Why Are Men Emotionally Clueless? - How To Win a Man's Heart

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August 9, 2017

Why Are Men Emotionally Clueless?

A lot of people have had a lot to say about the differences between men and women.

What they need and expect and how they express themselves are frequent topics of books, magazine articles, and pieces like this.

In my field, it’s become almost a cliché that a large number of people who seek help for failing relationships will point to faulty communication as part of the problem.

It’s hard to relate to something you can’t understand.

But I want to focus on something a little different—why men and women differ so much on how they deal with emotions.

Relationship patterns often depend on how each partner dealt with and processed his or her emotional life before they got together.

It’s more complicated, but that’s a big chunk of it.

I’m not the first person to notice that men and women are different. There are obvious anatomical differences. There are hormonal differences.

There are differences in how children are raised depending on their birth gender. Weren’t we even told that they’re from different planets?

Brain Development

I want to discuss something a little different, the development and structure of the brain.

This might seem like a strange place to start when discussing relationships, but nobody can do anything their brain won’t allow them to do.

A child born with severe global brain damage is unlikely to become the next great music prodigy.

In newborns, male or female, the only part of the brain that is fully functional is the brain stem, that small portion just inside the back of the skull and above the top of the neck.

Nothing else really works yet.

The cortex, the outer part of the brain that distinguishes mammals from lower animals, is not even formed yet.

The prefrontal areas, which distinguish humans from other mammals, won’t really start becoming operational for several years and don’t become fully so until adolescence or later.

Even the parts of the brain involved in emotions and relationships, areas and functions found in lizards, don’t operate stably for the first several months after birth.

All we have is the brain stem, responsible for eating, sleeping, breathing, activity levels and the like. We are born with just enough brain activity to keep us alive, but little more.

If you stop and think about it, that design makes perfect sense. Humans have huge heads and they’re born by being pushed out of a very small hole.

If people were born with fully developed brains, the intense pressure on their skulls would cause the entire human population to be born brain damaged. It doesn’t take much to remove huge chunks of functioning as it is.

Men and Women Have Different Brains

From this beginning, brains develop in a predictable sequence. Speaking generally, they develop from bottom to top, from inside to outside, and from back to front.

Temperature regulation develops before motivated behavior, pain before logical thought, and vision before judgment. All human brains do this.

Here’s the difference—female brains develop left to right, while male brains develop right to left.

During adolescence, the “neglected” sides develop more fully, but they never catch up to the side that developed first, and the functioning of the second side never catches up to the functionality shown by that side in the other gender, where it developed first.

Left and Right

So what does all of that mean? Because of the way their brains develop, young girls are better at left-hemispheric tasks than boys.

They’re more verbal than boys. They’re more social than boys. They’re more placid than boys and have more positive moods.

They understand relationships better than boys. Young girls are much easier to be around than young boys, and they’re definitely easier to parent than young boys.

Boys are better with spatial problems and pattern recognition than girls. They’re more impulsive than girls. They’re more active than girls.

For the first few years, they’re much harder to parent than girls. They’re much more likely to do something stupid that gets themselves hurt than girls are.

At adolescence, the neglected side starts developing, and boys become more verbal while girls become more impulsive and difficult to handle, especially if they have been maltreated earlier.

Boys are tougher when they’re smaller and easier to contain, girls become tougher when they’re old enough that nobody can control them anymore.

And here’s the key point: The right hemisphere is where emotions are processed, especially what we consider the negative ones.

Emotion is what feeds activity and impulsive behavior.

Men are More Emotional than Women

Boys are more emotional than girls. Girls catch up some at adolescence, but men are still more emotional than women.

Women’s emotions are more likely to be anxiety or depression, which are based on thought patterns like worry and rumination, than the results of direct visceral experiences processed outside awareness.

What a man thinks depends on how he feels. How a woman feels depends on what she was thinking about.

I know people will object to this idea.

First, women talk about their feelings and men don’t. Women are more verbal about lots of other things, too. They don’t talk more than men. They’re just more exact with their meanings, on average.

Second, many men are pretty emotionally dead and intellectual. I’ve met them, too. That’s how some men learn to handle their emotions when they are little.

The emotions are still there and are sometimes even more intense because they are kept from awareness.

Women handle emotional situations socially. If someone offends a woman, she’s likely to talk to her friends about the incident and tell them how she felt.

If the person offended her badly enough, she will get her friends together and figure out how to ostracize that person and exert social pressure on them.

Men are emotionally direct. If somebody offends a man enough, he’ll punch the offender. After that, he may even deny feeling particularly angry.

He may not notice intense emotions because he’s been living with the sensations all of his life and he may never have learned to differentiate or label them well.

The Finished Product

This points to the last two peculiarities about gender-specific brain development. Male brains are highly specialized. Every function is localized in a precise spot in the brain.

In women, functioning is more spread out. A little of a specific ability might be controlled here, but part of it may be controlled over there, and another part may be in a third spot, or even a fourth.

Because of this, women survive brain damage better than men. In general, they’re more resilient than men in a lot of other ways, too.

This is why male births always exceed female births but the population is always weighted toward having more females than males. Compared to males, females are better survivors.

On the other hand, women are more likely to be closer to average than men in most traits. Men are more likely than women to be classified as either mentally retarded or geniuses, for instance.

Depending on how their brains function, they’re more likely to be exceptional or exceptionally poor at any given task, and many are great at one task and terrible at other tasks.

Finally, in late adolescence, the two hemispheres start knitting together with nerve fibers so they can communicate back and forth more efficiently.

Women’s brains do so far more than men’s, giving them more efficient brain functioning. The various parts of their brains communicate with one another better.

The Takeaway

Although we’d often like to believe that men aren’t very emotional, they’re really much more emotional than women.

Think of how the stereotypical TV male acts: impulsive, poorly considered behavior that’s even more poorly communicated. This screams of raw emotions, poorly regulated.

Young boys start dealing with their emotions at full strength well before they start talking.

They have to learn to control their behavior, but most of them never learn to differentiate and label their emotions well.

Some shut down. Some remain impulsive. Many struggle.

Asking men to discuss their emotions is difficult because their emotions have been present at that intensity for longer than they can remember.

The visceral sensations have blended into the background.

That’s just how they think they’re supposed to feel. It’s also complicated by the fact that male brains never form in ways that would allow easy verbal access to internal conditions.

The wiring just isn’t there the way it is in women’s brains.

Studies have also shown that men suffer more emotionally from breakups than women. Women talk about their pain. Men don’t.

They’re not as social as women, and society has taught men that there are only three acceptable ways to express strong emotions: (a) get angry; (b) get drunk (or high); and (c) get laid.

If you doubt this, watch almost any movie ever made. If John Wayne didn’t do it, no male is supposed to do it.

As I wrote at the top of this piece, my goal is to increase understanding. Men and women are different.

Understanding what you’re dealing with goes a long way towards developing plans to deal with it effectively.

In relationships, it sometimes means the difference between one that lasts and one that never has a fighting chance to succeed.

About the author

Steven G. Brownlow

The author of Emotions in Psychology and Psychotherapy, Steven G. Brownlow, Ph.D. has specialized in assessing and treating aggressive adolescents, chaotic families, and distressed relationships since 1981.

A Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, Dr. Brownlow maintains his blog at www.sgbrownlow.com and improves other psychologists’ and counselors’ effectiveness through his training program found at http://ucspsychsystems.com.