Contra Costa Men’s Center  eNews

  The “Feelings” Toolkit:

An Essential Guide for Guys, Part 2

By Steven Freemire, MFT, CCMC Director

Winter/Spring 2014


Just as every skilled carpenter needs a well-stocked toolkit, boys and men need a “feelings” toolkit to lead healthy and productive lives. In a prior article, CCMC provided Part I of an “Instruction Manual” on how to identify what we are feeling using our body sensations and thoughts.

In Part 2, CCMC provides tools for managing our emotions. 

The “Feelings” Toolkit: An Essential Guide for Guys, Part 2

10 Concrete Tools To Put Directly Into Practice!

Managing Our Emotions: In Part 1, we identified the four primary emotions – sad, mad, glad and afraid – and provided tips for identifying those emotions. Once we know what we are feeling, the secret to managing our emotions is having the tools to regulate them. To find that article, go to and click on the "Articles" tab.

Here are 10 concrete tips for guys to help us handle our emotions. These include and go beyond the tools offered in the book, The Emotional Toolkit. 

  1. 1.When “Time Outs” are a Good Thing: If something upsets you so much that you can’t think straight or you want to punch a hole in the wall, Taking a Time Out is sometimes the best and perhaps only way to calm down. In his research on couples, psychologist John Gottman found that when one partner’s heartbeats per minute exceeded 100, he or she could no longer hear what the other person was saying. 

Action Step: Tell the person, “I need to take a 30-minute break. I will be ready to talk then.” It is essential to say when you will return to resume the conversation; otherwise, if you just stalk off, that is a form of control called stonewalling. During the “Time Out,” do things that soothe you and remember that the other person cares about you. 

2. Examine the many “Faces” of Anger: For many guys there is a “feelings hierarchy.” Anger is seen as manly; sadness and fear are not. Embarrassment and shame are not. Men often find it easier to be angry than to show other emotions that make us feel weak or inadequate. As a result, some boys and men always seem angry because that’s the only feeling that is safe to reveal. 

Action Step: Using our feelings toolkit, guys can learn to scan for these other emotions by asking themselves:

* Is there fear or sadness underneath the anger?

* Am I blaming others when I really feel embarrassed or inadequate?

  1. *If I am truly angry about a wrong that I feel has been done to me, what is the most  

   effective way for me to communicate that?  

3. When We Feel Criticized, Focus on the Feelings Not Just the Facts: Guys often are quick to defend ourselves when we feel wrongly accused. We immediately want to use the facts, and show how we are right and the other person is wrong. Sometimes we even stop listening because we are rehearsing what we want to say in response. The sad truth is that, even if you “win” the argument, you lose the goodwill in the relationship, and the love and respect of the other person. So you actually “Lose.” 

Action Steps:

A. Give yourself a moment to identify what you are feeling. If you are hurt by an unfair accusation, say that you feel hurt instead of going on the offensive to contest the facts. 

B. Often there is at least a grain of truth in what is being said. Start by validating the other person’s point of view. “I see how you felt I was disrespectful when I didn’t call about being late.” Men resist this step because it seems like we are agreeing with the other person and we will lose the argument.  Actually, it makes people feel we have heard them, and they become MORE open to what we want to say to them after that. 

C. Go on to explain yourself if you feel you were misunderstood. “I thought I was going to make it on time, and then when I was in traffic, I didn’t want to make myself even later by pulling over to call you.” 

4. Restrain the impulse to “Fix It”! When others want to talk about upsetting experiences, it can be hard for guys to listen patiently. For one, many guys haven’t been encouraged to talk to others when we are upset, so we may have trouble listening to others when they are upset. We may even be uncomfortable because we see it as being “needy” and asking for pity. Second, when guys are told about a problem, we instinctively want to fix it. And guys can feel very confused if our ideas for fixing it aren’t welcome because our intention is to help. What most people need first is validation of their concern and some sympathy. 

Action Step: If a friend complains about being treated badly at work, we may have ideas for them on how to handle that better.  Instead, offer validation and sympathy. “That does sound like you were mistreated. I’m sorry that happened to you.”  Action Step: If you are not sure what the person wants from you, ASK!

* "Are you just wanting me to hear you out about this?"

* "Do you want ideas on how to handle the situation?"

* "Is there something you want me to do about it?" 

