It has long been argued, that men's brains and women's brains are essentially identical. On this view, when our girlfriends and wives implored us to ‘get in touch with our feelings’; we tend to think that it's something that we should and could do. Nevertheless, for many a man, there is often a sense of mystery of just what it is he is expected to do. A woman’s capacity to express emotions, or so it appears, always seems to exceed the capacity of a man.
As a men's therapist, I have long held the belief that men are simply not interested in feelings. Of course when I was being trained, exclusively by women, I learned to work intricately with human emotion. My experience of working with men, however, has taught me that the best way to tackle men's emotional difficulties is not necessarily by addressing the emotions head-on.
Exciting new developments in brain research are beginning to suggest that there may be a biological underpinning to the different ways that men and women think emotionally (1). In one recent study, for example, sophisticated brain imaging techniques were used to light up those parts of the brain that were implicated in emotional activity. What was amazing about this was that the researchers concluded that on average women have more than double the number of emotional connections within the brain, than men. On the face of it, it appears that women simply have a grossly more sophisticated emotional processing brain.
Other research also suggests that men and women remember emotional events differently. Women, as I'm sure you can testify, have a capacity to remember in intricate detail emotionally charged events. Men however, seem to remember emotionally charged events by picking up the gist of what went on. The intricate detail, which women so much value (and use to our detriment), is simply not remembered by men.
Some people have even argued that the difference between men and women's brains is so great, that's theoretically it might be better to consider two brains. A man's brain and a woman's brain. Emotional processing is just one of the differences between them.
So what should we make of these developments in neuroscience? Well for my money, these developments simply serve to underline what many of us have known for a long time: in many situations, men and women use different strategies to get things done.
Put simply, men and women think differently. Furthermore, it is by understanding how men and women think differently, that it will be possible for men and women to truly understand each other.
Our differences need not cause conflict provided we understand and respect each other's emotional styles. For men, this means giving women the space to use the full extent of their emotional brains, while accepting that we will never fully appreciate what they are doing. For women, it is countering the fallacy that men hide their feelings, and if only they could find a way of expressing them, they would have a basically similar emotional life to women.
So the next time your partner gets frustrated with you ‘not showing your emotion’, you can show her a copy of this post, if it doesn’t stop the arguing, it might give her something to think about, and you now know why that would put you in a stronger position!
(1) The evidence reported in this post was taken from Hoag, H. (2008) Sex on the Brain. New Scientist 19 July, pp. 28-31
Dr Phil Tyson is a Men's Psychotherapist based in Manchester in the UK. He offers:
- Group therapy weekends for men in London and Manchester
- Beginners meditation weekend retreats for men in London and Manchester
- Counselling for men in Manchester
- Psychotherapy for men in Manchester
- Cognitive behavioural therapy for men in Manchester
- Telephone and online counselling for men wherever you live
- Mediation for conflict resolution at work in London
- Mediation for conflict resolution at work in Manchester and the North West
- Supervision and consulative support for therapists in Manchester