[TRIGGER WARNING || This post does mention suicide/self harm. If this is something that is a trigger to you, please move away from this post. Take Care. Stay safe ]
Throughout my childhood I was consistently told “boys don’t cry” or that boys were strong and tough, and only girls got upset. It’s here, in childhood, that the stigma of men or boys showing any sort of emotion that might display “weakness” is stigmatised. It creates this barrier in our heads, an emotional barrier telling us that if we display emotions like fear, or if we cry, then we are weak. Then we create this self sabotaging stigma towards our own mental health that tells us “we’re not supposed to feel this way”, as if our emotions or feelings are unnatural, because we are men.
In the long run this isn’t healthy. You bottle up emotions for too long and they’re going to have to come out sometime. Whilst I’m no doctor, it wouldn’t surprise me if this accounted for the rates in men’s anxiety and depression.
Is “Boys don’t cry” a generational thing now?
I was brought up by my Nan and Granddad until I was 10 (then he left.. still in contact) but I never saw my “dad” cry until I was 12 when his daughter (my auntie) passed away and I never saw him cry again until his sister passed away a few years back which did hit him quite hard. But even through the deaths of his mother and his two other sisters he remained emotionless – to us anyway.
I don’t blame my “dad” for bringing me up this way, or giving me the view that men have to be emotionally strong, it was what he was taught, and in the 90’s things were obviously a little bit different. But it did have an impact.
For years I’d bottle my emotions up, and brush them off because I didn’t want to be seen as weak or sensitive. Then when my depression hit in my late teens/early twenties, the only way I managed to get out of it was to actually feel what I was feeling. I realise I made that sound easy but it took me years of work and getting over multiple suicide attempts to actually make it back onto the right path.
My first attempt at 18 sent me spiralling down a path I don’t want to re-visit. My second attempt was only a few days later and whilst I knew I needed help, I didn’t how to get help and was worried how I’d be seen by other people. It took years of work, ups and downs. Years of self hatred, and self reflection just to dig myself out of that depressive hole.
Now self reflection is part of my daily life.
Emotions don’t scare me, I’m not afraid to show my emotions anymore. If I need to cry, I’ll cry – sometimes I even encourage it when I’m feeling a bit blocked – those military homecoming videos get me every time… or Billy Elliot. My mental health is no longer stigmatised by myself.
I used to be trapped in this emotional cycle, of bottling it all up, then unexpectedly releasing it all at once. I was an emotional ticking time bomb. At any moment I’d be hit with every emotion under the sun and it wasn’t a pretty sight. These days, with a lot of self reflection I deal with them as I feel them. If I’m sad I figure out why I’m sad, and I do the same with every other emotion. If I can understand why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling, then I can do something to help myself.
During this lockdown I’ve found my anxiety creeping back in, and I get it, I’m trapped in a house, I can’t continue with my normal routine as I usually would and Miss Rona’s been a bit of a bitch, so it’s only natural that I’d be feeling anxious about going to places with loads of people, or going back to work e.t.c.
What I want to see now is boys being brought up, being told it’s okay to feel what they feel. I find it more emotionally empowering being able to show my emotions and be okay with that, than bottling them up. That doesn’t mean I walk down the street crying my eyes out, or that I’m anymore sensitive than anyone else, but I now have the ability to actually control my emotions, and use them constructively rather than having no control whatsoever.
There shouldn’t be this stigma behind men’s mental health, it’s degrading and can be dangerous – there’s a reason that men’s suicide rates have been higher for the last 30 years. I honestly believe if we get rid of this notion that men shouldn’t feel anything, that rate could potentially drop. [they currently take up 3 quarters of all suicides in the UK and have done since the 1990’s]
Take care, stay safe.
James. aka Anothermaleblogger.