5. Make a Request Rather Than a Complaint. We all have needs we would like met, and sometimes feel disappointed when they aren’t. For example, our kids may forget to do chores when they are supposed to. While yelling or complaining may seem like the only thing that gets us heard, complaining is an indication of how powerless we feel, whereas making a straightforward request is a powerful action. 

Action Step: Rather than complain, say how it makes you feel (frustrated, disappointed, disrespected) and make a concrete request (i.e., I need you to pick up your clothes in the next hour). 

6. When you know you have said or done something to cause hurt or injury, take steps to repair ASAP. Putting out small fires goes a long way toward preventing big fires. Guys sometimes find it hard to admit fault because we may feel it shows us to be incompetent or inadequate. Quite the opposite, it will show caring for the person. 

Action Step: If appropriate, make an apology. Here’s the recipe:

A. I’m sorry for ______.

B. I know what I did was wrong (Say what you know was wrong).

C. Here’s what I will do differently in the future (This part is key). 

7. If you are the injured party, consider the gravity of the “crime” in deciding how to respond. In some cases, it might make more sense to just “let it go” and give the other person the benefit of the doubt (they are tired, out of sorts, etc.). If we are showing anger at every slight we experience, it becomes a little like “crying wolf.” But "letting it go" won't solve anything if you will end up feeling resentful. So if it’s a bigger hurt or something that happens regularly, then address it directly. 

Action Step: State your feelings as an "I Statement" if you feel deeply hurt or offended and ask them to take responsibility for their actions. For example: "I felt hurt when you made that decision without getting my input. I need to know you get how disrespectful that is. I want your promise that next time you'll check with me before going forward." 

8. If you are feeling out of sorts, consider letting that be known. Guys often try to override feelings and stay on task. But sometimes our moods are visible without us even realizing it. Letting others know what is going on can help the other person not take it personally and think they have caused your bad mood. 

Action Step: Try out saying, “It’s been a stressful day and I’m feeling grouchy. Just thought I'd tell you. And I want you to know it’s nothing you’ve said or done.” Or, if asked “What’s wrong?” don’t say “Nothing.” Better to say what’s on your mind. 

9. Use Your Words! Tell others you appreciate them. Traditionally, men showed love through actions (i.e., providing for the family, fighting for our country or our principles). But others may find it very moving to hear words of appreciation directly. In fact, research has shown that in strong marriages there is approximately a 5:1 ratio of positive comments and behaviors to negative ones. Guys whose dads used "tough love" and tried to motivate them by pointing out their failings may not find it natural to compliment their spouse, children or co-workers routinely. Telling others how much they matter to you not only will make them feel good, it will make you feel better about yourself as well. 

Action Step: Express words of appreciation and gratitude rather than just feeling them internally. Offer a compliment that is specific and concrete:

* “What a great dinner you made!”

* “That meant a lot to me that you went out of your way to give me a ride.”

* “I’m so impressed with how well you handled that with your mom.”

* “I’m really grateful to have you in my life.”

* "I love you." 

10. Let Out The Joy! Saying the words is important! At the same time, when it comes to communicating our feelings and attitudes, only 7% is conveyed by the words we use. 38% comes through in the tone of our voice and 55% through the expression on our faces.* For guys, sometimes even our best attempts to tell others how much we care may not feel convincing if we are too restrained in our way of expressing it. 

Action Step: It's not about changing who you are, but expanding a bit. Try stretching yourself when you are expressing your delight in something you are doing or in someone you are with. Show it in the enthusiasm in your voice, the energy in your eyes, the power of your smile, It may feel awkward, as though you are "not being yourself," but you may find it's really worth it by helping others see the strength of your positive feelings. 

Start practicing these skills! Improving our skills in handling emotions is no different than becoming proficient in hitting a baseball, building a piece of furniture or tuning up a bike. All take practice. 

Take Action! The most important step you can take is to start using these tools. Many guys are shy about trying out new behaviors before we feel confident we can do them well. Mastery follows practice, so the confidence will come from practicing the skills. Having the courage to take that first step in becoming more conversant with our feelings and in using the tools to help us manage them is essential. Used effectively, our “feelings” toolkit will help us reduce the amount of time difficult emotions exist and to decrease the stress that may accompany them. 


*Mininni, Darlene, PhD, The Emotional Toolkit, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2005.

*Mehrabian, Albert, PhD, Nonverbal Communication, Aldine Transaction, 2007 (and other 

  books and writings by him). 

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