Behind the Mask of Macho Men
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Dr. Sidrah Muntaha, Chartered Clinical Psychologist, DClinPych, CPsychol, AFBPsS
7th November, 2013
“Only Girls Cry!”
Are you a man who thinks it’s weak to cry? Do you find yourself bottling things up until you explode at the traffic warden?
Well, if the answer is yes, you are by no means alone.
Unfortunately, society does not make it easy for a man to show his vulnerabilities. On the contrary, we are surrounded by narratives of strong men. Whether from religious texts, historic accounts or television programmes, we hear about strong men who fought battles, who saved lives and who, throughout the ages, carved their names in history. Even little boys from a very young age are discouraged from crying and given messages to be strong, confident and assertive.
Behind the Macho Mask
How often do we hear of men who were brave enough to confront their fears? Or a courageous man who was able to handle the pain and intensity of addressing early emotional trauma? In fact, of all the men who believe that therapy is for the ‘weak’, how many would be able to handle exploring some of the most painful parts of their lives? Probably not many, because of course behind that macho mask is a small, frightened and vulnerable little boy that they may be ashamed of. And when we are ashamed about parts of ourselves, what do we often do? We bury it, we avoid it…. and sometimes without even knowing we are doing it, we ridicule those who remind us of it.
Buried Emotions & Destructive Behaviour
Although rates of depression are lower in men, the rates of completed suicide are higher in men than women. Men are likely to engage in high risk behaviour, gambling, substance misuse and become perpetrators of domestic violence when struggling with mental health issues and early trauma. Instead of seeking help, or even talking to a friend (as women are more likely to do), men find other ways of releasing their feelings.
For some, this can be done healthily through regular exercise, boxing, martial arts and other competitive sports. However, for many men, unfortunately, these emotions are released in destructive ways; towards their families, friends and even colleagues. These destructive behaviours may not necessarily be physical, and may not even be consciously carried out. When we need to suppress our own ‘weaknesses’ we often try to enhance our strength through influence and power over others.
Some men will try to control others through intimidation or manipulation. They may behave coldly, withholding love and affection or withdraw completely from those around them. For some, the destructive behaviour may even escalate to physical aggression such as throwing objects, destroying other people’s belongings, becoming verbally abusive or making threats.
Man in the Mirror
Whatever strategies used by those who wish to distract themselves from their own pain, sooner or later, every man has to face himself in the mirror. At that point, the guilt and shame, combined with the pain of early childhood difficulties can feel overwhelming. However, there are many services available, some specifically for men by men. If you are willing to seek psychological help, it can make a big difference to how you strong you feel within yourself.
Meanwhile, if you are a man who finds it hard to seek help, or to attend to your emotional needs, here are some practical tips to help you take care of yourself.
SELF CARE TIPS:
- Do some kind of exercise regularly. This could be going to the gym, going swimming, playing badminton etc. Remind yourself that this is YOUR TIME, needed to preserve your mental and physical health.
- Take time out during your work day to have breaks. Try to go out of the office even for 10 minutes each day.
- Make an effort to remain in touch with good friends.
- If you are worried or upset about something, try talking to someone you trust BEFORE it starts affecting your life too much.
- Notice how much you expect of yourself and others and REDUCE that expectation.
- When you feel criticized, STOP and BREATHE FOR 60 SECONDS before you respond.
- Spend 1 hour a week HAVING FUN with family members doing what YOU ALL enjoy. You will find that others respond to you positively and you like yourself more when you’re around them.
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