Men’s Sensitivity – Loving Acceptance or Ashamed Paradox?

Men’s Sensitivity – Loving Acceptance or Ashamed Paradox?

Men’s sensitivity is so misunderstood and predominantly disowned by men.  We are talking about men’s sensitivity (our innate being) and the potentially associated shame that men have ascribed to it in the Western world.  As such men have become ashamed of our sensitivity. This deeply empathic essence has squashed in men.  The concept of toxic masculinity is prevented us from being able to experience sensitivity, as it is deemed a weakness.  We are therefore taught to disown our emotional feelings.  Such a misconception of our Western culture.  I think that’s really detrimental to a lot of our emotional and mental health.

Men’s Heart in Conversation

In the ‘Men’s Heart in Conversation,’ we believe it is an area that we need to explore, so that we men, can create permission, have loving acceptance and more social acceptance, of our sensitive nature.  Currently, we have to hold the paradox that because we do have a sensitivity which is a really powerful place, it can also be a very vulnerable place.  Instead of being ashamed of it, how do we learn to start owning and start connecting towards that space of sensitivity?  How can we evolved men become more at ease in balancing both our masculine and feminine within ourselves embodying the fullness of his power?  Whilst we can have an intellectual conversation about it is generally very emotional and quite deep within us.

The following is a transcript of our Facebook Live conversation regarding men’s sensitivity.

Any thoughts, any ideas? Any? Yeah,

Sensitivity is an innate part of our Personality

Andrew Nolan [1:43] You are right.  Sensitivity is an innate part of our personality, or of ourselves of our being.  We are sensitive beings but social and cultural factors conspire against that.  We are talking on Facebook Live here, which, of course, could be viewed around the world, but certainly within an Australian context for males, certainly my generation, growing up, sensitivity was not prized.  It was something that was shut down very quickly.  It was shut down by peers, shut down by teachers.

Mark Randall [2:25] Wow, that is interesting.

Andrew Nolan [2:26] And sometimes in a well-meaning manner. Yeah, you gotta harden up, toughen up the world is a hard place.  Men need to forge ahead, be strong.  Don’t cry. There’s a lot of gender stuff in there too.  Don’t be a girl.  Those sorts of things, which is sort of thrown in.  So there is a double layer of quite a problematic language going on around sensitivity.

Impacts on Men’s Mental Health

Mark Randall  [3:00] I’m wondering whether this space that we’re talking about, I’m wondering what impact that has potentially on men’s mental health, depression, anger, anxiety, our interpersonal relationships?  I’m wondering, whether it has a huge impact and because of the sense of shame, that’s associated the paradox.  Is there something to be ashamed about it?  Yeah, I mean, if you’re wearing your heart on the sleeve, that metaphor may be,  a little bit too sensitive, perhaps, and not need to be regulated in a little bit more of a fashion?

Andrew Nolan [3:54] I’m going to go ahead and say there is nothing to be ashamed of.

Mark Randall [3:58] With wearing your heart on a sleeve?

Andrew Nolan [3:58] Absolutely.  No problems with it at all.  Are the repercussions socially for doing it?  Yeah, there can be?  I wonder Mark if, before we go ahead, we look at what is shame and perhaps define that little bit for anyone who might be watching.

Mark Randall  [3:59] Yeah, I’ve got a couple of quotes that I’ve pulled out of research – this one here, the following definition and ‘excuse me,  I need to put these on is to put these on to (laughter)….

Andrew Nolan [4:38] What feeling does that bring on Mark? (Laughter)

Shame Quote – a painful sense of one’s basic defectiveness…..

Mark Randall [4:39] It can actually bring up a sense of inadequacy, a vulnerability in itself that yeah – I probably avoided it for many, many years and I couldn’t read the small print on a little bottle one night.  These are the following definitions: “….the following definitions of these elusive terms: Shame is “a painful sense of one’s basic defectiveness as a human being,” while guilt is “uncomfortable self-conscious affect related to the fear of harming others” (O’Connor, Berry, & Weiss, 1999, p. 186) p. 3

Andrew Nolan [5:20] There’s a difference between shame and guilt.

