Use Your Emotion Toolkit Like a Man

by Melissa Karnaze

Man carrying toolkitMen may not talk about their feelings as much as women do, but they sure know how to use their emotions in constructive ways.

Because they know that emotions are meant to be used — as tools.

And most men are good at using tools to build things and fix things. Like bridges, buildings, houses, and other manly fixtures.

Man’s emotion toolkit

Men know that their emotions exist for a reason. They know that emotions aren’t just for women and children — but for the entire human species.

Because man is an animal, and an animal needs emotions to survive in nature — to know when to avoid danger and when to approach valuable resources.

Each of man’s emotions were selected for by nature to protect his survival and fitness. Man’s emotion toolkit is meant to enhance his survival and success.

Man needs, among many others, these particular tools:

    • Fear — to be alerted of danger, know when to retreat, and figure out what he is willing to risk to build a better future
    • Anger — to protect his borders and his resources, and to confront adversaries should they threaten him
    • Disgust — to know what he’ll tolerate, so that he can live a life of virtue, based on his values
    • Surprise — to recognize when something out of the ordinary crosses his path, so that he can explore uncharted territories or know when it’s time to return home
    • Sadness — to realize what he has lost, so that he can grieve, and then slowly rebuild again
    • Happiness — to learn what he’s done right, so he can continue doing it, and lead a fulfilling life

10 ways to use your emotion toolkit like a man

You can learn how to use your emotions as tools, in functional and constructive ways, by acting more like a man, in the following ways:

1. Take care of your tools

Men don’t leave their tools out to get rusty. They don’t misplace them. They don’t curse them. And they don’t let people who aren’t trustworthy handle them.

So don’t ignore your emotions, mislabel them, try to suppress them, ditch them for “Vulcan logic,” or judge them as being anything less than your valuable tools to succeed in life. And don’t let other people handle them — by telling you how you should feel, or when you shouldn’t.

2. Build with a blueprint

Just as a man needs plans to navigate his future, he needs to map out his emotions to know what he is feeling and why — because remember, emotions act as man’s navigational system to survive in nature.

Are you feeling curious… or uncertain? There’s a subtle difference in how each feel and what each mean, but it makes a big difference if you use the wrong tool, the right tool at the wrong time, or simply the wrong sized tool, to tackle a challenge.

You need the right tool at the right time, meaning you need to know what you are feeling so you can hear it as an important signal about your life. Which means you need to know Robert Plutchik’s blueprint of emotions, outlined in his Psychoevolutionary Theory of Basic Emotions.

It shows eight basic emotions and how they can be amplified and mixed with other emotions to form more complex emotional states. And it’s your ticket to greater emotional literacy.

3. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke

A man’s tools are good at what they do. But they’re not always necessary.

Sometimes, what you feel is meant to be kept to yourself. And if you try to fix someone else’s problem when they don’t ask, they’re going to resent you for it, even if you’re right and you fixed the problem. (Women will especially resent it.)

The man thing to do is acknowledge your emotions and keep your opinions to yourself — unless you have to speak up to maintain your integrity. The man thing to do is support your loved ones by letting them stuck if that’s what they want, and be their rock if you can do it in a healthy way — they’ll ask you for help when they’re ready to fix their problem.

4. Don’t waste time when you could be using your toolkit

Men don’t like to waste time on unimportant things — that take away from playing out in the yard with the kids, making something lovely in the workshop for the wife, or going out fishing with the guys.

So don’t waste time ruminating about things you can’t change (unless you’ll bounce back to resiliency roundabout), moping around, blaming other people when you can fix your own problems, or getting down on yourself.

Instead, know when to use your toolkit, use it wisely, and use it without delay. In other words, don’t be afraid to feel, especially pain. Because it’s feeling the currents that helps you return to inner-peace and clarity and know how to respond to your life.

5. Kill two birds with one stone

A man knows life is good when he can barbecue on the grill while watching his children play a game of tag football. He’s there to cheer the kids on, and make a mighty tasty supper for the family.

So when you find yourself listening to someone you care about express their own emotions, use the opportunity to be honest as well. Honesty means using the magic formula for expressing hurt feelings when it’s needed, instead of arguing or debating as a way to avoid vulnerability and emotional intimacy.

6. Don’t be intimidated by the bear that’s chasing you

When a man faces danger in the wild, it’s natural for fear to course through his veins. But once he decides to run from the bear that’s chasing him instead of staying to fight, he doesn’t look back or second-guess his decision. He puts everything he has into running from that bear.

When you make a decision based on your heart, don’t ever second guess yourself or let fear of the unknown intimidate you. Following your intuition is a hard thing to do, but once you’ve done it enough, it’s second nature.

