You often think that ‘tough love’ is the way to go. You are afraid of being too indulgent or soft. “Suck it up” is a common style of communication when it comes to feeling down, frustrated or anxious. Am I right?
I was recently watching a BBC Sports series called ‘Man Up,’ which is a round table of male athletes speaking candidly about their struggles with mental health. When I look at the men in my own life, both in my past and present, I notice so much pain under that strong and tough exterior.
It is no surprise that you struggle to express yourself.
Why? Because growing up you were not encouraged to do so. If all your life you’ve been told “don’t cry, be a big boy, stop whining, grow some balls” and if your father and your father’s father were all told the same thing, it’s imprinted in you to believe that the world would fall apart if you become “emotional.” A dear guy friend of mine who is going through a very difficult cancer treatment once told me “you know, I just have to grin and bear it.” It summed it all up.
Men push down their emotions and in my experience they either implode or explode. I know I’m grossly simplifying it, but it helps me make sense of things. Some men implode meaning they self harm, or resort to drugs and alcohol, or isolate and become depressed. Other men explode, and they tend to have tempers, or be adrenaline-seeking, getting themselves injured, and they’re likely to play contact sports or end up in the military to have some form of outlet for all their unresolved pain, anger and hurt. Many men do a bit of both.
Thanks to all the awareness-raising that has been happening, thanks to men and women speaking up, thanks to all the fathers and mothers wanting to do better by their children, men are beginning to heal and break the cycle of emotional suffocation.
How can you heal?
It’s not for me to say what your healing journey “should” look like. But I would like to offer a few tools for the road:
- Feel your feelings: You can’t face yourself, your past and your emotions, if you don’t know what to do with all that comes up. You need to learn to feel your feelings and name them. A good book for this I highly recommend especially for men is called Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett.
- Turn back the clock: Acknowledge the pain of your past, whether it’s the pain of childhood, experiencing adverse events, or having gone through tough times. This is the hardest part, actually facing it all. I highly recommend a documentary called The Wisdom of Trauma to better understand the impact of your past on your mind.
- Get support: Men need men in their lives that support them. I am talking about the kind of friends, brothers, fathers, uncles, spiritual mentors, coaches, AA sponsors and so on, who you know you can go to with any problem, who won’t judge you, will offer you a couch to sleep on, who won’t make you numb your pain but instead offer you love and support.
- Heal your body: All that pent up anger, all those unresolved moments of grief and sadness and anxiety you faced in your past, you carry in your body, literally. Ever notice gut problems, tight shoulders, closed fist, clenched teeth at night, headaches, low energy? After you’ve gone through a medical check-up and dealt with whatever is causing these symptoms, please remember to continue to work out what psychological experiences contributed to these symptoms in the first place. A great book I recommend is The body keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk.
- Do therapy. An excellent podcast episode I recently listened to which focuses on enhancing performance and reducing anxiety which I think speaks particularly well to men is episode #521 on the Tim Ferriss show.
Please speak up, please express yourself, and please keep healing. The more you do, the better of a world it will be for the next generation of boys and men.
Dr. Ava Ghasemi (Holdich) is a licensed Psychologist with 11 years experience in the U.S., Canada and the Middle East. She has a practice of individual and couples therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.