are any of these clues present in your life?
It took a near break-down bringing my life screeching to a halt under an avalanche of unprocessed pain, for me to learn the truth. Those clues had been there, giving me warning. Instead of noticing, I self-justified. “I’m not that emotional. It’s fine. I’m just not a people person. We all have different gifts.” But I was wrong.
I don’t usually write just to men. The topics I write about matter for everyone. But the more conversations I’ve had around my book, The Wisdom of Your Heart: Discovering the God-given Power and Purpose of Your Emotions, the more clear it has become. Men, more often than women, are frequently clueless about their desperate need for emotional maturity.
I certainly was.
So, this post is for the men out there. I want to ask you to do an honest self-evaluation. Read the rest of this post. As you do, notice what happens inside you. If you find yourself getting defensive or making excuses as you read, you might need to stop and consider your own level of emotional health and maturity.
It’s possible there have been clues there all along, just like there were for me. Are you willing to admit if any of these are true?
1. Are you known for outbursts?
Maybe you think of yourself as even-keeled or calm, but the truth is that sometimes life just throws too much at you all at once. Perhaps the kids push that button one too many times, or another idiot cuts you off in traffic, and something erupts from inside you and boils over.
Sure, there was a reason. There always is. And your emotional response is defensible. And yet, if you can step back and look at what actually happened, truth be told, you over-reacted. Maybe that’s something you’re even known for. The technical term for this is a “Disproportionate Reaction.” Too often, the level of energy that erupts from you is out of line with the level of the irritation.
2. Are you easily offended?
We’ve started talking about triggers in our culture. Triggers are everywhere. A certain topic, or tone of voice, or being treated in a certain way—well, it just gets under your skin. No question, there are offensive things in the world. Injustice, racism, sexist behavior, exploitation. There are so many things that should move our hearts and cause us to react.
And yet, if you’re honest, you feel offended and put-upon most of the time. If you take time to listen, you might find that people are walking on egg-shells around you, or just not including you, because they can’t tell when some little thing is going to set you off.
3. Are you always fine?
Or maybe, your struggle comes from a much different angle. Life is mostly good. Nobody would say you have an anger problem; they don’t expect outbursts from you. In fact, what they expect you to be is fine.
“How are you today?” “Fine.”
“How was the weekend.” “Just fine.”
“How are you feeling?” “Fine.”
Fine is a word you use all the time. When life hands you something wonderful, there’s not much feeling to it. When tragedy strikes, you don’t break down and cry. It’s your job to stay composed, in control. You can’t remember the last time you cried. The truth is you’re numb. The feelings you experience are thin, drab and all too rare.
4. Do you tend to choose solo activities over time with loved ones?
It’s true that there is such a thing as an introvert who needs solo time to recharge. (I am one!) But it’s also true that choosing solo activities can be a way of avoiding the discomfort of relational interaction.
Emotional connection is the currency of relationships. The less connected you are to your own emotions, the less you’ll be able to understand and respond to the emotions of people around you—especially people you care about. You will also be more likely to discount or diminish the emotions of others.
So, if the people who love you complain that you’re not available, don’t make excuses. Listen. It might not just be a busy schedule. It might be that you struggle to connect emotionally.
This is also true if you are most comfortable with superficial activities that can be done in parallel with other people — like watching sports or going to a movie. It can feel like relational time, but it’s a trick. You are together in the same space, but you aren’t really connecting. These kinds of activities aren’t bad in themselves, but if you find yourself uncomfortable with anything more engaging, it might be a clue about your own emotional struggles.
If you pay attention, you might avoid some pain.
There are a lot of reasons why emotional maturity can be hard for men. We all have our own stories–and this is certainly not only a problem for men–but here’s the truth we need to face.
Healthy relationships require an emotional connection. Growing intimacy only happens with honesty about our emotions. This is true for every relationship. The kind of rich, safe marriage so many of us long for comes with emotional maturity. Long-term life-giving relationships with our children come with emotional maturity. Even a sense of real connection with God is easier as we mature emotionally.
I ignored the clues that were present in my life, and paid dearly for it. What about you? Are any of these clues present in your life? If they are, are you willing to stop blaming and justifying, and actually do something to change?
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