From One Man To Another: Toxic Masculinity

When I lost my father to suicide, I had no idea how big of a problem masculine stigma is. To me, it seems like a no-brainer that boys are just entitled to show their emotions as much as women.

I have always found that I develop better relationships with boys and it just never fazed me that when they cried, or showed their true feelings, that this was not the norm.

Since my father’s death, I have done a lot of thinking and research into what caused his death. Though there is no certain answer, it seems that masculine stigma was ever-present.

Today, when I talk to other men, they all seem to share the same fear of showing emotion. I just don’t understand why society makes it so hard for men to show their emotions.

Emotions are literally at the foundation of what makes us human and individuals, it should be embraced and not hidden. I reached out to a group of men to see what they had to say on the topic of masculine stigma and stereotypes.

As a woman, I want to understand their world better but I also wanted to encourage men to lift each other up; as I can only speak from a female perspective and that seems to be a world different to theirs.

Tom Colley (@Tomcolley7) writes:

My mental health makes me worry about being myself in a lot of situations because I am perhaps not the manliest man emotionally. I find I’m more in touch with my sensitive side than other men, this makes me hide myself more.”

“My depression causes me to feel immense emotion toward a lot of things, it makes me sensitive. I can’t be who I am because it isn’t accepted. I want to cry at happy and sad films, I want to show my emotions when someone says something hurtful or when someone I love is hurting. I feel like sometimes this is showing a weak side to me, this is because of stereotypical phrases like ‘man up’ or ‘grow a pair’.”

“I am not a strong and silent type but that’s how I feel I have to be to be accepted. I want to be a strong and sensitive type, the type I’ve always been but never let anyone see. I’ve lived like this my entire life and I believe it has worsened my own mental health. It’s hard to learn that none of these emotions and feeling aren’t weak, they are normal, just not accepted.

“To other men, be who you are, don’t hide your emotions and troubles. From experience, once we accept who we are, the more those around you will accept and love you for who you are, a strong and sensitive person.”

What Tom writes here really resonates with me, it makes me emotional because there is very little difference between the feelings that he expresses here and my own. The only difference is our gender, that just isn’t right, it needs to change.

Martin Leanord (@lennyman01) writes:

“As a male who has attempted suicide 3 times, although last attempt was 13 years ago, I also suffer terrible with anxiety. It’s the usual stereotypes like ‘real men don’t cry’. When I think about it, when you’re a kid growing up you would go to your mother if you had a problem and go to your dad to have a laugh and a joke.”

“So, you grow up thinking as a bloke displaying your emotions and feelings is a sign of weakness. So, you bottle things up until it gets to point where you reach breaking point and often it’s gone too far then. So then when you get older you try to learn new habits which is often difficult thing to do. I think and hope there are small signs things are changing please god.”

Reaching out to someone whether it’s a friend family member or GP is not a sign of weakness it’s strength. It’s not easy I know it’s rewarding in the long run. So please guys if someone you trust asks you how your day was don’t just say “it was OK” if it wasn’t. It’s the little steps that will make a big difference in the long run.”

I think Martin carries a very important comment here about parents. Maybe, if fathers and father figures show that it is okay to show emotion as a man, could that normalize it and lower the stigma?

Stan Elwick (@ABlueHorizon_) writes:

“I was diagnosed with depression around 4 years ago, during my A levels. At the time, my close friends (2 male and 2 female) were also doing their A levels, so I didn’t want to burden them with my diagnosis when they had enough on my plate. I didn’t know this was a bad thing to do at the time, but I was definitely putting them before my own wellbeing.”

“I found it more difficult to talk about my depression to begin with, because even though I’m not the stereotypical ‘manly’ individual, I’ve still grown up with certain expectations from society about how I should act and what I should do in different situations.”

“When I was young, I was never told by my family to grow up, or to man up in that sense. I was fortunate to be brought up in a household that preached love and compassion, but I feel like I’m a minority in that example. Once I started growing, and exposing myself to society, that’s when crying and showing emotions were seen as being weak. I don’t think that the kids around me who told me that crying was weak were at fault, I think they were brought up to believe that; ideologies being drilled into their heads by other people.”

