When Men Leave Emotionally

(The Frustrating Silence of Emotional Withdrawal)

basement_series_sadness-500x332What does a man do with pain?

Many men simply leave.

No, they don’t necessarily leave physically. Rather, they leave emotionally.

I recently heard a friend of mine talk about this as he reflected upon a very difficult time in his life.  I could identify.

Many men have learned that the safest place to take one’s pain is within.  While withdrawing may be one’s default for dealing with pain, it is not conducive to connecting with another.  In fact, to family members and friends it can feel like the person has “gone away.”

Most men who leave emotionally do not do so maliciously.  I don’t believe most have the intention of being difficult or hurting their family and friends.  Rather, this may be the comfortable default that has been a part of one’s life for many years.

So when we leave one another emotionally, where do we go?

  1. Some of us just stay very, very busy.  We lose ourselves in our work.  Maybe we can stay so busy that we are not preoccupied with the pain we feel.
  2. Some of us look for substitutes.  Alcohol.  Drugs.  Pornography.  Or, a man may lose himself in his children so he doesn’t have to address the issues of his marriage.  Or, he can volunteer for numerous activities at church.  It may be hard to argue with someone who is heavily involved at church.  Yet, this can be a way of not dealing with pain.
  3. Some of us retreat to a room within ourselves which may seem safe but actually serves to disconnect us from the people we love most.  This “man cave” might be a place where we occasionally revisit the moments of shame, humiliation, and disappointments in our lives. Perhaps it is the place where we house the pain we experienced as children.  Or, it may be the place where we occasionally sift through the ashes of our hurts and resentments.

As a result, many men live with an anger that quite often comes to the surface.  Or, such men can experience depression.

Early in our marriage, Charlotte would occasionally say to me, “Don’t go away.”  She wasn’t talking about physically leaving our family.  Nor had it ever occurred to me to leave our family and live elsewhere.

However, I would leave.  I would lose myself in my work, in my thoughts, or withdraw to a safe place in my mind that unfortunately excluded everyone else by virtue of my silence.  What I eventually learned is that withdrawal into the self is actually futile.  One’s mind can become a museum consisting of the relics of unresolved conflicts, unprocessed wounds, and pain that was never acknowledged.

Many years later, I see the same behavior in many men.  Some are young men who allow themselves to become moody and emotionally unpredictable.  Others are older men who have stored away decades of pain, hurt, and resentment within.

So how can this change?

Basically, this changes by the grace of God.  This probably won’t change overnight.  For many men, this has been a default for many, many years.  However, rather than saying “that’s just the way I am,” Christians believe that God is powerful enough to break the chains of this futility.  Christians, through the power of the Spirit, deal with their lives instead of allowing their relationships to fall apart.

One place to begin might be in voicing to God, in a spirit of humility, what you are really thinking and what you are really feeling.  Trust that he is good and that his love for you is far greater than you can even imagine.

Know that while this behavior might feel safe, it is actually quite futile.

Practice being fully present (and consequently not leaving emotionally) by paying attention to whomever you are with. Paying attention – close and full attention – to another will actually help to get your mind off your own issues and will help you to fully connect with that person.

Most of all, pray.


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