Jason had experienced the death of his 16 year old best friend to suicide two months prior. His parents were worried about him. They hadn’t seen a tear from him and that just didn’t make sense to them. He didn’t talk much about it either. They thought that maybe some therapy would be good for him. Jason didn’t think so. That was the last thing he wanted. So the parents went to see a therapist on their own to try and get some ideas about what they could do for their son. They were shocked at what they heard.
The therapist told them that with the onset of higher levels of testosterone in puberty that young men cried much less than their sisters. The testosterone basically diminishes the boy’s ability to get his tears flowing. He has the same emotions but no tears to release them. Apparently this impact of testosterone lasts for much of a man’s life. As his testosterone levels begin to drop he starts to get his tears back but even in his 60’s or beyond he may still not have the same access as his wife. There is a huge variability with this. Some men will have plenty of tears but most will be like this young man. The therapist basically said don’t worry about the tears, worry about his actions. Is he getting out? Is he being with his friends? They found out that Jason was more likely to be working out his grief with his peers than with his parents.
Learn more about this in Helping Mothers be Closer to Their Sons: Understanding the Unique World of Boys. There are many other reasons that Jason is not showing tears and not talking about his emotions. Know them and you will get closer and he will really appreciate it!
“My son wants to win. Nearly all the time. When he doesn’t he gets upset. He won’t quit playing his video game until he reaches level 22. Food, rest, drink, nothing stops him.” I hear this often from parents. They scratch their heads about their boys being intent on coming in first or as close to the top as he can make it. Why is this?
Improved research techniques have revealed that testosterone is less about aggression or violence, and is more about striving for status. Wanting to be on top. This has been fuel for men for centuries to compete against each other to do things such as explore, research, create music, architecture or just about any other endeavor. Cultures worldwide have been created through this sort of energy. So when you see your boys striving for status understand they come by it honestly.
The first reason is that when boys go through puberty and get elevated testosterone levels their access to their emotional tears goes down. Basically, when boys are 12 they lose some of their connection with their emotional tears. My experience in working with boys and young men in therapy has shown me that they continue to experience the same emotional pain, but don’t have the tears as a way to release the pain. Boys that just a few years before could cry very easily, and did, now find it more difficult. The tears seem to have dried up. Big boys don’t cry.
The second reason is that boys and men live in a hierarchical world. The same testosterone that seems to have limited their tears now is pushing them to strive for status. Yes, for years scientists have unsuccessfully tried to tie testosterone in with aggression but that never worked out. The present view on testosterone is that it pushes boys and men to strive for status, to win, to compete, to come in first. So tell me, is crying in public a sign of winning or losing? If you cry in public do you appear dependent or independent? Clearly you look dependent and boys will work to avoid appearing this way since our culture, and most women, value them for their status not their emoting. Therefore boys and men will continue to strive for status in order to succeed and to impress the women.
If women were to suddenly shift and want to marry and have sex with men who were sensitive, and emotional you would likely see men change very quickly. But the way it is now, men are valued based on their status, how much money, power, prestige they might have. Crying in public is the antithesis of that. Big boys don’t cry.
“The following is an excerpt from the section on how boys heal. This excerpt focuses on healing through creative action.
Excerpt: Helping Mothers be Closer to Their Sons, page 53-54
I once worked with a young man whose girlfriend was killed in a car accident. The young man was distraught and crushed by her death. Shortly after the death he did connect with some friends and talk about her and how hard it was for him. As time went on he found he had a great deal of pain due to her death and he found some creative ways to work with it. He played guitar and he started to write songs about her. He didn’t share any of this with many people. He kept it mostly to himself (invisible to most) but the songs were about her and about their time together and they were very emotionally powerful. Can you imagine as he is writing these songs what might be happening to him? He was surely experiencing the emotions surrounding her loss but he was doing so in a way that had nothing to do with talking and everything to do with an activity that helped him move into the feelings and slowly release them. No one told him to do this. No one instructed him about what to do. He did it on his own without any direction. This is a great example of a young man using his creative action to help him with his emotions. He was telling his story through his creativity and his emotions and reactions were likely similar to what you might expect from someone else attending a support group.
How could you be of help to this young man? Would you ask him to sit and talk about his feelings about the death of his girlfriend? No. How about asking him about his songs? Which is your favorite? What is the newest song? Can you play one for me? The young man would be more likely to want to share a song than to sit and talk face to face about his feelings. As he played you can imagine the emotions would pour out. By focusing on his music you are entering his safe place. If he allows you to enter all the better but also know that he may not really want to share this. That’s ok too.