Emotionally Shut Down Men

photo by me

photo by me

Today I felt the most shut down I’ve felt in months. I mean super shut down (due to a combination of factors and triggers). I’m mostly on the other side now, but I had to go work with myself in nature for a bit. Thank God I have incredible tools. *relief*. The feeling of being shut down is strangely comfortable even though it’s also miserable at the same time. Comfortable because I spent many, many years, very shut down and emotionally jammed up and I’m simply used to it. Miserable because of the impact on those I love the most—my wife, kids, and myself. The misery is palpable. When I used to be shut down, like I was today, I don’t even want to be inside my skin. My face is tight and hurts. My affect is flat, numb, non-respondent. My mind is muted and distant. It’s like a deadzone and I’m far away, hard to reach.

Back in the day, shut down was my go-to emotional state. And, since I had no idea how to really deal with myself, I would just go drink, get high, jerk off, or go do some extreme sport to take the edge off. I never dealt. My girlfriends at the time probably made it about them. I’m guessing I did too.

The saddest part of this is how many men are completely shut down, day after day after day. Like my former self, they have no tools. They have no support. Many don’t even know that it could be different. Their conditioning has imprisoned them. And, the ones that do want help, might not seek support because that’s fucking weak. Then, these angry, shut down men get blamed, shamed, and made wrong by many of us do-gooders. “Why are men today so….?” Or “Men are so ________.” I have to look at the ways I have colluded with the machine around how men are “made” (i.e. indoctrinated), into manhood. Where have I participated in stuffing them in an outdated gender box? People so want men to get their shit together and deal, but what if those same people trained them to be this way? What if we are the ones who sent them the mixed messages as a boy about how to be. So, next time you find yourself judging some shutdown jerk-male like I used to be (or was today), take a closer look. He’s probably in severe pain and has no idea how to get out. Blame and shame put him further inside with a shorter fuse. Like a scared little boy, the dude needs boundaries, compassion, understanding, and listening. Then perhaps, once he’s open and listening, he needs a loving kick in the ass from trusted sources.

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  • Kirk

    Reply Reply July 16, 2013

    Well said.

    In the past, ‘veg out’ was a constant part of my vocabulary. Compulsive reading, video games, movies and porn served as my escape, ultimately doing additional harm on top of the issue from which I was seeking relief.

    Even though I’ve come a long way and rarely use those words now, I fall into the same trap from time to time. Thanks for sharing, for encourage me to look again within.

  • Riesah

    Reply Reply August 11, 2013

    Dear Jayson,

    I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your courage and honesty. Truly, this is how you have become the fine leader you are, the man other men can go to to learn from. Your willingness to go deep, to say how it really is without any bs is so refreshing and heartwarming to me, a woman, a person.

    With gratitude,


  • Grumble

    Reply Reply October 28, 2013

    Hi Jayson,

    Read your post and thought you may be the right person to ask this. MY BF has shut down. We had a great relationship, he is a good guy, truly. He is ACOA and in AA (11 years sober). He said, “everything was good and then a light switch went off and I stopped feeling the same for you and I’ve shut down” – I am gutted. We were getting closer and closer and the last month I can see now that he was nitpicking, and we had a big argument about my jealousy. I honestly believe he was in love with me and can’t handle it and I triggered him of his past trauma in that argument. He genuinelly has no idea what’s happened. He is going to a therapist, more AA meetings, talking to his sponsor every day. He knows this is his issues, says it’s nothing to do with me and that he just can’t be emotionally there until he figures his stuff out. I know he cares deeply for me but my insecurity is about “I feel differently” for you. Is this something you’ve been through? What can I expect?

    • Jayson

      Reply Reply October 29, 2013

      he’s simply scared. it’s his to face. nothing you can do but love him. if you don’t feel him reciprocate over time, move on. get curious about all the ways you get scared too and work on those in yourself.

      • Grumble

        Reply Reply November 1, 2013

        Thank you for your response Jayson. The trauma he’s had in his life is awful and I just want to hold him close. I know I cannot fix him, but it’s hard to stand back when he’s excluded me from his life – hopefully for now. I will wait and I know there are no guarantees and I’m working on my stuff – including vulnerability and not being reactionary. This is my journey too. I love your blog/site. It’s very insightful.

