Australian psychologist and parenting guru Steve Biddulph, the best-selling author of the book “Raising Boys: Why Boys Are Different — and How to Help Them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men,” writes that boys need to experience certain rites of passage. If they don’t, they may be more prone to feelings of sadness as adults, as well as disappointment and inadequacy.
Sadness and depression sometimes get confused. Sadness is the emotion that follows a disappointing, upsetting, or hurtful experience. When we resolve the hurt, our sadness fades and life goes on. Sadness always occurs because of something, but this isn’t always the case with depression.
Depression is a mental illness that can occur independently of the triggers that may spark sadness. It affects every aspect of life. It is energy draining, confidence sapping, and bleak.
Men can experience both sadness and depression, but sadness in men is not often discussed. And father-son relationships can be one of seven key issues for discussion when examining reasons why men might be sad.
Biddulph estimates that about a third of men don't talk to their fathers, a third do talk but mostly in confrontational ways, and another third do communicate, but in ways that tend to avoid emotions like discussing the merits of one engine over another.** Seven key issues in men's sadness1. Forgiveness.** Sometimes helping curb sadness between fathers and sons is about a son forgiving the fact that a father is a fallible and flawed human. With luck this can be achieved while the father is still alive, leading to a deeper relationship, but even if he isn't, some resolution might be found.
2. Kindness. Men do have a need to nurture, even though our society does not often express or accept that. The most obvious way is to become an active father and role model. Kindness is an important component and there are many ways other than parenthood for men to nurture.
3. Sexuality. Male sexuality is a complex business. Many men think about sex often but feel unfulfilled. Discussing how to feel more comfortable and fulfilled with sexuality can be helpful.
4. Communication. Communication can be difficult for men, especially those brought up with the male ideal of staying quiet and dealing with whatever bothers them. The inability to articulate feelings leads to bottling up of emotions. It can be a huge relief to find other men willing to express emotions and it gives permission for a man to do the same.
5. Asking for help. All men need help from other men at key moments. This can be particularly important during the initiation to manhood. Adult males can be powerful role models in this regard and are important in the development of self-esteem.
6. Life purpose. There's a difference between making a living and finding work that's fulfilling. Not believing in work can be frustrating and depressing. Sometimes it can be helpful to support changing jobs, for instance. Sometimes it can be helpful to point out the positive effects a man’s existing job is having.
7. Spirituality. Biddulph writes that men require a spiritual aspect to life that frees them from dependency on others, reconnects them with nature, and generates more energy. A personal sense of control, whether found through religion or some combination of actions that lead to a sense of fulfilment and contentment, is a vital component.
The things that affect men are often quite similar to women of course, but there are differences. As previously mentioned, we all tend to feel sad about something, but pinning down that something when it follows us into adulthood and coming to terms with it can often be an important step in relieving sadness.
Biddulph, S. (2010) Raising Boys (3rd ed.) why boys are different – and how to help them become happy and well-balanced men. Harper Thorsons.
Biddulph, S. (2015) Manhood. Vermilion.
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Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry's clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.