When was the last time you saw a man really cry?
This was a topic raised in one of my men’s groups recently and most of the men (myself included) shared a feeling of discomfort when seeing another man cry.
I would rather walk around naked in public than cry in front of another man. In order for you to understand the magnitude of that statement you would have to know my feelings of inadequacy around my body but, that’s for another article.
When you look at the suicide stats among men and couple them with how men deal with emotions like grief, sorrow, and anxiety, one might draw an even scarier conclusion.
Is it possible that men would rather DIE than cry?
I’m not talking about those instances when a few tears manage to escape from his powerful grasp at his retirement party or his daughter’s wedding. I’m referring to those moments when it feels like his whole world has been ripped from him and he wants to just drop to the floor and let everything go…but he can’t…because he’s a man and he knows what that means.
- Real men are in control.
- Real men are self sufficient and don’t ask for help
- Real men don’t let the competition see them sweat
- Real men don’t cry
While many men will argue that these outdated mantras don’t exist in their belief systems, it’s been my experience with myself and the men I’ve worked with that thousands of years of conditioning doesn’t just disappear from the subconscious mind just because the conscious mind wants it to.
Often, when I’m coaching a man around his grief and he feels the tears surfacing, he will either warn me in advance that he’s getting emotional or he’ll apologize after, thereby confirming his belief that crying is something he shouldn’t be doing.
The feelings of helplessness during times of grief combined with the a subconscious belief that he must figure it out on his own leads to even more isolation.
Often he will see himself as one man against the world and his only options are fight or flight.
His “fight” may include aggression and violence, a new unhealthy love relationship, or unsafe casual sex, just to name a few. His “flight” response usually shows up as addictions or in worse cases, suicide.
The fact that male suicide outpaces the women by about a 4:1 ratio and that men are more likely to abuse illicit drugs and engage in addictive behavior points to a need for men to learn healthier ways to process emotions. I believe this has to begin with more men supporting each other.
We must let go of the notion that all men are our competition and shift our competitive nature into a team effort of raising each other up.
The state of relationships among men has reached a tipping point in our western culture. Our antiquated beliefs around competition, self sufficiency, and sexuality have brought us to this time where we’re dropping like flies and becoming addicted at epidemic levels. It’s time to let go of the self defeating bullshit and start supporting each other.
Men need men.
When I hear a client tell me his wife or girl friend is his best friend a red flag goes up. The dynamics between a man and a woman in a healthy relationship does not fulfill the needs of a complete man. This can only be done with the support of other men. In order to be the supportive man for a grieving brother here a few pointers we can take from the ladies.
- Improve your intuition. Start paying attention to the non-verbal communication of other men. If you see a friend doing more things alone this is a sign he may be trying to deal with some stuff on his own. If your gut is telling you something’s off but you can’t put your finger on it, trust that something is off.
- Acknowledge his pain. Let him know that you’re aware that he’s going through some stuff and leave it at that. A response from him isn’t necessary.
- Drop your shield first. If you’ve had a relatable experience, sometimes sharing yours along with the emotions you felt can open a door for him. You may want to share something that prompts your own tears. This may give him the implied consent he needs to shed his own.
- Hold space. Let him know he can trust you. Keep his stuff confidential.
- S.T.F.U. Sometimes just being quiet with some simple gestures is better than any words. Sitting quietly with another man is powerful and seldom practiced.
- Don’t be Mr. Fix-it. The last thing a man needs while he’s processing his grief is another man giving him advice. This only serves to make him feel less of a man. Keep your dialogue to questions and reflections.
- Be a man of service. This doesn’t mean making him feel more helpless by asking him what you can do for him. Pay attention and look for opportunities to help out with some minor tasks. If you see his grass getting a little high, mow his lawn while he’s away. Anything you can do without blowing your own horn or making him feel any more helpless is a good idea.
Understanding our role as men in 2018 can be challenging. The stone faced warriors who protected the tribe are no longer needed. Connecting with other conscious men and sharing fears, tears, and ideas can be the starting point of reclaiming a man’s identity.
Who knows…maybe one day, terms like “cry like a baby” and “cry like a little girl” will be joined by “cry like a man.” I’m not exactly sure how I feel about that but right now I like it better than creating a new phrase, “die like a man.” to describe suicide.
I guess that’s a good place to start.
Greg Boudle is a Men’s Recovery Life Coach, published author, and professional speaker.