  • joanna

    Reply Reply March 4, 2014

    i need help, my boyfriend who i love very much is emotionally shut down from years of having no support system, no close relationships, no one to talk to. i want to be there to help him open up, because hes been this way for so long he knows no other way to be. its very hard on our relationship and on him. i just want to be able to help him open up, i need to learn the skills and tools to assist him in change.

    • Jayson

      Reply Reply March 5, 2014

      it’s not your job to change him. perhaps it’s time to love yourself enough and move on.

    • Jayson

      Reply Reply March 5, 2014

      can i use your comment to do a video on the subject?

    • Eliza

      Reply Reply August 29, 2014

      been there. walk away. it’s not your work to do. if he’s not willing or able to to do the work you can’t support or force or cajole, etc …

      in fact I think it’s a “needs to hit bottom” first usually. let him falter. it’s sad but I’ve proved it over and over in my relationships. I’m done trying.

  • denise

    Reply Reply March 11, 2015

    how to let a man know you are there for him. to help him break down his walls. and that i do deserve him. (he thinks i deserve better than him because he is sick eyc)

  • Juana

    Reply Reply May 5, 2015

    I recently break up with my two-year BF. I broke the relationship because we had a huge argument and took a week to think things…. After that week I told him I needed more from him, less barriers, less shutdown… More commitment… His answer was ” You know what you want from the relationship… I don’t know… I need time to think what I want, to live what I haven’t lived for two years and to figure out if you are THE ONE”…. I’m heart broken since I invested a lot in the relationship and the worst is that I feel that there is no real closure… Its open for him to come back… And I don’t know how to start walking away without expecting him to come back any time… I just want to move on and be happy again

  • christina

    Reply Reply May 26, 2015

    Hi Jayson, I enjoy your insight! Have you considered or come across any work with men who suffer, or rather their partner suffers, with High Functioning Asperger’s? These men look great on the surface, usually smart, holding a technical job such as engineer or IT. They are very devoted to their mothers although you won’t generally see any affection between them. They are very likable because they usually don’t have an ego. Although there are some that will not hold a job, most are very provisionary and hyper responsible. He will typically not be a goal setter. Once he has attained his dream job he will settle in for life. He will typically have one obsessive interest that can be anything he latched onto as a boy. And he will spend exorbitant amounts of time on it to the detriment of his relationships. You will feel like a compartmentalised addendum to his world and not part of a whole. Chances are he cannot read nonverbal communication, will not mature sexually beyond adolescence and suffer lifelong premature ejaculation and be perfectly alright with it if you never say anything. He can be kind or fly off the handle at the slightest trigger. He may not have an inner world of imagination, creativity or even dreams. He prefers his life secure and controlled and doesn’t handle change well at all. He lives in a glass ball that you can never enter and you will lose all colour in your world. Research Casaundra Syndrome and Asperger’s for more information. It will usually take a woman years to come to this realization. By then you have built a life with him and birthed his children. You cannot just walk away from it all, though every day you will wish you had.

  • Malin

    Reply Reply October 8, 2015

    ahhh.. so good to read about this from a mans perspective!!
    Me and my boyfriend is now in our 15th month together, and he’s been shutting down more and more for the last 6 months.
    Just got your first advice e-mail, and part of me know and agree with what you write, but it’s SO hard to do it!! My body is screaming for something to change. I think that for love to last over time, something has to be done. It doesn’t happen all by itself. But men in general seems to be unvilling to lift a finger to change anything about their behaviour or do even the smallest thing that doesn’t come completely natural to them..

    It’s super hard for me to withdraw my energy and my focus on him, when all my alarmclocsk are going off because of abandoment traumas. But I know that’s one thing -I- need to do here, for sure…I just really wish we could work together..
    Is it only us women who is going to do the work, is what I wonder… Is it always us who has to walk first, and clear out the dirt, and then wait to see if they’ll come crawling after?

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