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Dear Men, Our Emotions Are Rational

Dating back to freaking Confucianism and ancient Greece and ancient Greek philosophy, men were considered rational, and women considered emotional. This is a long history of gender stereotype that has “discouraged” (socially sanctioned) women from entering into STEM fields.

This stereotype really doesn’t do any service for men. The stereotype of the “rational man” leads to the stigmatization of men expressing and sharing their emotions. I’m sure as men, we have all been called “pussy,” “soft,” “gay,” and many other homophobic, transphobic, and misogynistic put-downs when we cry or otherwise show any sort of emotion.

By socializing men this way, we now have generations of men who has learned to ignore, push away, or hold in their emotions until they explode.

Sometimes, they take it out on themselves, by shaming and criticizing themselves, or physically harming themselves (self-harm and suicide). And sometimes, they take it out on other people. And sometimes, they do both. We end up hurting ourselves, and hurting those we love, and sometimes, we hurt random people who we don’t even know.

I know some men are kind of sick of being told that they have to be more emotional. Cause, I mean, why should we? Well, it is because emotions are highly rational and logical and involves math and probability.

Emotions Kept Our Species Alive

So here’s the scenario. It is 200,000 year in the past. Two of our early Homo Sapien ancestors were out for a stroll in the bush, looking for food. Let’s call them Ichiro and Shohei (yes, I’m a baseball fan).

Suddenly, they both notice the bush in front of them shake and move. Not knowing what was making the bush shake, Ichiro freaks the f* out and runs away. Shohei, always calm, cool, and collected, decides to investigate what was behind the bush. As he gets close, a lion jumps out and eats him.

Since Ichiro freaks out and runs away, he was able to survive. And his freaking out has led to him living a longer life than Shohei. Which means he was able to procreate, and pass his “freak out” genes to the next generation of Homo Sapiens. This is essentially the flight response from the fight-flight-freeze response that our ancestors had developed that has kept our species alive.

Meanwhile, Shohei’s inability to feel the fear, anxiety, and panic that comes with the flight-response has led to his downfall. As a result, he wasn’t able to survive long enough to procreate and pass his super duper calm rationality genes to his would-be kiddos.

Now, it is possible that there is nothing behind that bush. And that both Ichiro and Shohei could have survived. But evolution will always select for the genetics that give us the highest chance to survive.

Evolution “selection” is kind of a misnomer, because it is not a conscious “selecting” of a certain gene to be passed onto the next generation. It is simply math.

If Ichiro and Shohei encounters ten shaking bushes in one day, all it takes is one bad encounter, and Shohei’s life would be ended. Meanwhile, Ichiro’s anxiety and fear means he doesn’t ever stick around for the “encounter.” So he will survive. And his anxiety and fear (flight response) were what kept him alive.

Evolution Doesn’t Care About Our Happiness

The evolution of human emotion kept the big picture as priority: stay alive and reproduce. It kept our species alive. As I had mentioned, evolution will err on the side of caution. This means that we would sometimes misinterpret something as a threat, and will activate our fight-flight-freeze response.

Back in the day, our ancestor’s lives were constantly under threat of predators. But in our current day, living here in Canada, our lives are not really under threat the way our ancestors were. And that’s the dilemma that we experience. Our fight-flight-freeze response is an automatic response that our ancestors had developed to keep us alive. But it doesn’t care for our happiness. All it cares about is keeping us alive.

To pretend that our emotions are irrational is denying the evolutionary history that mathematically aided the survival of our species. You experiencing emotions doesn’t make you irrational or weak. It is actually your survival instincts kicking in.

Our Societies Changed Faster Than Evolution Can Adapt

There’s no real timeline on evolution, but generally speaking, it can take a million generations or more to evolve lasting change. Our societies have developed wayyyy faster than that. When I was in high school, there were no smart phones. Nowadays, our whole life is revolved around having connection. This completely changed the way our societies functioned. And also, yikes…I’m aging myself.

Our societies and social world changes quickly. Evolution takes a long time. So our fight-flight-freeze response is going to stick around. No matter how hard us men try to evolve out of our emotions, it’s not going to happen in our lifetime. Or our children’s lifetime.

So let me offer a suggestion for us. Let’s learn about our emotions, and learn how to experience and express our emotions in a safe and healthy manner. Ichiro had little control over his emotions. And Shohei didn’t have the healthy fear that could keep him alive.

The goal is to find the middle ground. In moments of danger, we want to lean into our fight-flight-freeze response to help us survive. And in moments where our system mis-identifies things as threats, we want to build the skills to be able to soothe our nervous system, and get back into a calm state.

In the next blog, I’m going to explain why we freak out when we get rejected, whether by an individual or by friend/social groups. This freak out response is also related to our past survival. So stay tuned!

Hey there, my name is Harry, and I’m an Asian therapist here to support your search for health and authenticity. If you are open to weekly self-care FUN-ctivities, subscribe to my “Happy Chemicals Club.” If you enjoy podcasts, you can check these out.

Harry Au

Therapy for Asians

MSW, RSW | he/him

I help Asians go from feeling trapped to becoming self-liberated.

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