Men are Not MachinesMay 31, 2022 08:00AM ● By Leah Martinson
Though there are many men’s health topics from which to choose, the one that is largely ignored and undervalued by our society and culture is mental health. It seems we have an underground epidemic of suppressing and ignoring the emotional needs of men. In our culture, we expect men to be strong, silently carry emotional burdens, support and protect their families and loved ones, and do it all without wavering or showing any signs of anguish, no matter how heavy things get. We allow for and even encourage anger in men, but there are a variety of other emotions that men also experience. Not allowing space for and supporting men’s emotions is a serious problem as men are not machines—they are human, too.
Lately, a term that has become commonplace is “toxic masculinity”. There is often confusion about what this term means which has led to grouping all men into one big category and labeling them as toxic. It’s not the men that are toxic—it’s our collective suppression of the natural, human aspect of men that includes having emotions.
The Good Men Project defines toxic masculinity as a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which the status as “man” can be taken away.
Defining manhood in terms of aggression and violence has also led to alarming rates of depression and suicide in men: 75 percent of those who die by suicide are men. The leading cause of death in men is the entanglement of depression and suicide. This comes before heart disease, accidents and cancer.
Though we have made progress around normalizing emotions and seeking support for mental and emotional help, there is still taboo around this, especially for men. Because men have been forced to suppress their emotions, we have made the collective mistake in developing a belief that men do not have emotions. This belief and pressure on men to keep their feelings hidden has contributed greatly to the mental health crisis we are currently experiencing.
The truth is, men need permission to be vulnerable also. Men experience sadness, anguish, fear, grief, excitement, joy, passion, love and all of the other emotions that are part of the human experience. For some reason though, we expect men to keep them all under wraps and maintain a collected exterior regardless of what’s going on inside. Unless of course, it is an outward demonstration of anger and aggression, then it is acceptable.
Many of us would like the individuals that identify as male in our lives to show more emotion, yet at the same time, we may struggle with holding space for their emotional experiences because of the deep societal and cultural programming we have received around men not having or needing to express emotions. There needs to be a paradigm shift around how we view vulnerability and show our emotions. Thanks to the work of social science qualitative research warriors like Brene Brown, this paradigm shift does seem to be in progress. We need to ensure this shift includes men’s experiences of emotions and allowing them to be vulnerable. We have historically viewed vulnerability as weakness and yet the research shows us over and over again how much strength it takes to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
The medicine needed to heal this epidemic is an all-hands-on-deck approach. We need to come together as a collective to first give men permission to be the vulnerable emotional humans they truly are. We then need to learn how to hold space for them while they learn to practice shedding their armor and sharing what is really going on inside. This is much easier said than done.
Some of us already know how to do this in some capacity—we do it in our mom’s groups, women’s circles, in therapy, with coaches and in our close friendships. Those of us who are embracing emotions, practicing vulnerability, and speaking out about mental and emotional health did not learn how to do this overnight. It takes willingness, practice and dedication.
Luckily, the skills are all transferable; the gap we need to bridge is bringing to the forefront of our minds over and over again that men have feelings, too. The more we embrace this truth and keep it at a conscious level, the more we will be able to allow men to express how they feel. Men’s expressions of emotion will likely continue to look different than that of women’s, but that does not make it any less valid or less necessary for improving men’s well-being.
Leah Martinson is a board-certified health and wellness coach, licensed massage therapist, reiki practitioner and owner of Visionairium, in Minneapolis. She enjoys helping individuals connect to their heart center and heal unresolved emotions so they can experience optimal health. Just in time for Father’s Day, she is offering a special that includes three coaching sessions for $300 (normally $375) or a coaching and massage session for $200 (normally $250). For more information or to book an appointment, visit Visionairium.com.
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