7. Go fishing

For a man, fishing with a good book, a cool beer, and a few good friends is the ultimate vacation.

You need to take time for yourself, and not worry about being selfish. You need solitude to remember who you are, and to restore your health and mental clarity.

So when your emotions are telling you that life’s getting too stressful and there are too many fires to put out — pack up the fishing rods and head over to the river. When you return home, your toolkit will be ready and waiting for you to start getting to work again.

8. Know when to be a gentleman

Men know when to be tough, and when to be gentle.

To follow that lead, figure out when, where, and how to express your negative emotions in safe and appropriate ways.

If anger catches your tongue or you find yourself amidst a temper, the best thing to do may be expressing yourself in private, safely.

So that you can return to the person with whom you’re in conflict with the intention to find a solution, by being assertive without being a menace. That way you’ll meet your conflict head-on, so that you and the other person can resolve it, together.

9. Be brave enough to break down

Men know that even though they have strength, tools, and other resources at their disposal… there are times when nothing can fix a problem. And that they just have to wait it out, look somewhere else for a solution, or learn how to adapt to the situation.

So don’t be afraid to admit defeat or acknowledge weakness — because being honest is the smartest way to take response ability and choose optimism over despair.

10. Never use tears as tools

According to The Art of Manliness, it’s okay for a man to cry when he genuinely feels hurt and he is not using his tears to complain, pity himself, or manipulate others.

Men don’t put their emotions out there for everyone to see, just so that they can elicit sympathy, receive affection, or get their way. They only reveal their true emotions to those they trust, and this helps to protect themselves as well as the boundaries of others.

So know when to cry, when to do it in private, and don’t ever use your emotions to take advantage of others. It’s the mindful, respectful, and honest thing to do.

Men use their emotions for good

Emotions can be your tools, if you are just willing and ready to work with them.

A great way to get started is by following the above ten steps that come easy for a man.

Yeah, women tend to be more sensitive to and expressive of their emotions, but sensitivity and articulation aren’t all that matters. Working with what you’ve got — sensibly, effectively, intelligently, bravely, and constructively — is an important part of the process.

Ready to man up?

So, are you ready to man up? Or have you done so already? Let us know in the comments below!

And if you enjoyed this article, tune in next week, when we’ll look at how you can work with your emotions… like a woman.

This article is dedicated to my dad, who has taught me so much about the emotion toolkit, and who is very good at building many manly fixtures. Dad, I can’t thank you enough for all your support and guidance!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

WN November 13, 2009 at 11:47 am

Being a man is… tricky. We’re told not to feel, not by authority or society or anything like that, but by our genetic makeup. I remember when I was 9 or 10, I was helping my uncle with a remodel job, and I hammered my fingers. It hurt so bad that I wanted to cry, but I held the tears back. My uncle saw my pain and said that it was ok to cry. So I did.

In 7th grade, I was hanging out with a large group of friends, mixed company, and I slipped and broke my radius and ulna while running on the concrete, my bone grotesquely protruding out of my skin. I fought the tears back hard, and it worked.

I have more stories like this, but my point is, men aren’t conditioned to “not feel.” Something biological tells us not to.

Yet, in the modern world, the instinct to suppress emotions actually works against our success. And that’s why it’s tricky, and downright confusing, to be a man.

Miche - Serenity Hacker November 13, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Wow Melissa! I just got a chance to read this! You cover so many important things here, and what an homage to men, who are often discredited for how they handle emotions. This “toolbox” is filled with really useful information and great advice, from knowing when to act on feelings, not using them to manipulate, and remembering when the body signals that a different state is desired (time to go fishing!).

I really loved this. This is a great resource and will be one for a while to come, I’m sure!
Cheers,
Miche “)

Odin Xenobuilder November 13, 2009 at 4:06 pm

I’ll second that, this is full of great advice, and makes me proud to be male to see so many undeniable traits shone in a light that expresses their utility.

I certainly see myself as someone who frequently “mans up”, but my biggest challenge is Number 1 – keeping my tools clean. More of trying to operate without my tools actually, so they collect dust :-P Luckily it doesn’t take long digging a hole with my hands before I figure out I should grab a shovel!

Excellent article, and thanks for sharing Plutchik’s blueprint of emotions too, I found that very interesting as well.

Melissa Karnaze November 13, 2009 at 5:01 pm

WN, amen. Your stories really touch me! I know something of how hard it is to be a man in this modern age, which is why I just had to write this.

How much of the “don’t-feel” or at least “don’t-cry-about-it” program is in fact biological? I think society has a heavy hand in it all. I feel for men. Media throws shit their way every single day, from trying to sell them sex 24/7 to prying on their insecurities by shoving cia1is in their face.

