Imagine you walk into a bar one night and you see two guys sitting with each other at the bar. One is obviously struggling with something emotional and is crying, while the other places his hand on the man's shoulder and tries to comfort him. Have you witnessed that scene before? Probably not. Instead, you're more likely to see two guys sitting next to each other each staring straight forward (or at the game on the TV). They may be talking, but they probably aren't making eye contact. And, they definitely aren't talking about anything too personal.
Now, take that same scenario and replace it with women. You're a lot more likely to see that happen. Why do men seem to struggle with emotions? As a man, how are you supposed to get emotional support from your male friends?
Before I dive too far into this topic I want to address what might have some of your blood boiling at this point. I know not all men struggle with emotions. I also know that not all women are emotional. I'm not trying to step on anyone's toes or play too much off of the gender stereotypes. But, as a man, I know that this is a common issue that we face. If you want more information on the struggle with masculinity and gender roles, you can watch my interview with Vikie Shanks.
Why do men struggle to show emotion with each other?
When I started to be more open about my struggles with my mental health, most of the guys in my life didn't know how to respond. I felt as though they were thinking things like, "Are you a sissy?" and "What's wrong with you?" I half expected that response so it didn't destroy me.
But over time, they started to come around. The more vocal I was about my experiences, the more comfortable the guys in my life became with it, as well. In fact, some of them even started coming to me for advice on their own situations. So, why do men struggle with the "emotional stuff"?
Men need to learn to overcome the belief that they need to hide their emotions.
Men are raised to believe that "boys don't cry." When young girls cry, they tend to be comforted either by parents or each other. When young boys cry, they are told to "suck it up," "tough it out," and "walk it off." Simply put, boys are supposed to be tough. We are taught to push the pain aside, bury it deep, or ignore it completely. And, whatever you do, don't let other boys see you cry.
This belief makes it very difficult for men to ask for help. Women get frustrated because men won't stop to ask for direction when they're lost, but it's because we're afraid of looking weak, like we couldn't figure it out. We would rather drive around for hours in circles than walk in a store and let another man know that we don't know what we're doing.
So, just think of how much this is multiplied when we're talking about emotions. It's a struggle between our mental health and masculinity.
Why men need to overcome this belief
If a man doesn't know how to handle his own emotions he certainly doesn't know how to help out a buddy that's talking about an issue. The uncomfortableness sets in and it becomes a lot easier to make a joke and tease them than to sit and talk openly with them. Men need to learn to overcome the belief that they need to hide their emotions. Here are some negative side effects of doing that:
- Feelings of shame for your emotions, thinking you're the only person that's struggling.
- Increased use of substances like alcohol and drugs in an effort to numb the pain.
- Episodes of anxiety or depression.
- Increased chances of developing insomnia, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, headaches, and digestive issues.
- Barriers in relationships with family and friends.
Men are also more likely to die by suicide. I can't help but think that if more men knew how to handle their emotions and get support (or give support) this statistic could change. Freedom comes from being able to get all those emotions out. It comes at the risk of being called a "sissy" or worse, but the reward is so much greater than the risk. You need to learn how to get support from your male friends. Female friends are great, but just like women understand things about other women that men will never be able to fully understand, men have unique issues.
How to get emotional support from other men
If you want to talk to a woman about emotional situations, she's usually up for it. With men, it's a little more complicated. It doesn't have to stay that way. Here are some tips on getting emotional support from your male friends:
- Find an activity. Men tend to connect with friends through activity, not sitting and having a long conversation. It might be playing sports together, being in a band together, or working on a car. Guys like to be doing something. So, if you want to talk to one of your buddies about something emotional, find a way to start talking with them while "doing" something you both enjoy. It might turn into a long conversation, but it's easier to break it in sessions when your hands are busy with something.
- Sit around a campfire. Put a group of men around at a campfire when the darkness of the night can protect them from their own vulnerability, and they start to open up with each other. Everyone stares at the fire so you don't have the pressure of eyes being on you.
- Keep your words simple. Trying to figure out what to say can be the hardest part. If you are talking with a trusted friend, then just say it how it is. Don't worry about the words. Just say something.
- Ask for help. This is another area where men and women are different. Sometimes women just want to be heard. Men, on the other hand, have a hard time just hearing something because we tend to be doers. So, if there is a way that your friend can help you, ask him! When you tell him what it is you need him to do he's likely to be more than willing to do it. But, if you don't have a specific ask he might struggle to know how to respond.
Just take the first step
The bottom line is, you need your friends and the support they can offer. You might have a few uncomfortable conversations in the beginning, but stick with it. The more you share, the easier it will become for you and your friends. You can help them to open up, as well. This is what friends are for.
Keep in mind that if you are struggling with your mental health, sometimes you need more than just a friend to help you along the way. Don't be afraid to reach out to a licensed therapist to assist you on your road to recovery.
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