The difference between Shame & Guilt

Mark Randall [5:22] There is a difference between shame and guilt.  In terms of shame, this is a pretty powerful and I don’t know whethere our vulnerability goes to this depth, or the sensitivity or being ashamed of the sensitivity such as this.  “A sense of failure is a central characteristic of individuals who experience shame or guilt. The deficit is global for shamed persons – it is felt like a failure of being. Excessive shame experiences lead individuals toward feeling inadequate as human beings, as if, when born, God had made a mistake in creating such flawed and defective organisms. The shame crisis is spiritual in that shamed persons question the reason and meaning of their lives, often finding no justification for their existence. They believe they are less than fully human. p 4. (Ronald Potter-Efron (2002) Shame, Guilt and Alcoholism Treatment Issues in Clinical Practice, 2nd edn. By, The Haworth Press, New York ISBN 0 7890 1517 X)

Men Being Ashamed (Embarrassed) of our Sensitive Nature

That is really quite solid and very hard hitting.  I have no doubt that sometimes when we do, muck up really badly, that sense of shame can be there.  I’m wondering whether there is a bit of a difference between feeling ashamed of our sensitivity, compared to the shame of it.   I’m wondering whether there be a different degree of energy, there’s somehow?

Andrew Nolan [6:57] Okay then.  So I wonder then, whether that difference could be between, feeling ashamed is perhaps occurring in a social context, where we’re interacting with others, and we reveal something or, we’re talking about sensitivity tonight, so we express our sensitivity and it’s not received well, or even worse, it’s punished.  So we might feel ashamed of ourselves.  Which, I might be wrong.  Sounds like more on the end of embarrassment, but a little worse than embarrassment. Whereas, that shame you’re talking about in that definition there – kinda that hardcore shame sounds like a deeply felt sense of – I’m no good.

Shame hits the reward center in our brain

Mark Randall [7:50]  I think when I historically could work in the addiction field, that there was that sense of shame. That’s that deeper goes to that core.   It’s really interesting, I was reading some neuroscience stuff today and it was talking about, and I might need to quote this next week.   I cut and paste the result of a book, by Alex Korb – “The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time.”  He was talking about how shame affects the same center, ‘the reward center’ in the brain.  I’ll get more detail on it for next week.  That ashamed, even sitting here, I don’t know many times tonight trying to get this conversation alive, sitting there momentarily, it just wasn’t working.

Yeah, don’t you worry I deleted them very quickly?  I wasn’t putting them ones out there!!  But even that slight stuff, there’s a sort of a sense of exposure, that sense of humiliation, OMG this is not working.  If I didn’t have, at some level, I’d have to experience that – yeah – I do feel that.  I do take that on board and whoops, this is really uncomfortable and this is really exposing myself and yeah, is there a sense of?

Andrew Nolan [9:43] Is about not being good enough?  Is about an idea of masculinity that’s been suggested to us, that you need to be technological, proficient, have it all together.  In charge, it’s all running smoothly, captain of the ship. (laughter…)

Mark Randall [10:03] Look, we’ve done 3?

Andrew Nolan [10:04] All of sudden, the ships sinking!! (laughter…)

Emotional Component of our Sensitive Nature

Mark Randall [10:08] We’ve done 3 conversations, 4 now and it’s worked every time except for tonight.  I was looking at the battery or the phone as well, I’m thinking half way through – could it work?   How do we change that issue around sensitivity?  I am really concerned that, the sensitivity, there is a strong emotional component to our sensitivity.  It’s a very, I’d even use the word, I know this might sound a bit religious, but a very sacred space.   It’s concerning that when we are not coping, in life.  Can we then be sensitive?   Again, what do we men do with that?  When I’m not coping, do I lock it away?  Do I disown it?  Do I put it in my shadow?

