DID you watch the documentary series on TV recently called Man Up? It was a study into modern masculinity and men's psychological health. It was interesting and insightful and, to be honest, I felt sad at times yet also hopeful.
Given all that Nick has been through in recent years (he has shared some of that in his articles) I am grateful that he is able to talk about what's happened, share his feelings and show his emotions without embarrassment or fear of judgment, even though I know that has been challenging for him at times.
However that isn't true for everyone, particularly many of the men in our life and it isn't really their fault - but what's caused it?
So much of what guides our thinking, our behaviour and our general view of life was established when we were very young. Research indicates that our brain develops most quickly within our first 1000 days from the time we are conceived (that is, until we are nearly three years old or so). So it is the primary influences that surround us during the early part of childhood that start the process as we observe and absorb what is happening around us.
Although we don't understand the impact of it at the time, the way we are expected to behave and fit in to the family group continues to be demonstrated in myriad ways as we develop and mature. As you can imagine, if we were surrounded with positive role models who encouraged us to recognise our emotions and talk about what we were feeling, whatever our gender, that would be a great start. Unfortunately that is not always the case; we copy the role model whether positive or negative and take that to be "the way we do things around here”; we don't know any different. It's not about blame, everyone is doing the best they can with what they know.
Social and cultural pressures discourage boys and men to express themselves and we've worked with many who were told to "harden up”, "suck it up” or "man up” when they were young. They now struggle to connect with how they are feeling let alone being able to express it.
So what needs to change?
Men are gentle at heart. It's just that they have learned or been conditioned by events early on to shut down to protect the gentleness of the child inside and take on the stereotypical masculine traits which are deemed more acceptable.
I said earlier that I was hopeful and that's because programs like Man Up help to expose the impact on physical and mental health when men suppress their feelings and emotions. We all need to talk about what we are feeling and encourage our dads, partners, husbands, brothers, sons, any male that we love or know to do the same and support them when they do, rather than ridiculing or judging.
It's never too late to help make a change.
Rowena Hardy is a facilitator, performance coach and partner of Minds Aligned: mindsaligned.com.au
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