Why we need a new definition of what it means to ‘be a man’
The leading cause of death for Australian males aged 25 to 40 is suicide. For the sake of our men, and boys, we need a change.
Our sons are constantly told:
“Be a man.”
“Don’t be soft.”
“Stop being a wuss.”
These are powerful insults delivered not just by their mates, but by their fathers, coaches and other male role models.
By men who have been taught that ‘being a man’ means suppressing emotions.
The same men for whom suicide is the leading cause of death.
Boys are just as emotional as girls. But pretty early on in life, our boys are taught to bottle up their emotions. And it will probably work for a while, maybe even into adulthood… until they no longer remember what it is like to feel or express emotion.
We need to teach our boys how to recognise their emotions, how to articulate them effectively, and how to listen with compassion when someone speaks to them . And the best teachers are male role models (fathers, uncles, coaches). Change needs to start with these adult males relearning emotional awareness and communication, and modelling this to younger generations.
This won’t be easy. And it won’t happen overnight. I believe men suffer from 3 big obstacles when it comes to sharing their stories:
- They don’t know what they are feeling because they have forgotten what feeling feels like.
- They don’t have the emotional vocabulary or courage (see aforementioned insults) to do so.
- They don’t have the listening skills to give a man (or any other person for that matter) what he needs when vulnerable.
Of course, I’m still learning to overcome these obstacles, but I feel like I’m getting somewhere. Three things in particular have helped me.
- Joining a men’s group. These groups use a talking circle, where we first establish some ground rules around confidentiality and respecting others . This creates a space where men feel safe to be vulnerable.
I’ve gone on to run these circles with adolescent boys. I’ve witnessed boys open up about how it feels to be bullied and how anxiety in response to academic expectations has crippled them. Often, boys describe feeling devastated by a careless taunt from one of their friends or peers – boys sometimes have no idea how much they have hurt one another, precisely because they don’t know how to express themselves. An apology can bring huge relief.
Give boys and men the space to safely express how they feel and you’ll find that they are itching for the opportunity.
- Talking openly and regularly about my feelings with the boys and other men in my life, and asking them how they really are. It takes courage at first, but every time I have done this, I have felt a great sense of relief, and my mate has also felt able to speak honestly.
- Practising meditation. This is a great way to understand and accept the emotions we are feeling. A good place to start is the free Smiling Mind app.
If we want the stats on male mental health to change, it’s essential that we rewrite what it looks like, and feels like, to be a man.
Andrew Braddy is an educator and has taught 12 to 15-year-old boys in the classroom for the past 5 years. He is currently an outdoor educator and Rites of Passage facilitator who loves taking boys on journeys of personal growth into the outdoors. This article is about Wellbeing
YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY
Subscribe to Understanding Boys. It’s free!
Got boys? Sign up for tips and advice you'll actually use.