When I was a student at Syracuse University, I had the privilege of being involved with a student group called A Men’s Issue that is dedicated to redefining masculinity and ending gender violence. It allowed me to reevaluate and grow and when I went through periods of depressive, manic, or psychotic hell, I sought help (or at least didn’t resist if it sought me out). That isn’t the case for most men.
We are conditioned to toughen up and deal with it. Whereas girls are allowed to hold onto their tears throughout childhood, men are scolded for crying and learn to bottle up their emotions. In elementary school, we are more likely to be bullied than affirmed when expressing emotional need. In middle school, it is a scarce few who spend those awkward years feeling like anything other than an outcast. If we are depressed and try and express it, our concerns were brushed aside as being frivolous because we are young. Rather than being taught how to cope and how to put our emotions into words, we were mocked for our weaknesses. As a result, we learned to mask them. We show no fear, no hurt, and no pain.
Men- think back to high school, suppose you had a crisis of any kind, did you have a friend or teacher you would turn to and trust with such a disclosure. Maybe…if you were lucky. In general, men are taught as boys not to value relationships. We don’t learn that supportive relationships are vital to living a rewarding life. We don’t form close emotional bonds with our male friends for fear of being accused of being gay. Boys who build relationships with teachers are labeled as teacher’s pets. We know what is socially unacceptable and we adjust our behavior to meet the societal norms. We never learn appropriate coping skills. Now, fast forward to college, fast forward to adulthood. If you are a man and you seek help, do you fear damaging your reputation? Women- do you know men who will reach out or simply too damaged.
Violence is born out of frustration. This extends to suicide. It is a resort to violence against yourself when you don’t see that other options are available. Unless we break free from the boxes that society has forced on us, we will continue to fail to potential alternatives when suicidal. We will continue to keep help at arms length. And because we are so damaged, we will continue to fall short as full emotional partners in relationships and friendships.
I spent this past weekend at a nonviolence workshop and one of the activists passed a long a song (that may be too touchy feely for some, but it works for me): “I love you so much, so that you can love you so much, so that you can love me so much…” In this case, unadulterated love is a great end goal, but for the time being let’s just strip our relationships and friendships of judgment. Let’s work toward an environment where it is acceptable for men to seek help. Let’s be intentional and transparent with our help-seeking so that we can serve as models for others. Together, we can make this the last generation of men that is conditioned to avoid help and bottle up pain. Society made these rules, it’s up to us to break free from them.
Thanks for reading,