Okay, so it’s time to talk about men, masculinity and crying. I recently came across this video (1) from the Man Up campaign via the Suicide Awareness/Prevention Facebook page (2). In principle, I have no issue with the video or campaign. However, I simply wish to extend the conversation.
Male suicide is a massive problem. I recently saw a very alarming figure that in Australia, people dying from intentional self harm in 2017 had risen by 9.1% from the previous year (3). Males represented 75% of all self-harm deaths, and suicide ranked as the tenth leading cause of death in males (Australian Bureau of Statistics).
But, this is despite campaigns and awareness strategies similar to that above running for well over a decade now. So, why isn’t working? Why are rates increasing despite our attempts to encourage men to share their feelings and cry?
To assume that men don’t cry is really quite ridiculous. It’s just that men generally don’t cry as much, and when they do it’s most often by themselves or in a closed environment with trusted company, or it’s over something impersonal or detached.
I mean, heck. Watching the final scene of Love Actually where the young boy Sam rushes into his father’s arms at the airport, I’m Niagara Falls. But, it’s safe. Impersonal. As opposed to when my Mother passed away, or when my business was on the verge of bankruptcy some twenty years ago, now those tears I wanted to conceal.
But, why? And is that wrong?
I see a lot in the media about how “men should open up more, become more vulnerable, share their feelings more, cry more”. However, I’m not in favour of this narrative. I actually think it’s as harmful as spouting “real men don’t cry”. Why? Because, it’s telling men that their natural or instinctive behaviour is wrong. And in my view, it’s society’s perception of men’s behaviour that needs to change rather than men’s behaviour itself.
Let me explain…
As a coach for men and boys, I would never force or even encourage a man to share his feelings unless he wanted to. Why? For a masculine man, vulnerability is not his natural place of existence.
Vulnerability stems from feminine energy, not masculine. And yes, we all have both energies within us, but most (not all) men have a genetic disposition towards the masculine, as women do the feminine. So, for a man to share his feelings and become vulnerable does not usually come naturally. It’s hard, even courageous. Men don’t connect with their feelings well, and often find it hard to articulate and even understand how they actually feel. This is the reason men will often release emotional pain through benign mediums (e.g. a movie) or express themselves when they’re doing other things. It removes the pressure to ‘get it right’ and allows him to interrupt, distract or pace himself using whatever else he might be doing as a fallback or excuse.
Some might argue that this is a societal construct. I don’t believe so. Although the Nature vs Nurture debate seems far from resolution, there is plenty of evidence to support that, in general, male and female brain anatomy and functioning differ. Reactions to emotional stimuli are not the same. So, I reject claims that a man’s limitation when it comes to emotional processing is primarily due to life experiences. Evolution is the major player.
A man’s natural purpose, by and large, has been to serve and protect – his family, his wealth, his name, his community, his country and so on. This is instinctive for a masculine man. But vulnerability, although necessary, is a chink in a man’s armour. It exposes his weakness to possible adversaries. And this is why a masculine man, the protector, resists becoming vulnerable unless he has absolute trust in his environment. It may appear ‘old school’ or perhaps even medieval to some, but this is millenniums of engrained patterning at a molecular level. Given the right environment, maybe it could change, but it would take many thousands of years again.
So, does this mean men should not open up or cry?
Absolutely not. Like everyone, men need the space to share their emotions. All of us, as humans, need to shed and offload things that trouble and worry us. This is a must for our sustainable growth, health and wellbeing.
What needs to change?
Perception. That is all.
It’s not that ‘Big Boys Don’t Cry’ or that ‘Big Boys Do Cry’. It’s that ‘Big Boys Don’t Have to Cry’. And men should not be made wrong for guarding their feelings, just as they shouldn’t for sharing them. Nor should they be forced to exercise these behaviours if it’s not what they want to do.
However, it is true that society has unfairly judged men or perhaps men’s masculinity and strength when it comes to expressing emotion. It’s this that definitely needs to change – the expectation of how men should be. Expressing emotion is not masculine. That is a fact. But, it no way makes a man less of a man. It makes him more. Much more.
My message to men
Never be afraid to visit your vulnerability and don’t judge other men, fathers, sons and brothers for visiting theirs. Remember, you were given both masculine and feminine energies for a reason. The masculine to protect, the feminine to connect. You don’t have to live in the feminine. You don’t have to be vulnerable for long. Just visit when you need. And if you require some help to connect and articulate what you’re feeling, seek out a coach, counsellor or therapist. You will become a far stronger and healthier man for doing so.
As a life coach for men and boys, I’m always available to help. Please contact me through my EQ profile – https://www.emotiquo.com/user/jon.barratt/
A final word (and watch)
Please watch this second video below (4). And in the context of this article, take note of many of the circumstances under which these men have shed their tears.