I am really concerned that, the sensitivity, there is a strong emotional component to our sensitivity. Share on X
Habits, Change, Self-esteem
Core Essence

Andrew Nolan [11:20] I think it’s an epidemic of that.  I think is an absolute epidemic of that happening for men right around the country.   I think you asked the question earlier.  What’s the impact on men’s mental health?  I think it’s massive.  If we’re cutting off a huge part of our emotional lives and trying to stuff it down and ignore it – that’s not going to work out well, is it?   It takes a lot of work to keep a facade, keep a mask happening.  What’s the result?  Anxiety, depression, despair, suicide.  The toll on men is heavy!  I think this is a really important conversation to be having.

It’s an issue that goes right back the most men.  It’s a parenting issue.   It’s, boys, don’t cry.  Those sorts of messages that we give to boys when they very young.   There’s a lot of social conditioning there. It’s going to take a lot of work to undo this.

Toxic Masculinity Social Conditioning

Mark Randall [12:33] Could you call it social conditioning toxic masculinity?

Andrew Nolan [12:37] Absolutely-absolutely!!

Mark Randall [12:41] There’s like, the poisoned chalice of toxic masculinity is being handed down time and time again.  I just want to read, Natalie said, especially when a vulnerability is what connects us.  Vulnerability is what connects us.

There's like, the poisoned chalice of toxic masculinity is being handed down time and time again. Share on X

Andrew Nolan [13:04] It’s such a good comment because if we can’t own our own sensitivity and our own emotional lives, it cuts off our capacity to relate to – that in others.

if we can't own our own sensitivity and our own emotional lives, it cuts off our capacity to relate to - that in others. Share on X

Mark Randall [13:20] If we’re cutting it off, is that then suggesting that we are disconnecting from ourselves and our own?

Disconnection from Self & Others

Andrew Nolan [13:30] I think that disconnection happens first, yes, so we disconnecting from our own emotional lives and then, we are pulling the plug and disconnecting from others.

Mark Randall [13:49] When does that disconnection -sorry to cut off – that disconnection?  When did that start for young boys you know you’ve got a young fellow?

Andrew Nolan [14:20] Turned five two days ago!

Mark Randall [4:21] Turned 5, 2 days ago and until his cognitive, until he’s developed fully cognitively, probably in?

Andrew Nolan [14:32] Another twenty years (Laughter)

Men are Emotional  in Early Age – socially conditioned out of us

Mark Randall [14:37] It’s taking me till at least in my 50’s, I’m a bit of a slow learner.  “I’m not the sharpest tool in the kit” but you know (laughter…) It’s like yeah, he’s still an emotional being!  Absolutely! At this stage in life.  That early stages and a lot of us it was around about grade five, age five.  Are we taught then to disconnect it?  In that disconnection, what’s happening to our self?   How much energy do we go into armoring up into manning up?    What cost is that energy take, that emotional energy, what’s that cost?

Misplaced attempts at Experiencing Connection

Andrew Nolan [15:26] It’s going to cost a lot of energy.  It’s going to cost connection to others.  It’s going to lead to, at best disconnection and isolation from other people.  At worst, the capacity to hurt other people.  Which sometimes happens as a misplaced attempt at experiencing connection.  Or simply because there’s a lack of feeling, which enables abuse of all kinds to occur.  It probably facilitates a lot of alcohol consumption around the country.  Alcohol is a great way of facilitating a kind of pseudo connection, with others.  Which is not to say having a beer is a bad thing, but when we’re lacking the capacity to connect it to ourselves, the potential for abuse of alcohol and other drugs is certainly there.

Men’s Vulnerability

Mark Randall [16:34] It’s interesting that, as Natalie talked about, the vulnerability, the sensitivity part of us.  I’m wondering whether that’s the part of us that needs to be to be loved or wants love, or is in need?  I suspect it leads to fear of our own vulnerability, question mark?  Is it the sensitive side of us that is actually needing or thrives?  Our well-being thrives on the connection, that sense of – that need for love?

Andrew Nolan [17:22] We all need love and connection?   Is it a sensitive, our sensitive path that needs love and connection? Or is it, I’d probably suggest, our sensitivity, awakens us and reminds us of our need for connection and love.


