Why Do Men Struggle With Emotions: A Look Into Their Winner/Loser Mentality - How To Win a Man's Heart

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August 10, 2014

Why Do Men Struggle With Emotions: A Look Into Their Winner/Loser Mentality

From early childhood, boys are indoctrinated into the male hierarchical social order of “One-Up” or “One-Down.” This means there are only two positions: the winner and the loser. If a boy is not a winner, by default, he is a loser.

This societal mandate is reinforced in boys by the injunction, “Big boys don’t cry.” If a boy is the loser in games, physical fights, or even not being picked for the spelling team, the unspoken code states he shouldn’t cry. It also states if he is the winner, he can’t show empathy for the loser. Especially among young boys where there is the fear of contagion: if he shows empathy for the loser, he might be seen as a loser. While the playground and group sports have changed in recent decades, the mandate remains, albeit more subtly.

There are many ways the Winner/Loser mandate, absorbed from childhood, can be detrimental to men in their love relationships.

For instance:

  • “Be a winner, not a loser” gets translated as “get or keep the upper hand.” Yet, men often feel they do not have the upper hand in emotionally charged conversations.
  • Concern about being in the one-down position may lead men to avoid emotional conversations, or to shift into a tit for tat or counter-attack of blaming the woman. Or, they may just leave the room.
  • When men feel verbally attacked or challenged by their partner, they are faced with two options. They can fight back, but risk getting emotionally out of control, which is only for losers. Or, they can walk away.
  • Winners do not expose their vulnerability, which is what many women want in a love relationship.
  • Winners avoid showing their need for nurturing. So, when a woman reaches out in a nurturing or care-taking way, men may recoil, fearing they are being treated like a child.
  • Winners are never in a one-down position; this may explain why so many men have difficulty with apologizing, saying “I’m sorry.
  • When men first meet a woman, they may talk too much about themselves. While a woman might see them as self-centered, they may only be reacting to the winner mandate by demonstrating their accomplishments or knowledge.

Obviously, not all men obey these social rules all the time, but it’s important for both men and women to recognize when they bump into the Winner/Loser mandate.

This article is a section from Dr. Karen Gail Lewis’s book: Why Don’t You Understand? A Gender Relationship Dictionary

About the author

Dr. Karen Gail Lewis

Dr. Karen Gail Lewis is a marriage and family therapist (39 years) and author of numerous relationship books — on marriage, for singles, about adult siblings. Her latest is Why Don’t You Understand? A Gender Relationship Dictionary .

For 17 years, she has run Unique Retreats For Women, weekends for self-growth and fun. She is available for phone consultations.

Go to her website and get a free article about Clues for Understanding Male-ese and Female-ese.