Irritable
Male
Syndrome
 

“Hell Hath No Fury like a Man Devalued”


These are the opening words of the book Eve’s Seed: Biology, the Sexes, and the Course of History by Robert S. McElvaine. They could also be the words of the millions of men today experiencing the Irritable Male Syndrome

In our computer economy, the blue-collar labor that was usually the province of men is being supplanted by what Peter Drucker calls “knowledge workers.” Drucker believes that those who are smart, educated, and computer literate, the “gold-collar workers, will be able to write their own career tickets. Career advancement has always been a part of men’s feeling of self respect. In the world of the future more and more men will lack the education to compete for the best jobs. Demographers predict that by 2007, 9.2 million American women and only 6.9 million American men will be enrolled in college.” says Fisher. “The contrast is even greater among part-time, adult, and minority students. Women are also gradually closing the education gap in much of the rest of the world.”

Women have always been better than men at “people skills.” They tune in to others’ feelings and are more empathic. These skills have enabled women to be good mothers and increasingly in the work place, excellent employees. Surprisingly, it was John D. Rockefeller who said, “The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee. And I pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun.”

Neuroscientists currently believe that interpersonal sensitivity, a conglomerate of aptitudes they call “executive social skills” or “social cognition,” resides in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain behind the brow. Those with a well-functioning prefrontal cortex are aware of the feelings of others, pick up on emotional expressions and body language, and are adept at maintaining good social relationships with friends, family and co-workers.

Neuroscientist David Skuse believes that women are more likely than men to acquire the genetic endowment for developing these vital social skills. The reason, he believes, is that there is a specific gene or cluster of genes on the X chromosome that influences the formation of the prefrontal cortex. He found that this gene or gene cluster is silenced in 100% of men but active in about 50% of women. Hence about half of all women and no men have the brain architecture to excel at perceiving the nuances of social interplay. This doesn’t mean that the other 50% of women and all us men can’t learn these skills. It just means we have to work harder at it.

Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen is professor of psychology and psychiatry at Cambridge University. He has been researching sex differences for over twenty years. In his recent book, The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male & Female Brain, he details the latest research in the field. His conclusions are both startling and clear-cut. “The subject of essential sex differences in the mind is clearly very delicate,” he cautions us. But the findings substantiate the fact that males and females are different, in large measure because of the different ways our brains are structured. “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy,” he tells us. “The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.”

Emotions Guide Our Direction in Life and Men Have Difficulty Expressing Their Feelings

The various mental states we call emotions have evolved through eons of time to help us meet life’s challenges. It is our emotions that let us know when we are on the right path in life. “Negative emotions—fear, sadness, and anger, says psychologist Martin Seligman, “are our first line of defense against external threats, calling us to battle stations. Fear is a signal that danger is lurking, sadness is a signal that loss is impending, and anger signals someone trespassing against us.”

Until recently the possible purpose of positive emotions for our survival was not considered. In 1998 psychologist Barbara Fredrickson published a paper titled “What Good Are Positive Emotions. Seligman who is the primary founder of the field of Positive Psychology said, “Fredrickson claims that positive emotions have a grand purpose in evolution. They broaden our abiding intellectual, physical, and social resources, building up reserves we can draw upon when a threat or opportunity presents itself.” It is our emotions that give color to our lives. Feeling our feelings and sharing what is inside us with others creates the bond that is the foundation of love.

Yet most men I know are very limited in our ability to experience a range of feelings let alone to put those feelings into words. One of the most common questions a woman will ask a man when she wants to get closer to him is “what are you feeling?” For most men the response is “I don’t know.” Women, on average, are more aware of their emotions, show more empathy, and are more adept interpersonally.

Alexithymia is a condition where a person is unable to describe emotion in words.

Frequently, alexithymic individuals are unaware of what their feelings are. Dr. Ron Levant, a professor at Harvard University, coined the technical term "normative male alexithymia" to describe the general emotional restriction most men experience. His own research and that of many others indicates that most North American males suffer to some degree from the conditioning of our culture which causes men to be underdeveloped emotionally.

His research shows that men have developed two primary responses to emotional issues. For vulnerable feelings including fear, hurt and shame, he sees men using anger as the "manly" response. For nurturing feelings, including caring, warmth, connectedness and intimacy, he sees men channeling these feelings through sex. It is called normative because his research shows that this limited dual response of anger or sex is the norm for men.

For most of us we are playing on an instrument with only two strings. Women have a whole orchestra to choose from. For many of us we alternate playing the note, “I’m pissed,” or “Let’s have sex.” It can be a pretty limiting repertoire, made even worse when men are going through IMS. However, psychotherapist Tom Golden, who works extensively with men suggests that men may feel as strongly as women, but have difficulty expressing themselves. Asking a man to tell you how he feels may not be the best way to find out what’s really going on inside him.

“When a man had suffered a loss, I started asking them not what he was feeling, but what he was doing about it. I was delighted at that point to see that when I asked the right questions, in the right manner, I started seeing things in a very different light. The men started talking to me about what they were doing. This was familiar territory. As the men talked of their endeavors, the emotions flowed in a comfortable manner feelings differently.”

What do you think? How do you feel? What’s your experience with feelings? Do men feel less, express feelings differently than women, or have different feelings? I’d like to hear your thoughts. You can e-mail me at Jed@menalive.com

©2010 Jed Diamond

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Wealth can't buy health, but health can buy wealth. - Henry David Thoreau

 

Jed Diamond is the internationally best-selling author of seven books including Male Menopause, now translated into 17 foreign languages and his latest book, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Managing. The 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression. For over 38 years he has been a leader in the field of men's health. He is a member of the International Scientific Board of the World Congress on Men’s Health and has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network since its founding in 1992. His work has been featured in major newspapers throughout the United States including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. He has been featured on more than 1,000 radio and T.V. programs including The View with Barbara Walters, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, CBS, NBC, and Fox News, To Tell the Truth, Extra, Leeza, Geraldo, and Joan Rivers. He also did a nationally televised special on Male Menopause for PBS. He looks forward to your feedback. E-Mail. You can visit his website at www.menalive.com



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