Empowering Men’s Vulnerability

Mark Randall [17:41] Okay. How do we – when it’s awakened?  How do we empower that sensitivity, to deepen the love?  It’s like, sometimes in meditation, if I’m doing a ritual to “white light” – there is part of me, I don’t know whether it’s my sensitive side or what it is.  “It goes boo hoo, I’m going to stop giving out white light” because nothing ever comes back, “I’m going boo-hoo, boo-hoo”.   Then I have to stop myself when my mind’s going like that in meditation. To stop and drop and then, what the anchor for me is, to come into that empowered loving-kindness space, and then I shift out of that, I don’t know – whether it’s the sensitive side of me that’s not getting it or has not got its needs met, in the past.   It might hold or it might trigger a reaction, emotional reactions, like resentment, cut off.   Whereas learning to recognize and identified as you talked about, then I can deepen that into – deepening the mindset there.  To drop into that empowered, loving kindness, where it’s, I believe, it’s really or feels really unconditional. There’s it just – it’s just given there’s no second thought.  There is plenty of it.  I’m wondering whether the sensitive level, there perhaps (pause) maybe it’s limited?  Or the experiences have been limited in childhood, so, therefore, we armor up.  We protect that vulnerability, we protect that sensitivity by shutting down, using all the armor – all the invisible body armor that we’ve got.

It’s a really interesting concept a really interesting space.

Challenges to remain Connected to Sensitivity

Andrew Nolan [19:51] Your peeling back the layers of the onion there Mark.  I think you’ve put it really well.  Our reactions are not necessarily our sensitivity, but it’s a reaction to, the challenges of remaining connected to sensitivity. A wonder, just going back to the suggestion, you know?  Maybe, this is getting too much into semantics. Is that our vulnerability the same as our sensitivity?   Or is our sensitivity the aspect of ourselves that mediates between our vulnerability and the outer world?

Mark Randall [20:44] Good question.  Can you follow that up?  Can you follow that up a little bit, by using your own experience?   What’s your experience?  Would you mind sharing some of that experience to clarify it a little bit?

I’ll share two things. I’ll share from the head, and then I’ll share from my experience.

Mark Randall [21:00] Can I ask is the experience your heart?

The different mindsets of sensitivity

Andrew Nolan [21:16] Yeah, yeah, absolutely.  So, from it from a headspace, the word sensitivity to me conjures up a sense of ‘your being sensitive to’ or, in response to.  Like there’s a relationship there, so we’re being sensitive to signs or signals from other people.  We were sensitive, we’re picking up what’s happening in others, and we’re sensitive to what’s happening within ourselves.  Now, when I talk about kind of a heart experience, I think back to – I’ll take myself back to primary school, perhaps something’s happened.  Someone’s upset me, I’m starting to cry and then someone said, “stop, being so sensitive.”  So, now that sadness, those tears, I don’t know if that sensitivity or if that is my sensitivity, has made me aware of that sadness.  Paid attention to it and very quickly, it’s come up, and then I’m behaving in a way that perhaps wasn’t deemed masculine at the time.

Men’s Shame Reaction to Sensitivity

Mark Randall [22:36] Is that, therefore – where the sense of shame gets initiated?

Andrew Nolan [22:41] I believe so.

Mark Randall [22:44] Now, when for argument’s sake, when the sensitivity is in need of the connection, what happens though when the sensitivity or my version or my need in that sensitivity is not getting met?  Or, the level of connection that I wish to experience and it might be an authentic need – is not getting met?  Is that then triggering old emotional triggers, as you experienced in primary school?  Is it triggering unmet needs that we’ve accumulated throughout life and then we armor up?  Feel ashamed, I can’t ask I can’t have that met.  So, therefore, I feel ashamed of it.   I’ll lock it down, put it into Fort Knox.

Co-ex System

Andrew Nolan [23:38] So, it is sounding a little bit like what Stan Grof might call a co-ex – ‘a system of condensed experience,’ where experience in the present day has the same emotional resonance as something we experienced when we were younger.  So as adults, we have an authentic mood for connection with others, and as children, we had that also.   For many of us, as children, those needs weren’t met, which led to shutting down and those layers of defensiveness and maybe anger, maybe resentment, maybe later on depression, anxiety.   When that needs not met in our adult life, we can go back into that reaction.

