Although a significant part of society embraces emotional expression, some still believe men should embody stoicism and suppress their emotions. However, research shows that developing EQ (emotional intelligence) is crucial for self-awareness and building healthier relationships.
We sat down with life coach James Traub, who specializes in the transformative power of embracing emotions to pursue a more fulfilling life. Join us as we uncover insights, challenges, and breakthroughs in this essential facet of personal development.
1. How did you become interested in working with men to develop EQ (emotional intelligence)?
In the summer of 2021, I found myself stressed out, burned out, suffering from chronic anxiety and digestive issues, and without a job. I took some time off from work to heal myself mentally and physically. At my wife’s suggestion, I began working with an emotionally-focused therapist (EFT) who offered Brainspotting.
EFT was a powerful experience that helped me reconnect to a depth of felt experience that I had become numb to. I experienced deep sadness and grief for the loss of my cousin, who had died several years prior. I explored the fear I felt around conflict, confrontation, and receiving negative feedback and how my attempts to avoid these things through perfectionism and people-pleasing were significant sources of stress in my life.
As I better understood the reasons for my behaviors and what my emotions told me, my heart began to soften, and a sense of self-compassion grew. And, as I began to feel more compassion towards myself, I also started to feel more compassion towards the people in my life that I had previously been ‘at war’ with–both at work and at home.
I realized that much of the tension and conflict I experienced at work (and what ultimately led to me being let go from my job) was caused by me and much of the unresolved ‘personal stuff’ I brought into my work. I saw a pattern of unhelpful behaviors stretching back through each job that got in the way of having open, honest communication and building strong, connected relationships.
At the end of our work together, my therapist encouraged me to share what I had learned with other men and suggested coaching as one possibility for doing so.
I wasn’t actively looking for a career change, but when I began to explore coaching programs, something deep within me began to stir. I felt a strong calling to support other men and help them to activate their hearts and discover the value of their emotions.
2. How do you work with men to enhance their emotional intelligence? How does that approach differ from working with a broader audience?
That’s the central question that needs an answer: Why should men care about emotional intelligence?
Many men have navigated their lives to the present moment without needing to understand what they’re feeling, what their emotions mean, or how to talk about what they’re feeling, needing, and wanting. Therefore, men are not usually very interested in cultivating emotional intelligence.
Given the choice of experiencing a situation emotionally or processing a situation logically, men almost always defer to the latter. And most men would surely tell you that approach has worked out quite well for them.
But, every so often, a man comes up against a situation that he can’t ‘think’ his way through. His mind runs in circles, unable to find a suitable solution, and this often causes him tremendous angst and frustration:
- Should I do what my boss is telling me to do or what I feel is the right thing to do?
- Should I get a divorce or try to improve things with my partner?
- Should I change careers and do something I love, or stay in this job for another 20 years until I retire?
- I’ve accomplished so much in my life, so why do I feel so lonely, unhappy, and dissatisfied?
These types of situations create an opening for talking about emotional intelligence. As soon as a man chooses to listen to his heart, questions he may have wrestled with for hours, days, weeks, or even years are often answered quickly and simply.
His heart knows what he should do, whether he has it in him to work on the relationship, give up on his dreams for job security, and understand why he feels lonely, unhappy, and unsatisfied. When a man’s head and heart finally become more integrated, his ability to understand and make decisions in the world rises to a new level.
I find that women are much more attuned to what their hearts tell them. Even if women don’t understand the specific meaning behind their emotions, they are willing to honor what ‘feels right’ and make decisions based on their intuition.
3. What are the unique challenges or barriers that men face when understanding and expressing their emotions?
Many men are not given the necessary tools, vocabulary, and knowledge to comprehend and convey their emotions. Popular culture further enforces the notion that men should not display emotions or that it is a desirable masculine trait to remain composed and avoid being overwhelmed by emotions.
Yet, as humans, we all feel.
When emotions come on strong, men who are unprepared and unskilled in working with this energy will often commit various forms of verbal, physical, and emotional abuse, either towards themselves or others.
