I am a man in my mid-fifties and over the last few years I have become more in touch with my feelings, not just anger and frustration, but also hurt, sadness, tenderness and a sense of vulnerability. I have mixed reactions to these feelings as I was always accustomed to holding it together and being strong. Some people think I am becoming more fearful and weak and others are saying they like me more this way. I am actually confused and don’t know exactly what is going on with me. I feel much more affected by events, people and my inner experiences.

This is a natural stage of development and your feelings of confusion are clearly a part of the range of inner experiences you are encountering. Boys are actually quite sensitive when young. They are often conditioned out of their tenderness into being tough, withdrawn, stoic and even aggressive. Masculinity and strength get defined as being stern and non-affected.

This is an unnatural way of being human. It sets men up for a competitive attitude, distrust and distance from each other. Many boys and men have a hard time talking about personal lives and resort to sports, cars, politics and business topics.

This kind of disconnection with our basic human emotionality closes us down and may even lead to depression. There is a good book on this subject by Terrence Real called, I Don’t Want to Talk About it: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression. It offers ways to breaking the barriers that men often build, and having more fulfilling and meaningful inner lives and relationships.

The gift of being human is that we can actually be open to a wide range of experiences. Let them in, feel them and have them affect and change us. This is how we grow and become more responsive to our inner life and the situations we find ourselves in. It also makes us more resilient, resourceful and empathetic. Aging, suffering, and being open to a range of life experiences will erode our rigidity and defensiveness. This can be disorienting and emotionally disturbing. It can also help transform us, if we spend time inquiring into our experiences, getting the support we need, being open and transparent with ourselves and others. This helps us feel more real, even though we might end up feeling vulnerable.

Ultimately, we are stronger when we are more connected to our inner selves. This can help us be more pliable and less fixed, more responsive and able to find newer and more attuned ways to actually being present to ourselves, others and life’s changing circumstances and demands.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D. is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. (650)325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com.

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