I think culture is a culprit in why men have a hard time feeling, but there are also biological factors. I just don’t know how deep the sex differences go… yet. And until I do start studying it more in depth, I’ll hear the soundbites — like the recent “women are better than men at detecting emotion” — with lots of salt. Who cares? (How does that even factor in culture? And is it even relevant to everyday life?) What matters is that men and women learn smart ways to stay emotionally healthy, and learn from each other. This is getting onto a rant, that’s how much I feel for men.

But anyway, WN, can you tell me more about why it feels more *biological* than socio-cultural? I really want to know more, especially from a man’s perspective.

Miche, thank you for your feedback! I think men are not only discredited, but set up for discredit from a young age. But yeah, I find the toolkit analogy really helpful. It helps you switch from feeling like a victim of your emotions, to being lucky to have them by your side!

Odin, dust off your tools already! :P I’m so happy the article came across as shining light on maleness. You know, to man up for this post, no ordinary music would do.

Nope, I had to man up on tons of Jonnhy Cash’s “Rusty Cage.” I had to really put myself in a man’s shoes, and Cash’s low voice really got me there.

I’m glad you like Plutchik’s blueprint! It is my *favorite* visualization of emotions.

WN November 14, 2009 at 10:30 am

Well, it’s complicated. When I think of the ultimate expression of emotion, I believe crying is the ONE. Anger is powerful, sure, but it’s easy to get angry. Super easy. Joy is powerful, too, but you can feel joy quite easy as well.

But it’s freakin’ hard to cry. When you do, it makes you feel more alive, but I don’t get there very often. I’m not just talking about the misty eyes you get at a really touching movie moment or the sad tears at your grandfather’s funeral. I’m talking about BLUBBERING UNCONTROLLABLY. That’s the one that really feels good. But that doesn’t happen very often.

And I do believe that it must have something to do with hormones and evolutionary biology, which is what steers socio-cultural reality. I don’t believe that the genders are all that different, but there are a handful of differences that make us worlds apart. Access to emotions is one of these.

Melissa Karnaze November 14, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Thanks WN for sharing your thoughts!

Of course, I would argue that access to emotions is not worlds apart for men and women, as there are many ways to train yourself to trace behaviors and become more sensitive. But I am all ears on this. Any other male readers, your feedback is encouraged.

Blubbering uncontrollably is a powerful expression of emotion, for sure. I think big hurdles to getting there are social inhibition and mental inhibition, which can be subconscious, too. Letting yourself blubber uncontrollably is hard, because it requires total surrender to the moment — logical and/or adult mind shoved aside — and reverting to what was easy when you were a toddler.

You bring up an excellent point about evolutionary biology steering socio-cultural reality. I’m going to think hard on that one for a while. :)

Persha November 16, 2009 at 6:15 am

Interesting take on emotion! The title of the post caught my eye and I was intrigued to read more!

Trainerpack November 16, 2009 at 9:43 am

Even as a woman, the older I get the harder I find it to cry. For me I guess it’s age rather than gender.

Melissa Karnaze November 16, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Thanks for the feedback guys.

Mariano Guevara October 22, 2012 at 2:26 pm

It’s been a month since she broke up with me and I’ve only cried twice, and very very briefly.

The first time was just after she broke up with me, when I went to see my mum. Wise, as always, she figured out what happened on the spot and gave me one of those hugs that make you feel as if you were a 3-year old kid. I wept miserably, but since the breakup just happened, it was more a cry of anguish and shock than real grief. This was the first time I cried in years.

After a week, my best friends took me out, and in a manly gesture of solidarity they all got drunk with me. Needless to say, I was way drunker than any of them, and the night ended up with myself crying on one of my buds’ shoulder.

Since then, not a single tear has been shed. Part of me thinks that I’ve had enough crying already, and that to keep on crying would only make me look weak as if I was pathetically asking for attention.

The other part of me, though, knows that I’m bottling up everything, and that in order to acknowledge and deal with what I’m going through in a healthy way, an UNCONTROLLABLE BLUBBER (as WN so wisely put it) is in order. I’ve tried, several times, but nothing comes out.

Are there any articles out there on “how to make a dude cry”?

Anyhow, I really enjoyed your post and it made me feel a bit better with myself.

Cheers!

WN October 23, 2012 at 9:26 am

Dude, you don’t need to cry to be connected to your heart. Yes crying does make you feel better, but you can’t MAKE yourself cry either. Crying makes you feel better because it’s a physical activity. Think about it. That’s a clue.

As a man, you have to do some physical activity in order to get out of your slump. Playing a sport is the best way to accomplish this because it is social and active. Stop drinking alcohol. That’s an evil ass trap.

The fact that you cried at all is amazing. You are human and that’s beautiful. Use that heart for all kinds of things, not just crying.

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