The Silent Type? You Don't Say

Much has been made of the male penchant for silence: the awkwardnessat expressing emotions, the unwillingness to sit around and gab. Now,however, there's a word for it: alexithymia. Alexithymia is "the inability to identify and articulate one's ownemotions," and is a common disorder affecting men today. So saysMassachusetts-based psychologist Ronald F. Levant, co-author of thenew book Masculinity Reconstructed: Changing the Rules of Manhood-- at Work, in Relationships, and in Family Life (Dutton, 308pages, $22.95). The term was coined in 1967, says Levant. "It was originally used ina much more clinical context, to refer to patients who had severepost-traumatic stress disorder, severe psychological problems, andchemical dependencies. But through my work and research it has becomeapparent to me that a mild to moderate form of it is very widespreadamong men." Example: if you ask a man how he felt about some event, he's liableto say something like, "I don't know. I think I must have felt upset.Yeah, that's it: upset." Whereas a woman, says Levant, can easilyidentify layer after layer of her own emotions. According to Levant, that isn't what nature intended. "Males start off in life more emotional than females. Moments afterbirth they tend to be more fussy and cry more often. At six monthsand one year, males exhibit far more emotions." What happens to change that? The male-role socialization process, bywhich society lets boys know they should be stoic and aggressive."One series of studies looked at four- and six-year-old children, andfound that at four there was no difference between boys and girls intheir expression of emotions, but by six the little boys have becomestone-faced," says Levant. The good news: alexithymia seems to be less common amongtwentysomethings than among slightly older men, perhaps because ofless rigid male-role socialization. The other good news: men withalexithymia can overcome it, Levant reports. His book outlines aprogram by which men can build a vocabulary of emotions, and canlearn to correlate a physical indication of emotion (grinding teeth,trouble breathing) with the emotion itself.

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