Passionate Restraint

One of the most pervasive gender-based stereotypes relates to emotion.  As I discussed in my blog “Women on a High Wire,” the idea that women are more emotional than men leads people to the conclusion that women do not make good leaders. As most gender-based stereotypes, there is a corresponding stereotype related to men.

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This male stereotype is often called “passionate restraint” which is the ability to control the amount and timing of expressing emotion. Passionate restraint is different from being inexpressive. For example, passionate restraint is when a man tears up slightly versus actually crying. Research shows that when men hesitate or pause before responding, they are considered more emotionally competent and more intelligent, which aligns to the Western ideal of emotional restraint (Hess, David, & Hareli, 2016; MacArthur & Shields, 2015).

For men and women, the ability to pause before responding gives us the ability to ensure that we respond from a place of authenticity and a level of appropriateness to the situation.  However, the intention behind the pause is matters.  If the pause is done to manipulate the situation or comes from a place that is not in alignment with our values and beliefs, it will have the opposite effect of what we want it to have.  A mindful pause may only be a millisecond or two and not perceptible to anyone but you. But a mindful pause may be the single most important thing you can do to improve relationships, communication and the quality of your decisions.

When you are living in the moment, you are experiencing the world as it is right now.  Not from the filter of past experiences or concern about the future.  Many of our automatic, inappropriate emotional responses come from our past experiences that we are projecting into the present situation.  We may not even be aware what is going on.

As you build your attention muscle to be in the present, you begin to see that a pause is built into the way you see the world.  You move from an automatic reaction to assessing how to respond based on what is happening right now. The other great benefit of being in the moment is that many people notice that they experience more positive experiences than negative and see the world through this filter.   


Hess, Ursula, David, Shlomo, & Hareli, Shlomo (2016). Emotional Restraint is Good for Men only: The influence of Emotional Restraint on Perceptions of Competence. Emotion, 16(2), 203-213.

MacArthur, H. J., & Shields, S. A. (2015). There’s no crying in baseball, or is there? Male athletes, tears, and masculinity in North America. Emotion Review, 7, 39-46.


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