Real men don’t cry

The traditional masculine image of the self sufficient, tough, resilient man is deeply ingrained in society. Dominant social norms have a considerable impact on the way in which men interact with others, and how they view themselves. At school, boys are encouraged to develop in polarity to girls. As girls are expected to be more sympathetic and expressive, so – boys are discouraged from exhibiting such traits. Those that do are vulnerable to ridicule.

There are certain rules to being a man. Off the playing field, it can be difficult to equate emotion with masculinity. Beckham can cry – that’s okay. Gordon Brown – fair enough. But we need to know the facts – we need to understand the reasons behind the tears to determine if it’s justified. There must be a sliding scale or something. Someone dies – yeah, that’s okay. Relationship ends – hmm, grey area.

A few years ago, a reporter on the One Show took to the streets to ask women’s opinions on men crying in public. Back in the studio, one of the Nolans admitted that seeing a ‘real man’ cry causes her heart to break. So crying is okay for men, but the man either has to be a ‘real man’, or have a bloody good reason for blubbing. The reporter talked to a handful of women who said they found men who cry to be unattractive. A girl said she liked her ‘men to be men’. I found it all a bit depressing. 

I like to think I’m self-reliant. I’m stubborn, and I’ll attempt to find solutions myself before asking for any help. I’m loathed to admit that I fall into a cliché, but yeah – I’m a man, and I’m pretty sure I know best. Perhaps this is why men have been found to visit the doctor half as much as women. A survey by MIND found that less than a quarter of men would see their GP if they felt low for more than two weeks, and 35% of men consider counselling is only for “very serious problems”. When men do seek help, they are less likely to discuss emotional problems, focusing on physical issues instead.

I used to view having mental health problems as being indicative of weakness, and so being able to deal with things by myself reinforced my manliness. But it takes courage to ask for help. Being silent is not being strong. My first point of contact was my local GP, who was sympathetic and put my concerns into perspective. But I felt intimidated and a sense of alienation took hold. In my eyes, I was the only guy going through this, or there were others, and they were keeping quiet. I craved normality. I didn’t much like the idea of being seen as a madman. Accepting there’s a problem is daunting if you feel like you have no one to talk to, and frustrations can simmer, then boil over unexpectedly. For some men, a primal reaction to stress is to act out. Disruptive behaviour can turn abusive or self-destructive, and then the focus shifts, and the root of the problem is often overlooked. Some men react by stepping back from the limelight and withdrawing.

We are conditioned to behave in certain ways, and our peers, and the way in which we view the world reaffirm this. The portrayal of men in the media and the way in which we interact with other men compounds the notion that emotional or confessional conversations are somehow inappropriate. Talking may be considered more of a female trait, but that’s not to say men don’t connect, or develop meaningful relationships. It’s a commonly held myth that we are simply unable to communicate. We sometimes live up to the stereotype, but male friendships are unique, and it’s easy to dismiss them as lacking in depth. They can boost self-esteem, and provide focus and motivation. They’re often based around a group or a team activity, and create a sense of belonging, and a shared outlook – bonding through a mutual appreciation of something.

Men have different coping strategies for dealing with distress than women, and self-medicating with drugs and alcohol is more common. I went through a fair few years of doing this. In the end, although I found one to one counselling to be helpful, it was Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that really seemed to click. I was encouraged to look at my thought patterns, and how they contributed to my anxiety.

When treatments call for men to express their emotions, framing these emotions as an expansion of masculine traits can help aid progression. Men interact in a unique way, and therapies that focus on action and behaviour, and emphasise goals and outcomes, can sometimes be easier for us to engage with. Of course, this essentially is just the way we see ourselves as men, and how we are made to feel as men when faced with a problem. (*beats chest*) We need hugs sometimes. It’s good to talk about our feelings. But we’re complex, and this needs to be addressed.

The myth of the unemotional man is taken as a given, and so the onus is put on encouraging men to open up and get in touch with their feminine side. This does not take the subtleties of masculinity into consideration. Talking isn’t about getting in touch with your feminine side. Talking just makes sense, y’know? But, if services need to communicate in a way that is going to be receptive, then a rebranding is no bad thing. Equating talking with being brave, having the balls to get help – that’s a good thing.

In the past, my way of coping had been to keep quiet, and hold on. Sometimes it got too much – the phone call into the office explaining this week’s made up illness was taken at face value, but maintaining the façade of someone in control was problematic. Had I shared my concerns, I could have worked through them and found a solution. It’s a vicious circle – by holding everything in, the pressure builds. Any negative reactions you receive only compound the notion that it’s seemingly impossible to disclose any kind of vulnerability without appearing to be weak. But then you do tell someone – and it’s fine. It’s a relief.


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