One of the best lessons I have ever learned in therapy is the metaphor of water being poured in a vase. Many of us store all of our stress inside, feeling social or cultural pressure to always wear a smile of gratitude and confidence on our face; “I am blessed!” or “I am just so grateful”. None of us wish to be a burden, and often feel like one when the stress of life feels heavy, and that heaviness hasn’t lifted for quite some time.
How realistic is it to expect ourselves to carry such a heavy weight, alone, pretending it doesn’t hurt?
How do we ask for help, without feeling insecure?
How do we identify the heavy emotional burden in our loved ones, and how do we, safely, offer them help?
Today I am going to highlight the social stigma that weighs heavy on the men we love so dearly.
Why Do Men Feel Ashamed To Be Vulnerable?
Mysteriously, when the topic of depression or anxiety comes up we often find it easier to speak of the women who struggle. Men often go unnoticed – assuming they must ‘be fine’, or they are more easily dismissed when it comes to Mental Health – even with many high-ranking individuals speaking out on behalf of Men’s Mental Health (i.e. refer to Prince William’s ‘Heads Together’ Mental Health campaign).
Men are traditionally the breadwinners, the ‘knight in shining armour’ — who come to the rescue, the ones who ‘have no time to be sick‘ and have to ‘suck it up and keep moving forward‘ because they have a wife and child to take care of. Sports plays a huge role in an expectation and setting a social norm for ‘toughening up’ men…
In high school I had a best friend who, not long before he chose to end his life at the young age of 19, confided in me that he had been told multiple times to “man up” and “the world doesn’t revolve around you and your problems, sometimes we just have to suck it up and focus on others needs… no one wants to see a man cry.“
There’s a social belief that crying equals weakness, men shouldn’t be weak…
In TV and Movies, men are often portrayed as intelligent leaders in businesses, strong and courageous heroes… very rarely are they allowed to cry and become vulnerable heroes. Think about it, how much courage must it take to be a vulnerable and sensitive man in today’s world? Why must they only be allowed to feel safe to be vulnerable in private? Or why do they more often feel that way?
The most attractive men to me, are those who are brave enough to let their guard down in front of others, allow themselves to cry, and bravely say out loud: “I need help.”Becky Cooper
The Risk of Not Talking To Men About Their Honest Feelings…
When we allow the water to overflow our vase, there are dangerous consequences. That water could turn into destructive outbursts of anger in which we say things we later regret. The flood of water can emotionally damage our loved ones self-esteem or confidence, and when the water overflows, the direction it takes is often out of our control.
Overwhelmed and overcharged in emotion, and also deeply depressed, our mind often operates irrationally – leading to impulsive decision-making and a strong and loud critical inner voice – tearing ourselves down. This could lead to suicide ideation.
Back in September of 2019 I wrote about how Suicide Among Males is 4x Higher than Females, with male deaths representing 70% of all US suicides, the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States (CDC & NIMH).
How do men get to this point, where ending their life is the only ‘rational’ and ‘logical’ solution?
No healthy person would ever choose to end their life. No healthy-minded person would ever consider suicide.
So why is their rate of a successful suicide attempt so high? Where have we, as a society, gone wrong in taking adequate care of our men?
Studies have shown that men, as a general norm, are less likely to admit when they feel vulnerable… their suicide attempts are more often violent with an intent on completing the act…
“Men seek help for mental health less often. It’s not that men don’t have the same issues as women — but they’re a little less likely to know they have whatever stresses or mental health conditions that are putting them at greater risk for suicide.”— Dr. Harkavy-Friedman
How Do We Help Our Men Feel Safe?
Rather than let the pressure or the stigma of being a strong man allow the metaphorical vase to overflow with emotion, we must instead help put a ‘crack’ in the vase. We must help our men feel safe to open up, honestly, whenever they need to. By allowing the emotion to slowly drip out, we are controlling the emotional levels of our minds and bodies, thus avoiding the conflict that an ‘overflow’ would otherwise impose.
