Man up. Sack up. Don’t be a p*ssy. He’s all in his feelings. Fix up. Just firm it.
Where has this come from? Historically, within our various cultures, we have been told that we need to show strength to overcome the challenges that we, our families or even our ancestors experienced. We need to be strong so that we have a thick enough skin to navigate through the prejudices, pressures and challenges faced in everyday life. We’re raised to be strong because life is not easy, and presumably our parents think that they are doing right by their children to toughen them up. This is not a completely negative thing. Life is tough and we do need resilience to build a life for ourselves and deal with the rejections, obstacles and hostilities that are sometimes a part of life.
As a man, your childhood doesn’t last long. As soon as you hit puberty and start looking like a man, the world starts treating you like one. You are expected to ‘just get on’ with things, to ‘be strong’ so that you can take care of the people who need you (e.g. like Mumsie!). Again, this is not always a completely negative thing: it teaches you manners and to think about the needs of other people which is important for everyone.
However, when does that ‘toughness’ – to manage your mental health ‘like a man’ to keep moving forward- become so deeply part of who we are, that we don’t even know how to understand our own emotions? Or feel like a failure when our emotions become so overwhelming that we don’t know how to manage them anymore. That failure, essentially feeling that you are less of a man.
But are you? Having emotions- both positive and negative- is simply being human. Fear, anger, stress and sadness are all biologically imprinted because they act as a psychological warning to avoid things which could cause us harm, just like happiness, pleasure and love are there to guide us towards things which will help us to survive. Therefore, having emotions simply makes us a result of human evolution, so it cannot possibly make anyone less of a man.
So what about showing those emotions? That’s a little more tricky. Showing emotions is difficult for so many reasons.
Firstly, we’re not always shown how to express our emotions. How many dads do you know have cried in front of you? Or just get loud and angry, when actually they’re sad or scared? What about older brothers and cousins? Do they show you how they feel, or just keep their mask on? When you’ve not been shown how to talk about emotions or mental health, it can be difficult to know where to start. Just like if you’re never shown the alphabet, it would be difficult to read a book.
Secondly, a lot of us grow up in a context where you need to be tough. In London, a lot of us feel that you just have to present yourself as strong because it’s too much of a risk to be vulnerable. If you’re seen as physically or mentally weak, that’s a risk that you don’t want to take and a rep that you don’t want to make for yourself. Maybe wearing that mask all the time makes it difficult to take it off.
Thirdly, even if you knew how to talk, how do you know who to talk to? Most of our young men of black, Asian, Arab or mixed heritage don’t feel like they could talk to a family member due to lack of understanding of mental health, people being busy/ unavailable or simply that family members rely on them and so our young men don’t want to add to the burden. If you don’t talk to family, who do you talk to? Close friends, trusted colleagues or even a complete stranger (through social media or free helplines).
Benefits of talking to someone you know: they will care and will make you feel that your feelings are important and you’ve done the right thing by talking. They might also know a little about your situation and be able to give you a different perspective.
Benefits of talking to a stranger: they do not know anything about you, so you can say exactly how you feel without judgement and with no consequence.
Either way, talking about what you’re thinking or feeling is okay. It’s necessary. Holding things in, ignoring them, or focusing on them to the point of obsession will only drag you down. So, take that pressure off your shoulders to ‘man up’. Some of those messages you’ve been raised with are important and will help you be resilient when you need it, but you are biologically programmed to have emotions and you are allowed to show them.
Do not feel the need to ‘man up’ because we don’t want anyone in your life to be a man down. If you need to talk hit up the resources.