“I haven’t properly broken down and cried in years, it’s just not natural to me anymore, and I hate that I’m almost unable to do it. It’s not like I choose not to cry, but I feel like if I do choose to cry, it’s gotten to the point that it’s more forced than natural. Looking at it from an outside perspective, it definitely seems to be a result of society telling me to ‘man up’ which has been so damaging to me.”

“Almost every day, I feel down and weak and unhappy as a result of my depression. That on its own makes it difficult to talk to people, but with the added stigma of mental illness in society and masculinity being where it is, it’s like barrier after barrier between me and telling someone about my depression.”

“I am very fortunate, because I have friends who can talk to me about their issues and I can talk to them about mine. I think that’s because I have a mixture of male and female friends, so we are all a bit closer and a bit more open with our feelings now, but I know many men my age who only hang out with other guys, and I think you really have developmental issues surfacing there.”

“A couple of pieces of advice I would give to people in similar situations to my own would be to not to give a s**t about what other people think of you. Focus on your issues, and how you can work on them, and don’t get advice from people who don’t know your whole story. We are all complex and individual, and pride yourself in being different as opposed to fitting in.”

I can’t help but smile as I read what Stan writes, what he shows here is a lot of strength and it is so empowering. This is the kind of thing that men should be able to talk about with each other and be proud of their male friends for doing so.

J. Sluiter (@Mr_tattooed_guy) writes:

“For years I battled with my own mind. Countless many times I fought the urge to break down and let it out. While my own father never discouraged showing emotions, it still wasn’t often done in front of others.”

“Whenever I did crack my peers usually laughed and called me things like “sissy” or asked what my problem was. We (males) have it hammered into our heads at an early age that crying and showing emotions is a sign of weakness. It is even used to perpetuate a negative stereotype that emotional men must either be weak or homosexual, as if the two were synonymous.”

“As a father I tried so hard to keep it together; to never let my children see me cry. I “had to be tough” for my sons. It kept me from seeking any kind of treatment for a long time. When I had my breakdown last year and was admitted, I realized how important it was for my sons to see me like that. To know it wasn’t a weakness, but rather I was choosing to fight to live not only for me, but for them. They needed to see that it was ok to not be ok. This negative stigma of “faux masculinity” needs to be broken.”

“Too many men suffer and die in silence every day. Men need to realize emotions are not the enemy, and asking for help is perfectly acceptable. Fighting for a better you shows strength, not weakness, and putting up walls is far more damaging than society admits. So, cry if you need to. Let it out. It is ok.”

It is often forgotten that our parents suffer from mental health too, in fact I only ever saw my father cry once in his life. I think it’s time that we start asking our parents if they are ok, instead of assuming.

A man who has asked to remain anonymous writes:

“For me, I grew up constantly hearing “stop crying, or I’ll really give you something to cry about” from my parent… I needed to “toughen up” and “be a man”. Playing sports, I was often mocked by other boys because I just wasn’t very good.”

“Changing in locker rooms, even pre-puberty, was very much a ‘measuring contest’ and those who didn’t measure up were ridiculed. As a teenager, I had relatives who constantly asked if I had a girlfriend – because apparently the measure of a man is in how many women he has had sex with (or so the stigma goes). The most common insults boys and men in America, I hear is “pussy”, “fag” and “queer” – or other insults that compare one to either a woman or a homosexual, which aim to target one’s masculinity. “

“All of this led me to be incredibly self-conscious, withdrawn, distrusting of others, and fearful of intimacy with women. My own feelings of inadequacy as a man-made me fearful of approaching women, so much so that I didn’t have my first girlfriend until I was 26. Even now at 33, I’ve repressed my emotions for so long that I’m having to relearn how to experience my emotions, share them with my wife and how to cry. I still deal with depression and anxiety daily.”

“The best advice I can give to other men struggling with mental health issues is that there is nothing wrong with asking for help. It doesn’t make you weak, it takes courage and strength to open up and ask for help. You didn’t come out of a “man mold”, nor do you need to fit into one. Just try to be authentically you.”

