The super idealized “Man” who feels no pain or fear and is respected by everyone does not exist.
When I was growing up, boys in my neighborhood used to call me a “woman” when they really wanted to make me mad. I hated it because it was obvious they didn’t mean it as a compliment. My sons, on the other hand, feel insulted when someone tells them they are not a “man.” If one of my sons wants to start a fight, all he has to do is tell one of his brothers that he’s not a “man” and the fists start flying.
The super idealized “Man” who feels no pain or fear and is respected by everyone does not exist, but boys feel pressure to become this myth anyway and any inference that they might not measure up is humiliating.
People all over, including kind and loving parents, contribute to this pressure. I hear parents every day saying things to their sons like, “You’re okay,” “Shake it off,” “Crying won’t solve the problem,” and “You’re a big boy,” unknowingly opening the door and inviting their children into the Box.
Boys who show visible emotion into their tween years start to feel even more disapproval from people around them. They see raised eyebrows and hear snarky comments like, “Man Up,” “Be a Man,” or even “Grow a pair.” Comments like these not only insult the boy by implying he is not a man, but also clearly communicate that showing emotion is not manly.
One eleven year old boy I know started crying in frustration when he couldn’t tie a knot at a scouting event. People around him stared and looked at each other uncomfortably, but no one walked over to comfort or help him. Even the man running the clinic didn’t offer any assistance. No doubt this boy could tell people were embarrassed by his tears.
It doesn’t take very many experiences like this for young men to believe that any emotion they show will be either ridiculed or ignored, and many of them become so adept at suppressing their emotions, they forget how to recognize them (Doidge).
When I first started writing about the Man Box, I had a friend who told me her husband couldn’t remember ever feeling sad. Her husband had a difficult childhood, and has seen a lot of horrific things as an adult in his career in law enforcement, but he can’t ever remember feeling sad.
It is possible to retrain your brain to not feel sad, but to feel angry or some other emotion instead. When you retrain your brain to feel something other than your real emotions, the box gets locked because you’re no longer able to be true to yourself.