A recent report commissioned by UK highlighted how men are often ‘in the dark’ when it comes to emotional and relationship difficulties in their life
David James Lees, Guest Writer
A recent report commissioned by UK charities Relate and Men’s Health Forum highlighted how men are often ‘in the dark’ when it comes to emotional and relationship difficulties in their life, the factors which cause them, and how to effectively deal with them.
The report shows how this ignorance can lead to much worse outcomes for men in relationship and emotional matters, not only for them personally, but also for their partners and families, especially, if a relationship finally does break down. Statistics within the report indicate that men are less likely to engage with, or benefit from, the support of a network of friends and family to help them through any emotional and relationship problems, and that men are also at greater risk of suicide in the aftermath of an emotional or relationship breakdown.
From my personal and professional experience I can wholly concur with these findings.
So why is it that so many men find themselves in this position?
Historically men’s emotional health has been at best overlooked and at worst ignored completely. Indeed, only in recent years has it become more acceptable for anyone, male or female, to openly discuss problems with their mental health and wellbeing, yet the stigma still holds firmly in place for many people and particularly for men.
For too long our society has perpetuated a myth, or what I like to refer to as a ‘misunderstanding’, in relation to men’s emotional health and emotional education. This centres around the idea that somehow a man should be stronger and more unflappable or robust when it comes to dealing with emotionally testing situations compared to their female counterparts.
In my opinion this misunderstanding has its roots in childhood emotional education, or should I say ‘mis-education’. This is when, as children, boys and girls have different expectations of emotional behaviour placed on them, and when boys are often considered or encouraged to be less sensitive or more hardy to emotional situations, and so are offered less emotional support than girls.
This misunderstanding can be particularly apparent during a family crisis point such as divorce, parental financial difficulties or work-related problems, family bereavement and illness etc. All too often in these sorts of situations, the amount and quality of emotional support offered by the adults within the family to the child are often based on gender rather than the emotional abilities and needs of the individual child.
This misunderstanding in a male child’s emotional education means that as adults many men struggle to tackle emotional issues in a healthy and authentic way. This ‘avoidance’ or ‘blocking’ of their emotional energy will in turn have a serious negative impact on their life, and I have many male clients struggling with crises of confidence, relationship difficulties, and issues of alcohol or substance misuse, gambling or financial mismanagement, anger, violence and a general lack of self-control. All of these have profound repercussions for them and their family’s general health, well-being and potential.
So how can we begin to address this situation?
This may seem pretty obvious but if you have not received a sound emotional and spiritual education as a child, where on earth do you learn the skills to deal with challenging, volatile and extremely distressing emotional situations and their resulting feelings, as an adult?
The long-term solution to this situation must address the root of the problem: childhood emotional education. In essence, a parent or carer should always tailor their emotional support and guidance to the needs of the individual child and NOT their gender. By encouraging and supporting a child to develop an ‘emotional toolbox’ which is unique to them this will not only serve them well in childhood, but into adolescence and throughout the whole of their adult life.
If you have a child please teach them to sit with, and calmly explore and work through (or what I call ‘hold’) their emotional feelings, no matter how tempting it is for you to jump in and protect them from the feeling or take the emotional hurt or discomfort away for them. By rushing in to placate a child and remove their emotional feelings as quickly as possible you are only teaching them avoidance and deflection strategies, which is actually the opposite of what you should be teaching them!
Please support them, love them, but above all else emotionally educate them, no matter how uncomfortable or painful the emotional feelings may be for them or you. Holding and confronting the emotional feeling allows both them and you to work through some techniques to calm their emotions and then to examine their cause, so that you can both understand the lesson being presented by the situation. Teach your child to separate their emotional and physical feelings from their thoughts and beliefs; reinforce that feelings are always the result of thinking or beliefs.
As this blog is focusing on male emotional issues, do not fall into the trap with your boy of saying things like: “you must be strong”, “boys don’t cry“, “stand up for yourself”, “don’t be a sissy“, “give as good as you get”, “Be a MAN!”. All of these, and other old-fashioned and out-dated phrases I still hear being used today, have never and will never successfully deal with the emotional challenges and situations at hand.
Be mindful that emotions and the resulting feelings can not only be painful, but also complicated. So support your child whilst giving them the time for thoughtful reflection and deliberation that both the situation and the child deserve. Don’t think you always have to step in and come up with the answer immediately – children actually enjoy the process of working through challenges and problems and finding their own solutions with your loving support.
Don’t encourage them to think that emotional feelings, no matter how painful, are their ‘enemy’. They are exactly the opposite – they are their ‘best friend’! Our emotions tell us we have a situation or problem that needs our calm, balanced and authentic attention. Similarly, don’t use emotive, frightening or scary words to describe an emotional feeling – words or phrases such as ‘panic attack’, ‘anxious’, ‘it’s NOT fair’, ‘poor you’ for instance. These are not only an incorrect description of emotional and physical feeling, but they also increase the intensity of the feelings and misdirect them away from dealing with the challenging situation.
At this point I’m reminded of an ancient Taoist teaching:
“The beginning of all wisdom, is to call things by their correct name.”
This teaching is particularly important with sensitive children. For them you cannot start this emotional education process early enough as most sensitive children develop their emotions far in advance of their cognitive reasoning.
These teachings will give your child the emotional tools they’ll need and will use for the rest of their lives. It will be the most profound, empowering emotional gift that you can give them. It’s like dropping a pebble in an ‘emotional pond’ – the waves will continue to radiate outwards through the generations.
One of the main reasons why this emotional education isn’t carried out by many parents is because it’s very challenging and complicated. Often it’s not taught by parents as they too probably never received these lessons in their childhood. And so it is that many parents simply pass on poor beliefs and emotional coping strategies given to them. As a spiritual and emotional counsellor and coach I work with many men at Peak House Practice who are today suffering because of poor or inadequate emotional and spiritual teachings in their childhood.
- The Tao of Men’s Emotional Health and Childhood Education (wakingtimes.com)
- The Tao of Men’s Emotional Health and Childhood Education (davidjameslees.wordpress.com)
- A few thoughts on the purpose of emotions (touchpointers.wordpress.com)
- Emotional Health…What do you really believe? (divajoi.wordpress.com)
- Mental And Emotional Support (fasterasamaster.wordpress.com)
- Emotion-health connection not limited to industrialized nations (sciencedaily.com)
- The Connection Between Emotion And Health Not Just A “First World” Phenomenon (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Project Hope and YES Community Counseling Center: Resources and Emotional Support for Those Hit Hardest by Sandy (ligoodnews.wordpress.com)