Perspectives

The Epidemic of Numbness in Men

21 Dec, 2020

Many of us numb out to get through life, but with men in particular, this is an epidemic. It’s not just that we were never taught how to feel, but part of our fundamental programming was to numb out — if you fall down and skin your knee, you suck up your tears and rub some dirt on it. Numbing out is in fact, what we are taught in order to succeed. It’s considered a virtue, and it’s also a convenient strategy because we don’t feel pain. It totally works if life is about numbers, success and image, but if you have the desire for greater meaning and purpose, it will stifle you at every turn.  

Most men don’t even know they are numb.

The problem with numbness is you can’t see the threat. It’s like carbon monoxide poisoning — you can’t see it, smell it, or taste it, but it slowly kills you. Here are some signs that numbness has a hold on you:

  • Life is starting to feel a little pointless. You’re increasingly disengaged, apathetic, maybe even overly risk-taking. 
  • Your partner or family member complains constantly that you either don’t get how they are feeling, or can’t pinpoint how you are feeling. 
  • The only emotion you have access to is anger. 
  • You wake up with less than 7/10 excitement to get out of bed and start your day.  
  • You drink, use porn, smoke weed, or otherwise seek a kind of external jolt 5 out of 7 nights a week

Why should we learn to feel more?

We might not feel pain, but we’re also shitty at feeling pleasure. In fact, everything you can sense missing in your life, is on the other side of feeling. 

In order to take our lives to the next level – again, the next level of purpose, meaning and fulfillment – we have to build the willingness and dexterity of feeling, and whole-hearted authenticity. The whole process of growing in this way requires mutuality and participation. Put simply: we just can’t hide anymore.  

The problem with how we commonly try to fix it. 

The ways we commonly deal with numbness don’t work. 

We either try to get a jolt, through sex, porn, caffeine, alcohol or risk taking,  without realizing the ironic thing is, that if we have to reach for a jolt in order to feel, that’s a problem. Or we blame others and believe the stories we tell ourselves about the problem—if only our wife would put out, we wouldn’t need to reach for porn, if we weren’t so stressed about money, we wouldn’t have to have a glass of wine. 

The good news about being in this space and becoming aware of it is you know you’re ready for a transformation. For some, without a transformation, the status quo is unsustainable. 

So how do we start to solve this problem? 

  1. Build your feeling engine. Build your capacity to feel pain, depression and anger and hang out in the feeling, without moving onto thinking and building a story. We commonly dip into our feelings and then default to telling a story, because we want to escape them as quickly as possible, when all we have to do is actually get into our pain and feel it. Pro tip: instead of saying I am sad, try I am experiencing sadness. Be with the feelings, don’t be them. 
  2. Get clear on your numbing strategies and schedule fasting periods. If it’s porn, drinking, or zoning out on your computer — find ways to turn it off, starting with short periods of time. The phone is one of the ways I numb out, so I put it in a box every night. This means I’m forced to be with my own feelings at the end of the day. 
  3. Bestow what was withheld from you. A great way to do this is to volunteer for a cause greater than yourself. If you grew up poor and never had enough food, volunteer at a food bank. Find ways to give out what you didn’t get.
  4. Be accountable to someone outside yourself. Join a men’s group, get a coach, get support. 

If you want to reach the next level in your goal to live a life of real meaning and engagement, then turning numbing out into deep feeling is a sure-fire accelerator.