Toxic masculinity is the new epidemic. With 75% of all suicides been carried out by men, and suicide as being the biggest killer for men under 50, whilst only seeing 36% of all NHS (Mental health referrals) as being men, there is clearly a problem at hand.
So, what is Toxic Masculinity?
Toxic Masculinity is defined by the New York Times (2019) as being: “a set of behaviours or beliefs that include suppressing emotions, masking distress, maintaining a hard façade or using violence to indicate power”.
The general consensus is that Toxic Masculinity is learned through society, their parenting, or more recently the effects of social media telling young men that showing emotion is a weakness.
The result? Another generation of men who rigidly believe that having emotions is bad – even worse, showing them.
How to know you’ve been affected?
Hands up if either you, or someone you know sounds like the aforementioned.
Men who haven’t cried in years, won’t cry at films, didn’t even cry when someone their loved ones passed away? I mean, there are many reasons why people DON’T cry, but to NEVER cry… this surely indicates there’s something’s awry with how that person is expressing their feelings. And that, on cue, makes me shed a tear.
Ever felt ashamed when crying in front of your partner because they’ll think you’re weak?
Ever avoided discussing how heartbroken you are with your friends post-breakup, and instead smiling, ‘focusing on the positive’, and just discussing your future romantic endeavours instead?
Ever held tears back in front of your child when watching a particularly sad film?
When you think about it, there’s actually no benefit or use to doing any of these things. The truth is you’ve been conditioned to resist your feelings in this way, and through conditioning, are now inundated with negative thoughts and images of how people will view you if you show feeling.
Which is one of the most inhumane things I have ever heard.
The Science Behind Feeling
Men are humans after all, and we are all equipped with a wide and complex array of emotional tools. These are for good reason and utility and give rise to a myriad of effective and adaptive behavioral responses.
Fear -> Run
Happiness -> Spend more time here
Grief -> You’ve lost something you love
What’s so bad about that? Emotions are here for a reason. They are tools for navigating the complex and tricky environment we find ourselves in, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling them and showing them. Evolution has given us this tool box; It’s what we are supposed to do.
So, what to do about it?
Well, in short, there is no easy answer for this. Men have been told to resist their feelings for many generations before now, and frankly this has hardly shown signs of slowing down. But certainly some things to consider would be:
For someone else:
Ask them about how they are feeling about a difficult topic. This ensures space to talk about more than just the practical aspects of the problem (e.g. “I’m moving out of my ex’s house on Tuesday and need to hire a van”).
…and into the really meaty (and often painful) part that they may have been avoiding opening up about:
…”And I’m scared they’re going to move on without me and I’ll never find someone else like them ever again”…
Because I can assure you, that second part is more than half the trouble, and it’s worth exploring that.
That man will thank you for that later. He needed it.
And, if you are a man who relates to what this blog has talked about so far as well, how about being open with yourself?
Buy yourself that journal and actually try writing down your thoughts and feelings about a given topic.
Describe how you think this is going to end up, how it’s made you feel about yourself, or where you wish you were right now. Become open and aware with yourself.
And for a bonus point, and I believe this is how we start to detoxify masculinity as a society, what about sharing that with a close friend? If you feel you can trust them. You might just be saving their life in the process as they realize they are not the only one who is suffering right now.
Which feeds straight into this last point. Perhaps changing the conversation for men is what we need:
Men speaking openly with their friends about how they really feel; even if it makes them feel vulnerable or feel silly or feel like a burden or feel like they’re weak.
Because the truth is, I’ve never heard of anything more courageous or brave in my life.
Toxic masculinity is rife and it has been for many generations. Unfortunately, this does not show any signs of slowing just yet.
Emotions are natural, useful, deeply ingrained and ultimately unsupressable. It is time we stopped pretending otherwise.
If you need help yourself or supporting someone else, then you should seriously consider reaching out for the support of a therapist. A therapist is trained to encourage you out of your shell in an environment which is safe, non-judgemental and supportive.
You can learn techniques for understanding the hows and the whys for your feelings, and ultimately learning to manage them in a useful and beneficial way. You are not alone in this and I am here to help.
So, if you have any questions or you feel ready to take the next step… get in touch today.