Mental Health and Masculinity
When I think about mental health and masculinity I can only think of a couple of words: fear and anger. Stick with me because I promise I have a reason to use those words specifically.
Let’s think about traditional masculinity for a moment.
Men are taught to be a lot of things: stoic, “tough as nails,” rough and tumble, rambunctious, takers of space; however, there are something things they’re not taught: empathy, being in touch with their emotions, physical touch without violence (oh he’s just being mean to you because he likes you, roughhousing, etc), non-sexual intimacy, etc. This combination is an incredibly toxic one as it sets so many men up to fail on a consistent basis.
This combination accompanied with societal pressures creates a vacuum which actually hurts men more than people realize. From a young age boys are socialized not to cry, to “conceal, don’t feel” (thanks, Frozen), to be physically aggressive when expressing affection (again, he’s just being mean to you because he likes you), so is this the reason men have such a fear of receiving mental health assistance. My sweeping assumption is yes even though it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Social conditioning when we’re young plays a massive part in this thanks to how differently adults raise girls and boys. Girls are able to be more free, have fun, experience and understand their emotions, be platonically intimate, physical without being physically violent, and navigate the spectrum of human emotions while men often (to quote Hermione Granger) have the emotional range of a teaspoon. Boys are socialized to stop showing emotion, be “strong,” not express emotions unless it’s some huge sporting event (of which I’m guilty…when Germany was knocked out of the 2018 World Cup in the group stage [for the first time ever] I cried at a local brewery) and this harms them down the road because they don’t understand how to deal with people who have been able to express the full range of emotions (i.e. women).
Which is where my personal experience comes into play and changes things. I’m an out gay man; that allows me a bit more…I guess we could call it liberty…when it comes to mental health. Too many stereotypes exist about the queer community but we also have even more emotional trauma to unpack thanks to even more societal prejudices/homophobia; yet, it feels more common for gay men to seek mental help than straight men. Why is that? What is stopping straight men from seeking help and unpacking unhealthy socialization?
Those two words I mentioned earlier: fear and anger.
For many people there is a massive fear of the unknown and what is incredibly unknown to many men? Most of the emotional spectrum. I truly think there is a fear in trying to understand how men can be happy and sad and angry and stubborn and vivacious and elated and depressed and anxious because men would see that as being viewed as weak, which is a massive fear of traditional masculinity. Weakness is unacceptable; weakness is to be a “beta” rather than an “alpha;” weakness makes one less attractive. This is not only a myth, but it’s entirely untrue.
We’ve all heard of men calling their ex-girlfriends crazy, but what if we take a step back from that and try to understand why men think that way? Maybe those women aren’t crazy; maybe those men aren’t used to/willing to/able to deal with people (again, specifically women in this example) who are able to understand and express a full range of emotions, which means it comes back on men more than women because we have to change the way the next generation learns about themselves.
Emotions can seem scary, but that doesn’t mean they’re something to be afraid of. I was so angry for over 12 years to where when I was finally able to let that go it left a hole inside of me that I didn’t know what to do with. As men, we’re less equipped which means we’re more fearful of diving into ourselves and trying to understand what’s going on inside. That doesn’t have to be our fate forever, though. We can decide to step forward instead of stand still. We can decide to take an active role in our lives and help ourselves.
Getting help with our mental health isn’t something to be ashamed of nor afraid of. A common reaction is to lash out, but why go back to that anger born from fear? I can honestly say having a therapist has been the best choice I’ve ever made for myself…even if I didn’t fully make it myself. See, I had 2 *terrible* experiences with guys back to back which sent me into a spiral because it’d been close to a decade since I’d had a romantic relationship. I was hurting and angry and lashing out and depressed, but a friend finally sent me to his therapist and I can’t thank him enough for that. We’re worth seeking help. We’re worth having a range of emotions. We’re worth more than the limitations society places upon us.
To whoever is reading this who needs to hear it: you can cry. You can be upset. It’s ok to hurt and not be physically reactionary. Our mental health is important and, as someone who has needed that help before, it’s worth it. I haven’t dealt with my parent’s divorce, coming out, suicidal thoughts, severe depression and anxiety, and an inability to share that for someone else to go through the same experience.
Everyone should go see a therapist and there is nothing wrong with it. I promise. The work I’ve accomplished and the growth I’ve experienced is worth more than its weight in gold, so don’t wait. As Lorėal says…because you’re worth it. I promise.
The author of this blog has requested he remain anonymous because of the disclosure of suicidal tendencies.