Why Men Speak through Silence
“Men don’t express their emotions well. It’s as if they lost their passion and empathy in the competitive work culture.” This is how Annam Sun, psychiatrist and author of <Men Who Want to be Alone>, describes typical Korean men. Why do men become more and more apathetic as they grow up and age?
Q. What is a common psychological characteristic among men?
Men tend to have less flexibility and adaptability than women. Their thought structure is mostly in boxes and are very defensive, which seems to be caused by the assumptions that were made about them growing up. Just as society makes it hard for girls to grow into women, there are so many things that boys have to compromise in the process of becoming a man because the expected standard of masculinity is so suppressing.
Q. What do you mean by the ‘standard of masculinity?
It’s common for parents to raise boys to be strong and to raise girls overprotectively. But it’s actually necessary for boys to feel protected and loved just as much as girls in order to become independent in a healthier manner. Boys are more likely to hide their weaknesses and pretend to be independent when they know they’re expected to be strong. It’s easier for women to fight against society because the stereotypes that are expected of them are clear. Social movements, such as feminism, are easier to arise when the purpose and problem is clear. But there aren’t any large movements that fight against the stereotype for masculinity because it’s not as clear. It’s more difficult to fight against an enemy that is barely visible.
Q. ‘Men are simple-minded, will always be immature, and can’t multitask.’ These are a few stereotypical characteristics of men that our culture believes.
If you take a closer look into how people use the word ‘simple-minded’, you will see the suppression that is embedded into that word. Someone could be developed in color perception and can tell the difference between the different hues of purple, while another person may not be able to, but are developed in other areas. When women complain about their boyfriend or husband being ‘simple-minded’ it’s usually because the man doesn’t understand or is uninterested in what the woman is talking about. What the woman is really trying to say is, “I want to enjoy this with you.” But they’re frustrated because the man seems reluctant. Let’s say a man tells a woman that she’s ‘simple-minded’ because she can’t distinguish car brands. Would the woman want to learn about car brands with the man? Not really. In the same way, when woman look down upon men it doesn’t encourage them to be interested in the topic. It just pushes them further away.
Q. I suppose men and women alike are both victims of assumption.
Men especially struggle with being accused with assumptions. It may root from their childhood when their parents judged them to be distracted, careless, sensitive, etc. which may have hurt the child because they’re not being recognized for their good characteristics. They’re expected to be masculine at a young age, which leads them to want to be independent from the pressure of this expectation. So men feel anxious when their girlfriend or wife makes conclusions about their character. Because they feel like they can never escape from the expectation of masculinity that started from their mother and now their wife. This may be one of the reasons why they stop talking because they don’t want to say things that may add fuel to the flame.
Q. How can a closed heart be open?
If women’s stress can be described as a full trash can, men’s stress is a tightly closed full trash can. A full trash can can be easily emptied, but if it’s tightly closed you have to open it in order to empty it. Hurt people are careful about opening up to people because they want to know whether they sincerely care or not. It’s important not to overreact when listening to these people who share. Sometimes women cry or laugh together, but this means they have already built a trusting relationship. When men are trying to share carefully, it’s better not to react too quickly, but rather be calm and collected. “Oh, I didn’t know that happened. How did you feel when that happened?” is better than, “You poor thing! Why didn’t you tell anyone?!” because it could trigger more anxiety as a person who’s already sensitive about being judged.
Q. Could there be other reasons that cause men to be silent?
Like father, like son. When the father generally refuses to talk, it is most likely that the son does, too. When marriage relationships are estranged, the mother tries to fulfill her emptiness through their child. Basically wanting their child to be on her side. After she shares her side of the story, the conclusion is that the child is the only person she can count on, which pressures the child to be obedient and submissive. Naturally the boy grows up to expressively love his mother more than his dad, which creates a father-shaped hole inside of him. Then he starts to wonder if refusing to talk like his father is the solution, which is very common.
Q. A lot of fathers in their 30s and 40s think ‘providing for family’ is love. Is this a healthy perspective?
I don’t think so. They are finding their identity in their They are finding their identity in their achievements. If any parent establishes their identity in their ability to provide for their family, what happens when they can no longer do so? A lot of retired fathers feel like they’re being treated like an ATM, but in some ways it’s their fault because they communicate to their family that they will be responsible for everything. Hence, fathers in their 30s and 40s need to examine their hearts in terms of why they want to be so responsible for being the breadwinner.
Q. I don’t think it’s entirely the man’s fault for wanting to be the breadwinner. Women tend to rely on their husbands no matter how independent they were before marriage.
There’s a social and cultural reason why young fathers have old mindsets, which is the fact that men grew up hearing that responsible men are loved. Men jump in as the hero when women become dependent in crucial moments. Then women appreciate and affirm them for being so responsible. There is no such thing as a ‘man’s role’ or a ‘woman’s role.’ Man and woman should be able to work through life together whether that’s earning money, raising children, etc. But I do understand how the current social structure can cause people to think that it’s better for the man to be the breadwinner since men typically have higher salaries than women, and this is an issue I we need to address.
Q. There are a lot of young fathers who want to be a family man. What kind of advice do you have for men who want to be the fun family man?
The responsibility of being the head of a household is not as heavy nowadays, but there’s still some traditional obligations that are expected of men. In the past, being a breadwinner was pretty much the only obligation, but there are actually higher expectations for fathers today; they are also expected to be more relational with their family members. But it’s not healthy for the father to support the family and build relationships with them just because it’s expected of them. It’s important that it’s what they want and that they enjoy spending time with family. So I advise fathers to examine their hearts and see whether they are striving to earn the title of a “good father” or if they actually enjoy being one.
Q. What kind of questions can the fathers ask themselves to examine their hearts whether they’re striving or enjoying to be a good father?
Answering the question ‘How do I see myself?’ is a good start. Further examination is necessary if the answer is limited to actions, such as ‘I’m a fun dad that plays with the kids.’ ‘I bring in enough income for my family.’ etc. It’s best to base your identity on who you are rather than what you can do and being okay with who you are regardless of the expectations as the head of the household.
Words by Annam Sun
Graduated from Ewha University with a degree in English Language & Literature and Counseling Psychology, followed by practicum programs in Ewha and Konkuk University. Wrote the book <Men Who Want to Be Alone> from her counseling experience with men who are far more emotionally unhealthy than women who struggle with self-image. She wrote 10+ books including <Happy Counseling Center in Myeongnyun- dong>, and <True Love Hasn’t Come Yet>, etc.