Swept up in a wave of heavy and uncomfortable emotions, many men self-destruct (men represent 80% of all suicides in the US). And so, it can feel dangerous for men to explore their emotions. It may feel safer to leave those ‘things’ boxed up or stuffed away out of view.
And most men succeed in doing that until something falls apart. It’s usually their health, their relationship, or their job. These failures often force a man to finally get some help and begin examining what’s been going on in his inner world. That should be a good thing; however, now he’s being asked to do the difficult work of learning something new while in a crisis, and that’s hard.
4. What essential skills do you believe every man should cultivate to enhance their emotional intelligence?
All men would benefit from developing a practice around mindfulness and journaling. Mindfulness is helpful because it’s easy to get swept away by emotions, emotional reactivity, and rumination. Mindfulness helps you notice when you’re feeling ‘off’ what you are feeling and remember that emotions are simply messengers of met and unmet needs.
Journaling is helpful because it slows down the mind, encourages linear thinking, and allows you to examine your emotions in detail. My favorite practice is to journal using specific prompts, such as:
- What am I noticing in my body right now?
- What do I wish was different about this situation?
- What do I want more of right now?
- What am I wanting less of right now?
- Which of my needs are feeling unmet in this situation?
Whenever I notice that I’m holding onto difficult thoughts or emotions, I will grab my journal and use questions like these to better understand my experience, what it means, and what I can do about it.
5. Could you share some essential tools or techniques you use to help men develop their emotional intelligence?
There are three tools I find invaluable for helping men to appreciate the value and importance of emotions:
The Emotion-Sensation Wheel – This emotion wheel includes physical sensations in the outer ring, helping individuals to link what they are experiencing in their body and the present emotion.
The Wheel of Universal Human Needs – This wheel is invaluable for my work. Pick any challenging situation, past or present, and ask yourself: Which of these needs were unmet? Usually, two or three needs stand out as being the cause of your negative experience. From there, you can ask: And when my need was unmet, how did that make me feel? The Wheel of Universal Human Needs is a terrific tool for helping people link unmet needs and negative emotions.
The Meaning of Emotions – This table was revelatory for me. I had no idea that my emotions meant something so specific, nor that they each had a distinct ‘need’ to respond to. For example, I long believed that anger was dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. However, once I learned that anger meant one of my boundaries or values had been crossed, I could have a new (and much more helpful) relationship with this vital emotion.
6. What are some common misconceptions men have about emotional intelligence, and how do you address these misconceptions in your coaching?
One common misconception I see in both men and women is around anger. Nearly everyone has experienced some sort of verbal, physical, or emotional attack from someone who was ‘angry’. Many associate anger with ‘lashing out’ and become fearful of anger in themselves and others.
But anger is not aggression. People are often surprised to learn that anger (as an emotion) has nothing to do with hitting, kicking, yelling, or otherwise losing your temper.
Anger is an emotion that tells you one of your values or boundaries has been crossed (or encroached on). It is an energetic ‘No!’ that serves to re-establish protective space around your value or boundary. It’s an activated state that gives you the energy to take action despite fear or obstacles. All of that is good stuff!
There’s a big difference between being angry at someone and being angry with a particular action or behavior.
I address these misconceptions in my coaching by helping clients to see that emotions are not good or bad. Instead, emotions are just messengers of met and unmet needs. And that the information they contain is invaluable.
7. Why do you think it’s important for men to invest in understanding and managing their emotions? How does this benefit their personal and professional lives?
I believe the quality of our relationships largely determines the quality of our lives. Therefore, emotional intelligence is essential for creating deep, authentic, connected relationships with our significant other, friends, and colleagues.
When men have deep, connected relationships with other men, they can get the support (and challenge) they need to face their fears, grow in maturity, and unlock their greatest potential.
When men have deep, connected relationships with women, it keeps them connected to their humanity and fills them with creative energy. These relationships with women galvanize them to take action in pursuit of a worthy purpose while not losing sight of the need to bring love and compassion into his behaviors and activities in the world.
Without emotional intelligence, a man is often disconnected from his intuition, from true joy, and from a heartfelt sense of compassion for other people. He may enjoy ease, comfort, and material success but lack a profound sense of purpose and value.
