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The Stigma Of Therapy: Stop Teaching Boys Not To Cry

09/05/2017 11:27
PhotoAlto/Sandro Di Carlo Darsa via Getty Images

The idea for this article came to me on a Megabus on the way to Leeds from London; a five hour journey solo and without wifi (Lord have mercy), so it is only apt that I eventually get round to writing the article on another journey, although this time to Edinburgh, and thankfully not a Megabus.

Whenever I decide to write something it is usually because it has become so blindingly obvious in everyday life that I can't stop thinking about it. Like when you've lost your watch and you can't get it off your mind so you start noticing every other watch in existence.

My watch at the moment is crying. And men.

Why do these two things still not go together in our society? Why is it something that is still not seen as acceptable even though, as human beings, we all go through life emotionally? Imagination and emotion are key parts of what make us human.

On a societal scale, to continually teach men and boys - all genders, in fact - that men are not 'men' when they cry, or that they are weak for showing emotion, is not only detrimental to them, but everyone in that society.

Grayson Perry writes in 'The Descent of Man' that in a society where men are expected to be un-emotional, 'the conflation of the description of emotional and 'tearful' needs to be knocked on the head.' This is because 'every moment of every day is emotional; we can't turn our feelings off.'

Addressing emotions, then, does not necessarily mean crying. In fact, acknowledging their influence could be instrumental in changing the way we act when affected by them. On a personal scale, we see time and again the negative impact of encouraging men to stifle challenging emotions and 'mutate emotional suffering into anger.' Let alone the effect upon those surrounding that individual.

However it is important to take note of the common association of tearfulness and being emotional, too. Not least because being tearful is often associated with women, and so when men cry they are regarded by many as more effeminate. This is damaging.

Prince Harry recently discussed how he shut down his feelings for 20 years since his mother's death in 1997. This is just one example of not knowing how to deal with internal feelings, bottling them up, and at worst, not even recognising their existence and impact. If in any way the result of a notion it was necessary to 'man up,' it is vital to recognise a man should be able to privately or publicly react viscerally to a huge part of his own life experience.

Whilst it is wholly acceptable to keep your feelings to yourself if you are a more private person, so it should be for a man to go on a rampant crying rampage or shed a tear. It certainly shouldn't be a news story 20 years later - or at the time - that a man had an emotional response to a big life event.

Nor is it so complex as to be surprised that suppressing feelings to the point they explode into anger or violence is a common symptom of the domestic abuser, or even the mass murderer, such as the gunmen in Oregon and Colorado. In both cases, they felt isolated and misunderstood by society.

Perry acknowledges that if 'the man is made to feel unworthy, he may hate himself, he may take it out on others.' We know that the bullied often become the bullies. It is the same for emotions. If you are at the mercy of yours, or ignore them, you are more likely to exact them upon others.

Alongside this, gender stereotypes and societal expectations of men to be masculine and more dominant than women can be destructive for those at risk of becoming violent. Psychology Today identifies that 'the idea they are appearing weak or unmanly can trigger some men to act on violent impulses'.

Abusive and violent behaviour occurs as a by-product of an un-empathetic society. Not addressing emotions can lead to mental health issues, anti-social behaviour, drug abuse; the list goes on. The point is, if we can remove some part of the potential for people to resort to these behaviours, let's. In everyone's life there will be an event that triggers raw emotion, and for those allowed - tears. Let's not deny any group the right to wet their face. Or give any more 'reason' to inflict their feelings upon others.

We can start teaching boys from a young age that crying is okay, and stop saying 'big boys don't cry.' Increased emotional intelligence amongst all genders would benefit politics, the media, relationships, and every aspect of our lives. We also need to teach that getting therapy is alright.

The de-stigmatisation of therapy would, in turn, help to face the most critical consequences of mental health issues head-on, including suicide; the biggest killer of men under 45. Samaritans define it as 'both a gender and inequality issue,' and countless studies identify a link between gender-role identity and gender differences in depression. If we ignore these matters any longer, it is not only a dis-service to men and women alike, but actually affects mortality rates, too.

Stormzy did an interview a few months ago publicly discussing his depression. It was inspirational for a lot of people to see someone in the limelight - particularly a male - opening up about it. We need more role-models like him to assist in the normalization of discussing mental health issues.

Men in general can do something about it too - cry, if you want to. And don't apologise for getting emotional in your First Dates interview; I feel ya.

What is positive about an issue like this is that we can all make a difference ourselves; listen harder, listen longer, to other people and how they feel. A more empathetic society would be a greater one. Politicians might try harder to address the needs of the homeless, architects might start including gender-neutral toilets as standard, and so on.

We can all work together for a society that acknowledges feelings, accepts them, and then does something about them. To feel is to live, so to deny anyone of that is critically unfair on them, and those that suffer as a result of their actions.

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