In our couples workshops we touch on how difficult it can be for many men to be aware of what emotions or feelings they do have – and even less aware or confident in how to share those emotions with another person. Think about it: what messages does society instill in men from a very early age? You likely don’t have to reach very far to recall messages you may have heard even as a young child. Messages like ‘be a man,’ ‘don’t cry,’ ‘man up,’ ‘you’re acting like a girl,’ and on and on. Toxic messages like these may have been said flippantly at the time, but the reality for many men is these messages became imbedded and forever shaped how they approach emotions, express those emotions, and even how they talk about their inner struggles with others. How they internalize and deal (or don’t deal) with their emotions can leave lasting effects on not only themselves, but their relationships and families.
If this is the message that many men have been fed over the years, it’s no wonder that when depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and other mental health concerns are experienced, they often suffer in silence. It’s never been okay, normal, or perhaps even safe to express what they are feeling, much less disclose the extent of their inner struggles. For many men, admitting anything around mental health can be viewed as weak, let alone the embarrassment they may feel at reaching out for help from a counselor or a physician, or even telling their significant others or family members.
It’s also likely that by avoiding a conversation about mental health or acknowledging their struggles, men may present their symptoms in other ways. For example, anger, aggressiveness or lashing out can often be a more socially accepted manner for a male to express emotion than sadness, crying or softer emotions might be. I know it was true for the man I referenced earlier: he shared he is often misunderstood for his responses and rarely if ever questioned about what he might really be feeling or working through. It’s not that we love when men are easily angered, yell or express more volatile emotions – but the reality is that sometimes we expect – or even excuse – these kinds of emotions more often than we can accept the softer emotions from a male.