Challenges as adults are how can we meet that sensitivity and that emotional life within ourselves?  Hold it, have some self-care and some self-love and not get thrown back into those old patterns.

Mark Randall [24:48] Then those old patterns, their our reactions?   I would imagine that some of that are really raw and just as you were sharing that – I was just sort of sitting here reflecting on, Is it okay for a man to be asked to be loved by his partner?   Is it okay for a man to be asked to be loved?

Andrew Nolan [25:15] Of course.

Meeting our Authentic Sensitive Needs

Mark Randall [25:16] Really overtly, hey, I need to be loved?  Even saying that, sitting here going, Oh my god, it’s an  authentic need, but then that masculine social conditioning is then going, hey, it’s like having two voices going on in my consciousness at the same time – to be able to ask that question or, to have that authentic need met.  There’s that sort of polar – it’s like a polar resistance going on, internally at an energetic level.

Andrew Nolan [25:16] Almost two questions in there Mark.  Is it okay, to ask for that?  Hell yes, of course.  It’s absolutely okay. Does society tell us that it’s okay?  Sometimes, yes, a lot of the time no!

Men missing emotional connections

Mark Randall [26:17] That’s sad.  There is so much missing that is going to impact on so much connection.   I’m wondering how much that then leaves men feeling really, raw deep down, that they don’t want to connect to that sensitivity because of the rawness.  That raw and therefore, all armored up and close the draw-bridge so to speak.

I'm wondering how much that then leaves men feeling really, raw deep down, that they don't want to connect to that sensitivity because of the rawness. Share on X

Andrew Nolan [26:52] Yeah, pull up the drawbridge.  Batten down the hatches.  Move on.  Act like it is okay, retreat into the head or into work, into the sport, into alcohol or pornography.

Men Making Changes?

Mark Randall [27:13] So how do we change it?  What’s the course of action that, men like you and I, and other men.  There seems to be even when you look at some of the younger generations in their 20s.  They’ve had a much, sure there is still an element of that toxic masculine social conditioning, but it’s lessened perhaps.

Andrew Nolan [27:43] I reckon it’s lessening.  Now, I’m trying to remember back when I first heard this term, maybe I’m thinking 10 years when the word Bromance entered the popular consciousness.

Mark Randall [27:56] That was in about 10 years ago, Big Brother (T.V show) time, the bromance.  The Big Brother stuff.

Acceptance of our need for male closeness

Andrew Nolan [28:06] Which, you know, probably still, to a certain extent set men’s relationships within certain parameters and boundaries.   It was an interesting society acknowledgment that men could have friends that they were close to (Laughter…)

Mark Randall [28:26] That’s really really interesting because men will connect and hug and closeness on a football field.  I can’t do that I just want to touch base with – no.  “It is so sad as I feel deep love and connection in a few minutes, my husband has been truly vulnerable.”  “It’s so sad, as I feel such deep love and connection in the few moments, my husband has been truly vulnerable.”  That is so – that Natalie really talking about that deep connection.   When you’ve got so much love to give in, and we men have walled it off. You want to give that love.  It’s like that love sort of bounces – that energy of love is bouncing, hits the wall and bounce backs.

This male closeness gets permission in sport & alcohol

When men in pubs and they have had 100 beers and they’re all over each other.  They are connecting there is that sensitivity?  They do connect?  I guess they are vulnerable under the influence (of alcohol) and share their true feelings for their mates.

Andrew Nolan [29:40] You talked about shame earlier, I think alcohol does that sense of shame or embarrassment and enables connection to occur.   So, this is where I wonder, about shame or being ashamed is kind of a social construct or social conditioning.  That, it’s not real, it’s not essential to us.  It is something we carry around.   Then, alcohol is often a way of numbing that feeling, whilst enabling those other ones to come through.