This man has reduced me to tears in what he writes, as a woman I certain suffer at gender stereotypes but this seems particularly hard on a person’s mental health, we need to stop judging others as the only person we have the right to judge is ourselves.

Matt Jackson (@@UK_white_rabbit) writes:

“Being a man with mental health issues isn’t easy; our DNA tells us we need to be strong.  In reality, we have emotions, feelings and sometimes we can’t be the strong one.  The stigma of mental health, in general, is that people don’t understand it; they are scared to say the wrong thing or just don’t know what to say.” 

“I always thought that having mental health issues was a sign of weakness, a sign of not being a man…but I was wrong.  Being open about my mental health issues has made me a stronger person, not weaker.  It’s given me self-confidence and self-awareness.  People come to me to talk because they know I understand.  It’s given me opportunities to help others through their hard times.” 

“As a man, I have realised that those people who laugh at me or push me aside because of my mental health issues aren’t the people who I want around me. Yes, it’s hard sometimes to let them go, especially if you’ve been friends for a long time, but a true friend will stand by you through good and bad times.”

“Don’t let the stigma stop you being you.  You are important and you have feelings.  You can’t always be the rock that everyone else dumps on.  There is always time to talk…so let’s beat the stigma.”

There is something quite beautiful in what Matt has written, there is so much strength. I really hope that more men can find this courage, there is no shame in having a mental illness.

Brendon Feeley (@mentallyopen) writes:

“I was raised by my Grandfather. An amazing man from a generation of men who were ‘real’ men. No emotions, no feelings, no sharing. This definitely held me back. My understanding of men when I was young was that this is what it meant to be strong. I’m here to tell you it’s utter nonsense. This mentality almost cost me my sanity and my life in my battle against depression. I didn’t open up. I didn’t seek help. I let the darkness take me over from the inside out because of these misguided beliefs. If I could turn the clock back I would seek help so much sooner. Reach out to my nearest and dearest and even further out to the wonderfully supportive world of the Mental Health awareness community.”

“There’s so much help out there. Embrace it. Be strong, be brave, be open.”

Brendon highlights a very important point about the generational difference between the younger generations and the elders. It may possibly be why it is hard for men in their 40’s to be open about their feelings and I am not sure that many were raised to do that – another thing that we need to change and can change by encouraging openness with our children and talking about mental health.

Peter Shaw (@pjshaw192) writes:

“I’ve had a lot of bad experiences of the stigma around being a man which has affected my mental health. As a man, I’ve often struggled to talk about my mental health issues, and felt unable to approach family and friends for support and help. This isn’t uncommon for men and I don’t think we consider the effect of stereotypes around men on mental health.”

“My family have in the past expected me to be strong, outgoing, able to make friends and just get on with my life when troubles happened and it took a lot for me to start telling them about having therapy and medication. Before I told my family and friends properly, I would hide behind physical illnesses and play off my anxiety, depression and panic attacks as nothing to worry about, even sometimes blaming myself for them rather than getting help.”

“It’s extremely difficult as a man to be able to get support when you are struggling. Recently I have been going through a really tough time of depression and feeling suicidal, and haven’t felt able to talk to family about it. This is a lot to do with expectations around being a man, putting up with mental health issues and just being able to get through things without talking about them. This isn’t healthy and I don’t see why, just because we are men and expected to be strong and stoic, we can’t be expected to show emotions and admit how we are really feeling. Too many men are choosing suicide which is a consequence of lazy stereotyping and expectations around masculinity. “

“I would urge any men struggling to reach out: to friends, family, a doctor, a mental health organisation, whoever as long as you are talking to someone about your feelings.”

I love how honest Peter is about his feelings here, though he shows such a big understanding of himself and the negative impact of masculine stigma. It is so important that he can all do this, as we can only heal once we understand the root cause.

I am so proud to know all of these men, who are speaking out here on my blog so that they can lift their male peers up. A little bit of support can do wonders for our mental health. All I can say, to my dear men, is that you are human and that’s okay.


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