There are almost no models for men on how to deal with trauma, stress, or depression. Chris Anderson says it’s time for that to change.
In most of my writing, I usually try to share messages of Hope, Healing & Support. Tragic news, troubling statistics,and gloomy research on the long-term impacts of abuse need to be countered with positive messages. Therefore I consciously choose to share hopeful information and offer concrete suggestions for things we can do either as survivors or supporters of survivors to help people make progress on the healing journey.
However, sometimes in spite of good news we may not be happy or hopeful. For men it is especially important that we be empowered to speak openly about our troubles. Even though we all get overwhelmed at times, we are rarely given permission to talk about our difficulties. Our email inboxes overflow with unanswered messages while challenges at work and home hang heavy on our minds. Worse, triggers are all around us and can push us into darker emotional spaces and sap our resilience. Too often, men shy away from openly talking about these darker feelings, not because we want to, but because we fear the repercussions of seeming “unmanly.”
Men are expected to keep moving and keep our mouths shut, not ask for help when we feel lost or vulnerable. Most men internalize pressure (“never let them see you sweat” as a once common advertisement chastened us).
For men, asking for that support is not easy. “Strong men” are expected to vanquish their fears and conquer their enemies without empathy and compassion. Many men refuse to speak of the harms they’ve suffered for fear of being stigmatized or ridiculed. In certain hyper-masculine cultures, disclosure of any kind of weakness or vulnerability can actually put a man at risk for serious harm. In many communities, when a man does find the courage to ask for help, he is told there are no resources to support him. It can be exponentially more difficult to get help when the perpetrator of harm is female.
The harm caused by abuse and trauma does not discriminate, nor can we in the work to help ALL survivors heal. Trauma and abuse are staggeringly common experiences. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study has shown that 2/3 of the population reach adulthood having experienced at least one significant form of adverse harm. And a growing wealth of research shows that the changes in the brain caused by abuse and trauma (especially when experienced as children) won’t be overcome by being tougher and stronger, but rather by becoming more connected.
The depression and anxiety borne of trauma and abuse do not give way to strenuous effort; we cannot simply will our way out of these dark places. The man’s mantra to “be tough” is terrible advice that actually increases suffering by keeping us isolated from others who might be vital sources of support. Real healing does not happen in isolation.
Some of us are lucky. We have family and friends who support us, even though it may be hard for us to stay connected sometimes. Some of us also have something that far too few men have – excellent mental health support including great therapists who can help us process these challenges and give us tools to be better able to fight through the dark times. When I am confronted with bouts of depression, I know I will make it through because I’ve lived through these cycles before, and because I have others in my life who help lift me up. However, there are far too many of our brethren in similarly dark places who need help seeing the light.
We cannot continue to accept a paradigm of masculinity that praises silent suffering while stigmatizing those men who courageously seek help. The way out of the darkness requires men to be open, vulnerable, and “unmanly.” Smashing outdated stereotypes won’t be easy, but we have no choice if we want a world with less pain, less trauma, and less abuse. The strongest and the most powerful men I know are NOT those who impose their will on others. Rather, they are open to their pain while remaining connected to the world. That is compassion, and that is a source of real power to which we can all connect.
AP Photo/Jay Janner