Loss of GABA receptors

Mark Randall [30:17] The GABA receptors getting knocked out and out it comes.  The joy and the gift, I just following up and reflecting what shared. It’s like the meeting of Soul, the meeting of that – just at that moment, and imagine, when women want to give their husbands that beautiful love.  They are creating a beautiful, safe place for us and we men don’t take that opportunity to immerse yourself to be nourished and cared in that, in that energy of their deep love for us. The safety is the key there.   How can we as men, create a society that increases the safety and the acceptance and the acknowledgment that sensitivity is a gift?

Men changing the rules of acceptance to our sensitivity

Andrew Nolan [31:33] We’ve got to change the rules.  How do we do that?

Mark Randal [31:37] Yeah, how do we do that?   How do we change those rules?  By changing those rules – because to be ashamed of it is not safe.  So, if we turn around to acceptance, it’s normal.  It’s natural and normal.  It is a deep need.  We’ve needed it since we’ve been born, otherwise, we wouldn’t survive.   I’m wondering whether we perhaps will always have that fragile sensitive part of us and maybe it is a bit child-like?  When we’re being intimate, and we go into that childlike.  I’m wondering whether that childlike aspect of ourselves, I’m wondering whether we’ve always going to have that.  It’s something we can’t avoid, but that childlike aspect of ourselves, may not necessarily cope with the rigors and the rigors and the day today.   We gotta sort of showing up each day.  The mindset of my sensitivity, wouldn’t want to show up.  It would like to be – it would like to be ‘held’ somewhere.

How do we then, in saying that how do we also then encourage men to develop that inner journey, that inner journey to self-discovery.  So that we can hold it within ourselves, learn to hold it within ourselves, learn to hold the reaction – when we are having reactions from the co-ex’s that Grof was talking about.  How do we then explore what’s underneath that reaction?  Hang on, this is some of my old raw pain.  This was triggered back in X number of years ago?  How do I then be present to that?

Making the Time & a Place for Sensitivity

Andrew Nolan [33:49] Just going back a step.  I think you’re identifying something important, which is, there is a time and place.  We need to be alert and aware of when that is.  When is a good time to be sensitive, and when is the right time to be strong, capable, determine through whatever of life’s hurdle.  Then the next step, we’ve talked about this a bit, during this series of talks.  Is it’s about courage and taking risks.  Choosing to do things differently.

I joked a little about changing the rules before.  We can’t really change the rules, but we, we embody the rules.  We embody the way things are done.  So changing the way that embodiment occurs, and, and doing things differently is got to be a good place to start.

Men becoming Open-Hearted

Mark Randall [34:50] It’s really interesting, and I want to pick up on what you’re sort of talking about that there is a correct time and a correct place.  There also need to be provision and permission and allowance that is, sometimes when we’re really overwhelmed by life’s stuff – we may not be able to, we may break down.  If we are in burnout or whatever the case may be, we may not – there may not be the right time nor place when people are really seriously depressed is that melancholy.  Again, how do we define that right place?   I agree with you.  How do we using that terminology, how do we become more open-hearted?  The more open-hearted we become like men, the deeper the connections – we can then, in our open hearts, allow that sensitivity to be there, to meet ours to meet others.

To pass it on.  What great gift to have that space and to not be ashamed of it.   If we can do some more work on that.  It’d be really interesting to get some comments and just some feedback.   As we post this  and upload to Utube, just be interesting to see we can get some comments.

Open-hearted Messages

Just mindful of time, any final “open heart” messages you might have around that space?

Andrew Nolan [36:49] Just to reflect back what you said there, Mark.  We, it’s true.  We can’t always have absolute control. There are times where we can be overwhelmed.  Where that part of us will come out and perhaps as men, we need to be present and offer support to other men when they go through those times.  To reduce that shame.

Mark Randall [37:17] I thank you for sitting open-hearted tonight mate.

Andrew Nolan [37:20] Good talking to you.

Mark Randall [37:23] Ditto.  Let’s keep these conversations flying and let’s do our bit to try and change some of that social conditioning and rewrite those rules. Cheers.

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