Men and emotions is not something that western culture is overly comfortable with. As a result, men’s mental health is a major concern and requires action to ensure that men feel supported and safe to express themselves. Scope Psychologist, Tatum McGregor explores the story behind men and emotions, and discusses how we can all help.
Are men as emotional as females?
Men are just as emotional as females. The difference between emotion in males and females is not so much in whether or not they feel emotion, it is in the way that they show it. Men are less inclined to show emotion that they feel for fear that it will be viewed as a sign of weakness, they are more likely to suppress their feelings.
Why is there a stigma with men showing their emotions?
It has been identified that there is somewhat of a crisis of masculinity dominating western cultures. It’s the idea that to be a man is to be tough, to be strong, to be invulnerable, to be in control, to avoid feelings and so on. Men are more likely to suppress emotion, and this can then lead to more serious mental health issues.
This idea of what it means to be a man and its interference in help seeking was a key finding in a study from Beyond Blue and the Black Dog Institute, who researched the drivers behind men’s suicide attempts. In this particular study all of the men that were interviewed, spoke to growing up in a culture where the message was implicit that they should not be speaking about their feelings.
How can men feel more comfortable with displaying their emotions?
Talk therapy is more effective for females than males. Males are more likely to open up about how they are feeling and what they are thinking in a group setting, where the spotlight is not so much on the individual, and in an environment where physical or mental activity is involved. Providing the right environment for males to be more open about how they are feeling would encourage men to feel more comfortable in sharing their emotions and talking about how they are feeling.
Why is expressing emotions important for men’s mental health?
If we teach men to always be tough, to be stoic, to not show pain, it has an impact on men’s physical and emotional health, we limit men’s friendships with other men and women, we limit men’s relationships and we limit men’s participation in society. To limit men’s ability to talk about how they’re feeling is to interrupt their ability to seek help when they confront mental health challenges, or when they have suicidal thoughts.
Are there any other barriers for men seeking support that we should be aware of?
A large contributor to men not seeking help for mental health issues is the social emotion of shame. Shame can be defined as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Shame which leads to resistance in getting treatment/therapy because shame triggers feelings that are too threatening so the person doesn’t seek therapy or they don’t seek help. Male culture around seeking help would shame someone. Even if it’s not completely obvious to others, the individual would still internally feel that shame, and this prevents them from seeking help. They need that membership in the group/approval from their mates. Shame then triggers defence mechanisms such as rage, anger, substance use and dropout of treatment. Addictions become substitutes for relationships and a way to avoid intimacy and closeness to mask the lack of relational worth.
Looking out for each other
As parents, teach your sons that emotions are safe, healthy and a sign of strength. As partners and mates, ensure that the men in your lives have a comfortable environment where they can talk, without judgement. As a society, look out for the warning signs of emotional turmoil in men – don’t be afraid to ask if someone is okay. If you have any questions about men’s mental health, don’t hesitate to contact us.