Men Don't Feel Pain

Some, I've learned, imagine that men -- or real men -- don't cry; they don't feel emotional pain because emotional pain and "matters of the heart" belong to women. This is wrong. Men feel pain. As sung by Dierks Bentley, in "It's Different for Girls," the truth of the matter is that men feel pain just as women feel pain: men just cope with pain differently:

It's different for girls when their hearts get broke.
They can't tape it back together with a whiskey and coke.
They don't take someone home and act like it's nothing.
They can't just switch it off every time they feel something.
A guy gets drunk with his friends and he might hook up.
Fast forward through the pain, pushing back when the tears come on.
But it's different for girls

Indeed, coping with pain is different for women than for men, but the pain that men experience is just as real regardless of our coping methods. As mentioned in the post, "What I Learned from Today's Country Music," Jason Aldean's song, "Ask Any 'Ol Barstool," maintains a great sense of painful longing for what could have been in the midst of lyrics suggesting that he is not at all grieving -- that he is, rather, unaffected by the loss of love. But he is grieving, for he confesses, "Sure I take more Jack in my coke now / A little more high in my smoke now / Sure I stay 'til they're all long gone / And I take the long way home." These lines inform us that, though he insists that he "ain't sittin' 'round tryin' to drown the thought of you," the truth is told when we ask any 'ol barstool. His method of coping with emotional pain and the loss of his love informs us of his inner longing, emotional turmoil, and deep inner anguish: the Jack and the smoke are symptoms of an inner problem.

Of course men feel emotional pain. The Independent published an article indicating that men "suffer as the impact of the loss 'sinks in' and they have to start 'competing' all over again for a significant other." (link) The Telegraph reports that, in the UK, 2.5 million late middle-aged men have no close friends. (link) According to WebMD, in the U.S., 6 million men per year experience depression. (link) Why do men, in general, not seem depressed in the public eye? According to WebMD, men tend to express the symptoms related to depression differently, and can go unnoticed. (link) Also, men tend to hide their depressed state, due mostly to a culturally-induced notion that men are supposed to be strong, unaffected by their emotions, real Marlboro men. (link) Masculinity has been perverted.

How do men demonstrate their depression if not by expressing themselves emotionally? They tend to become irritable and aggressive. (link) Some overcompensate their "manliness" in order to mask their depression. Others drink alcohol in excess or pursue sexual conquests. But if you still think that men don't feel pain, don't get depressed and don't really care, then consider the following: "The CDC reports that men in the U.S. are three to four times likelier than women to commit suicide. A staggering 75% to 80% of all people who commit suicide in the U.S. are men." (link) Consider this fact as well: "Though more women attempt suicide, more men complete the act of actually ending their lives." (link) (emphasis added) Men feel pain. Generally, men play hard; men love hard; and men hurt hard.

The late spiritual writer Henri Nouwen knew pain experientially. He teaches us: "The great challenge is living your wounds through instead of thinking them through."1 This is particularly challenging for men because we tend to reason, initially and primarily, by thinking with our mind rather than feeling and living from our heart. We are taught at an early age a perverted masculinity that posits men are supposed to be tough, not cry, and not allow others to see that we are hurting emotionally. But there is danger in avoiding our emotions. When we divorce our mind from our heart we become solely rational beings of instinct, like animals, and we objectify not only ourselves but also other human beings.

Again, Nouwen encourages us, "The choice you face constantly is whether you are taking your hurts to your head or to your heart. In your head you can analyze them, find their causes and consequences, and coin words to speak and write about them. But no final healing is likely to come from that source."2 Why is that? Why will healing not arrive from coping with our pain through thinking through our problems rather than living and feeling through our issues? He writes: "You need to let your wounds go down into your heart. Then you can live them through and discover that they will not destroy you. Your heart is greater than your wounds."3 Why can't reason and thought bring about this healing?

The answer is simple: rationalizing your emotions is theoretical; whereas living through and feeling your emotions is practical, experiential; living through and feeling your hurt helps you to cope with your particular pain and work your way through it to the other side of healing. Allow yourself to feel; permit yourself to experience the weight of the pain; engage your heart along with your mind. Otherwise, you will continue reasoning your way through your hurt (or problem), and it will never leave you. Worse, it could lead you to unalterable consequences, and even death. We are mistaken to think that men don't feel pain; and we are absolutely wrong to think that men are not supposed to feel pain.


1 Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom (New York: Image Books, 1998), 109.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 109-10.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.