Men and Women: How Emotions Are Perceived
Male versus female: It's definitely a gender thing when it comes to showing one's feelings. Men tend to hold their feelings close and be stoic while women tend to express themselves more openly. The bottom line, experts say, is that males and females are hardwired to respond differently.
"Women are perceived as being more likely to verbalize their emotions and be attuned to the emotional meaning of a conversation or even just a look," says Dr. Scott Haltzman, Brown University psychiatry professor and the author of "Secrets of Happy Families."
"Men are more inclined to focus on using words, not as a tool to determine the emotionality of something, but to gather information."
MRI studies, Haltzman explains, also highlight the differences in men's and women's brains. When women hear emotionally charged words, the blood flow is increased both to the interpretive, or language, center of the brain and to the emotional center. When men hear the same words, the blood flow increases only in the language area. There's no change in the emotional center of the brain.
Women don't just emote more, but they are better able to interpret the emotional expressions of others, Haltzman says. "The question is, then, whether it's biological or learned?
"Biologically boys seem less inclined to maintain eye contact with others and to focus less on human faces," Haltzman says. "But a boy is raised differently from a girl, too. And as a complicating factor, there are different social expectations for boys and girls."
In general, boys are expected by their parents to be more capable of completing physical tasks while girls are expected to be able to talk more about their feelings and to use eye contact, Haltzman says.
Overall, women tend to be more expressive while a man stonewalls, says psychologist Karen Sherman, who specializes in relationships.. "Women have an easier time articulating their emotions, but when men do let out their emotions they tend to be more explosive," she explains.
Underlying brain differences may explain why men and women process their emotions so differently, says Dr. Srini Pillay, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. And even though both may feel the same about something, they show it differently. A woman may express feelings of sadness as depression, he explains, while a man may show anger when he is sad. "On the surface it may seem like they have very different takes on the situation," he says. "But they are really feeling quite similarly."
How to Respond to Your Partner Effectively
In an argument, instead of shouting that your significant other does not understand you, admit to each other that differences in showing emotions do exist, Dr. Pillay says. Use your words to share your own experiences. Encourage your significant other to do the same.
When a woman is hurt, she is likely to express it as anger, explains Dr. Leslie Sokol, Ph.d., co-author of "Think Confident, Be Confident." Instead of shutting down, think about what emotion you are trying to convey, and try to put it into words.
Women tend to get upset when men are not emotional about something, Sokol notes. "The fact that a man is showing no emotion over something can be upsetting," she says. "Remember, men have been socialized to behave differently." When they hold it in, don't automatically hold it against them.
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