Although they don’t talk about it much, many men struggle with questions around purpose and meaning. Their emotional world holds the answers to these more profound existential questions. Only when men find clarity on who they are, why they are here, and what their life is for will they be able to bring their greatest talents and gifts into their relationships, leadership, and work.
Living a more successful and satisfying life begins with this inward journey to better understand one’s emotional, spiritual, and philosophical world.
8. How does improved emotional intelligence benefit men’s intimate relationships?
I was recently listening to a podcast that characterized the great struggles in a man’s life as being his relationship with anger, fear, and sexual desire. When a man is unskilled at working with these energies, it holds him back, creates problems for him and others in his life, and stands in the way of realizing his greatest potential.
A man overcome with anger, fear, and uncontrollable sexual desire is not a safe man to be in an intimate relationship with. His thoughts, words, and behaviors will undermine his efforts to create trust, connection, and intimacy with his partner.
A man may become masterful at ‘sidestepping’ emotions — i.e., finding ways to distance, distract, and otherwise avoid feeling and expressing these emotions in their intensity. Though he may appear to be calm, secure, and self-assured, inside, he will be emotionally stifled and withdrawn.
His discomfort is not just with feeling ‘negative’ emotions but with ‘feeling’ in general. And this will stifle his ability to open up and share his inner world with his partner.
My favorite definition of intimacy is ‘into-me-you-see.’ The implications of being unable to explore, understand, and share your inner world should be clear.
There are many benefits to developing your emotional intelligence.
When a man has developed his emotional intelligence sufficiently, he recognizes that emotions are information. He becomes less interested in avoiding the discomfort of heavy emotions and more curious about why these emotions are arising. He can practice this with his own emotions first and, when his skill is developed, will also be able to help others to explore their own inner emotional landscape.
Such explorations help to bring each partner’s inner world to the surface, creating opportunities for greater understanding, kindness, compassion, and appreciation.
When conversations between partners focus on unmet needs and how each person can support the other in getting their needs met, negative emotions naturally decrease, and positive emotions naturally increase. Tension and conflict in the relationship tend to fall, and each partner feels more supported and accepted for who they are.
Addressing unmet needs enhances emotional intimacy, leading to greater physical intimacy, which is often very important for men. This can be the starting point for intimate communication between partners. A whole world of adventure and exploration opens once partners can connect and communicate with their heads and hearts.
9. How do you navigate cultural or societal expectations that might influence men’s attitudes toward emotional intelligence?
I appeal to the basic human nature common to all men, regardless of age, race, or culture of origin. The masculine archetypes that exist in the collective unconscious, as described and elaborated by C.G. Jung and Robert Moore are central to my coaching work.
I have found that the concepts of the King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover (as described in the book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette) resonate with men and help them to see their ability to ‘feel’ into life and unlock their most significant potential. These conversations are often a turning point in a man’s life. He places such significance on these blueprints that cultural and societal expectations become secondary and fade away.
10. What are the broader societal implications of men embracing and developing emotional intelligence?
We continue to live in a world dominated by patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse the ‘divine feminine’, not only in women, but also in men.
And it is this internal disconnect from an essential part of their own being–the part that keeps a man grounded in love, compassion, and his own humanity–that we see so much immature and unhealthy behavior acted out by men locally, nationally, and globally.
When men connect with their emotions, they reconnect with their basic humanity.
When men learn to have compassion, kindness, and understanding for themselves, they naturally extend compassion, kindness, and understanding to others.
Emotional intelligence is essential for relationship building.
Embracing emotional intelligence is not just an individual journey—it’s a societal shift. Men navigating the landscape of their emotions not only enhance their own lives but contribute to building more compassionate and empathetic communities. To get in touch with James Traub, or to learn more about his work, visit his website, sign up for his newsletter, or message him on LinkedIn.
If you want to explore therapy, our practice offers in-person appointments in Charlotte, NC, and Carefree, AZ. We also have virtual sessions available for those who live in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas. Contact us to get started.