Man up? How society affects men’s mental health. Psychotherapy in London
How does society influence men’s mental health?
This has been fantastic in bringing greater awareness to men’s mental health. Phrases like ‘man up’, however, still exist.
‘Man up’, ‘grow some balls’ and similar expressions reinforce the ideas that masculinity means being able to withstand discomfort or pain, and that courage, bravery and resilience are male-only qualities.
These attitudes are damaging to men, their loved ones, and society.
First of all though, lets look at pain…
How does emotional/psychological pain or trauma manifest?
Historical pain and trauma is usually buried deeply in the mind/body, hidden away out of conscious awareness.
Pain and trauma projects itself both inwards and outwards. It can projects inwards as a dissociative ‘numbing out’ with alcohol or addictive behaviours (sex addiction, drug addiction etc), or depression, anxiety or eating disorders.
It can project outwards in the form of aggression, and/or controlling or manipulative behaviours.
Pain and trauma manifests in a multitude of ways, but generally as patterns of behaviour that render life unhappy, difficult, unfulfilling and painful.
So why not just ‘man up’?
Bracing against pain generally creates tension and brittleness. This is as true of the emotional or psychological as it is the physical.
Bottled up emotions create a pressurised, destructive force that turn inwards, outwards or both.
Therefore, if we develop the ability to recognise when our internal forces are being destructive, we can effectively prevent such damage.
Martial Artist Bruce Lee’s advice was ‘be water, my friend’. He taught the wisdom of remaining flexible in response to one’s surroundings. Crucially, this means being able to be soft as well as hard. Lee understood that practicing such skills enhances mastery of mind, and body.
Does talking about how I feel make me less of a man?
‘Masculine’ qualities of strength, decisiveness, courage etc are useful and important to all humans. However, the unwise application of such qualities can undermine strength, rather than maintain it. Sun Tzu, the 5th century Chinese General, and author of The Art of War said that one of the five essentials for victory is “knowing when to fight and when not to fight”.
Masculine and feminine qualities exist within all of us. These qualities have nothing to do with our bodies, or gender. We can see such qualities when we explore the self in a safe and trusting space. This does not mean suddenly trading our lumberjack shirts in for a pair of high heels. Although for some of course, it might.
In this famous Monty Python lumberjack song, the singer’s fellow men are so appalled by his confessions that they run away. The lumberjack is baffled as to why his sharing the joys of cross dressing AND being a lumberjack have been so badly received. His female companion cries out “I thought you were so rugged‘, bitterly disappointed at his hapless confession.
Clearly, he is left wondering…Is it not acceptable to enjoy both?
The lumberjack song is over 40 years old, and it is still seems funny to see a traditionally ‘male’ man unselfconsciously explore a different, more ‘feminine’ side of himself. We now have artists like Grayson Perry and Eddie Izzard proving that it is possible to be at ease moving between different aspects of their own male and female identities. They remain in the minority. Most men still fear ridicule and rejection if they choose to step outside of imagined boundaries of acceptability. These boundaries are created by society and enforced by self. They form prison walls that crush creativity, authenticity and true spirit.
And to be clear. The issue here is not just about transvestism. It is about feeling able to honour whatever is within; with self-compassion, and self-acceptance.
How can psychotherapy help?
Seeking support is a proactive and responsive way of acknowledging pain and discomfort. Not everyone wants to be like the lumberjack in the Monty Python video. Not everyone feels safe to stand in front of work colleagues or a partner to explore their deepest needs, fears, or hopes. Sometimes it’s safer to explore with someone who you don’t know socially. Someone you feel confident won’t judge.
A broken ankle might mean a visit to A&E to get a cast. A cast helps to hold, and contain such brittleness whilst new pathways are developed. With such support, flexibility, and a deeper, more integrated strength can be developed.
Psychotherapy works in much the same way. It is an opportunity to heal and to grow. It’s an opportunity for men’s mental health to be just as important as their physical health.
How can I find out more?
I offer a free 15 minute telephone or Skype/VSee consultation if you would like to discuss whether my work might be relevant to you. I’m based in Harley St, in London W1, but work internationally via Skype/VSee. Please get in touch now!
Image of Jon Gee courtesy of Bernardo Conti
This article is dedicated to the memory of Sophie Emma Rose. A true adventurer and journeywoman.