Written by Spirit and Business coach Paul Silva
Strong and silent.
Boys don’t cry.
Men are inundated with ideals about what it means to “be a man”. It’s engrained in us from a young age, with grown-ups telling us to stop crying, to being corralled into sports or other traditional male interests, and/or to being told to “man up”.
We internalize this dialogue as we grow up and before we know it, we’ve internalized it and suppressed our emotions because it’s seen as being weak to be vulnerable.
We also hear things like “don’t be so gay,” or “stop being a pussy” as if being compared to a gay man or a woman (via slur) is a put down. What this tells us is that we’re superior, somehow, and yet we feel anything but. We’re lost in our own mess of manhood and what that means.
There are many reasons why men suffer in silence – unhealthy societal expectations, upbringing, peer pressure, still-open wounds, past retribution or shaming for opening up, etc. but the endgame is the same – men don’t feel seen, heard or valued.
Many take their lives because of this, with men’s suicide rates three times that of women, with rates of those aged over 65 climbing.
Men hear statements like “men have had their turn already”, “men cause all the problems, so they should solve them”, “men are trash”, etc. and then we wonder why we hold it all in.
We propagate this problem by denying men safe places to talk, to feel and express sadness or anger, by passing on our limiting beliefs to growing boys, and downplaying the severity of men’s mental health and wellness.
On social media, men are shamed for their bodies, what wages they earn (or don’t earn), they are scrutinized for what they offer rather than for who they are, and they are blamed for all of society’s ills.
On TV, think of the countless (older) sitcoms and other shows where men are shown to be the childish, fumbling idiots (think Homer Simpson, Al Bundy, Doug Heffernen, Tim Taylor, etc.) who don’t do housework or aren’t much involved in their kids’ lives, and who need to be “saved” by their level-headed, intelligent, and practically-minded wives.
Chris Rock once stated in his stand-up comedy: “Only women, children, and dogs are loved unconditionally…a man is only loved under the condition that he provide something. I’ve never heard a woman in my life say, ‘You know, after he got laid off, we got so much closer.’ After all, when a man meets someone new, his friends ask, ‘What does she look like?’ When a woman meets someone new, her friends ask, ‘What does he do?’”
When this talk of men’s issues is brought up, it is often invalidated by comparing how women have it harder, how members of the LGBTQ+ have it harder, how BIPOC have it harder, etc. I say that we can acknowledge those other group struggles as well (and they are valid, of course), and still talk about men.
It doesn’t have to be either or. When we distract or deflect, we lose the focus on helping men. In fact, how powerful would it be to have men of all kinds to support those other groups? But we need men to heal themselves first.
Men don’t seek community the way that women and other groups seek out community. Women seek out others who struggle the way they struggle. They look to share and lean on and into other women. They feel safe, heard and not alone.
This is something men avoid, traditionally. A boys’ night out is the closest many of us have had to nurturing strong, emotional connections with other men. We’ve been taught not to bother others, to fix our own issues and to be strong. We don’t want to look “bad” in front of other men. And yet we all struggle in similar ways.
What if we could reach out to one another and be the support and get supported so that we can grow, heal, and pass that onto the next generations?
It’s a tall order…but it’s happening.
A few years ago, I checked Meetup for men’s groups here in Toronto. All I found was a group for men who were falsely accused of sexual assault.
That was it. And there were four members.
It was a sad to see that on that being falsely accused of sexual assault was the only way that men could congregate and commiserate.
Today, it’s much different. You will find groups for Black men, men mentoring other men, men fellowship groups, and many more. (There’s even a group for Bisexual men who line dance!) They are coming together, knowing that they matter, that they can help others while being supported at the same time.
Men are starting to realize that they don’t have to suffer alone.
When men can see that their wounds are holding them back, that they need not be defined by societal standards, that much of what they’ve been taught is BS, and that they are just as valuable as anyone else, then they can grow into the healthy, beautiful, powerful and valuable people they were created to be.
Men are responsible for their own healing, but they need to know that it’s safe and that they will be heard. Seeing other men doing the work is often the best way to bring them out of their shells.
Therefore it’s vital that other men speak up on behalf of other men.
When I write or talk about men’s issues, almost all the responses come from women. Where are the men? When men can stand up and share their stories, they become more powerful. Other men can take inspiration and strength from hearing other dudes sharing.
Here are five ways that you can help and support the men in your life open up:
- Provide a safe space for him to talk – don’t rush it. Don’t force him to talk. Don’t stare him down. Women often enjoy that eye-to-eye connection, but most men don’t. Sit sideways from them – men open up more that way. Let him know that you’re there to listen.
- Let him talk – sometimes we are quick to defend ourselves, to cast a judgement, to attack, etc. Let the man talk. Let him finish his thoughts. Men get frustrated when they’re interrupted and will shut down when they don’t feel heard. Actively listen and hold back your thoughts until he’s finished.
- Mirror back what he said – before you share your thoughts, let him know he was heard. Repeat back what you heard. Ask for clarification on things you didn’t pick up. When men know that they are heard, they are open to more discussion. Men are more sensitive to being shut down or misinterpreted.
- Don’t weaponize his words – when men feel like their words are being used against them, or their words are being distorted and purposely misunderstood, they will clam up. This is not a time to bring up past hurts or to martyr yourself at his feet.
- Validate and acknowledge their feelings – thank him for sharing, even if it’s not how you would share. He’s not you. Men like to please, and if they see that you are grateful for him opening up, they will do it more often. Don’t dismiss or cut down their feelings. Give him breathing room and let him know that perhaps you have felt the same, or that what he’s feeling is normal.
And for the men, remember that there is nothing wrong with you. You are worthy of love and attention. Your feelings and mental health are no less important than anyone else’s.
Reach out. Talk to your partner, family, friends or therapist. You need not be a lone wolf, because in nature, lone wolves die.
They need the pack to survive.
Paul Silva is a Spirit and Business coach who works with soul-steered entrepreneurs who want to build their business, their message, their connection and their confidence. He works with individuals as well, primarily men, to help them through challenging life transitions. A former pro chef for 25 years and man in recovery from addiction for over 10 years, Paul now works to help others reach their goals, through the eyes of spirituality and mindset. He lives in Toronto.