We need to build a new and more accurate norm: crying = STRENGTH, being emotional = being healthy.
We need to continue making progress in normalizing Men’s Mental Health, and change society’s expectation of what a strong man looks like. Being vulnerable is another way of being a strong leader!
Men need reassurance that crying, and being vulnerable does not make them any less of a man. It takes tremendous strength and bravery to open up and become vulnerable, they need to be reminded of that.
How do we help our men feel comfortable asking for help?
5 ways we can help our men feel safe to open up and ask for help:
- Ask them direct questions – even the uncomfortable ones:
— “How are you really feeling?” [ listen and resist problem solving ]
— “What is overwhelming you?”
— “Do you ever feel like life isn’t worth living?”
— “On a scale of 1-5, 1 being ‘I’m depressed’ and 5 being ‘I’m feeling 100%’… how are you feeling?”
— “Are you feeling suicidal?”
— “Do you feel comfortable talking about your honest feelings?”
— “I wish I had all the solutions for how you’re feeling, but I know that I can’t fix this for you. Will you let me help you find someone safe to talk to, a professional that could help you understand how you’re feeling? Maybe they could also help me learn how to best help you?”
** IMPORTANT TO NOTE** – people who are deeply depressed WANT to talk about the dark feelings, but often feel ashamed for the way they are feeling. NEVER BE AFRAID TO ASK, “are you feeling suicidal?”. Most depressed people are screaming inside themselves for help, but don’t feel confident reaching out for help – especially men.
- Prove to them that you are safe to come to with honest emotions. You can prove yourself by the way you respond. Inside you may feel panicked, and worry about how they’re feeling – but remember this: The act of opening up and unloading the difficult thoughts and emotions is healing. You are already helping them heal by just the simple act of listening. YOU CANNOT FIX THEM! Leave the ‘fixing’ for the professional therapist. Encourage your loved one to seek help. Help them find someone, a professional therapist, to talk to about how they have been feeling.
- Reassure them that you still love them, and are SO grateful they opened up. Reward their bravery with reassurances of love (hug them!) and admiration for how much strength it must have taken to be honest with their emotions (tell them “thank you so much for opening up to me with your HONEST emotions!). The more men are praised for being vulnerable, the more the expectation of what makes a man a man will change, and we should see the social pressure lift for them. The definition of ‘strong’ will include vulnerability.
- Teach young boys that it’s OK to cry, STOP telling them to ‘toughen up!’.
- Encourage men to seek professional help. As much as you wish you could have all the solutions – the truth is that YOU DO NOT. Leave the problem solving to the professionals, a safe and unbiased third-person who can help them make sense of the root cause for the depression. There is a perfect person for all of us, who can help us understand the language of our loved ones, and of ourselves. So if the first therapist you talk to doesn’t feel like a ‘good fit’, keep looking until you find someone you connect well with. Keep in mind there are different types of therapy, so commit some time to learning about the different styles, and discuss with each other which style sounds like a good start.
From personal experience, these people I’m listing below have helped me through various periods of my past and present day:
Nadine Kennington Cooper, Sandy UT, specializes in NLP Therapy: (801) 205-0386
Laura Nielson Denke, Los Angeles CA, specializes in LMHC & LMFT Counseling: (206) 789-1011
Dr. Mark Chamberlain, Salt Lake City UT, specializes in addiction recovery: (801) 564-7566
There are countless other options available, one of which is Amen Clinics. Dr. Daniel Amen has several clinics worldwide. I’m currently taking a Mental Health course that he offers, and hope to be certified in the near future as a Mental Health Coach. He specializes in brain trauma, and focuses his practice on brain scans (physically looking at the part of the body that is in need of treatment, and thus getting a more accurate and proof of diagnosis). Visit his website to learn more about what services his clinic provides that might help you or your loved one: https://www.amenclinics.com/
The Science Behind The Healing Power of Crying
We all need to allow ourselves to cry more often. I just recently learned about the healing power of allowing the tears to flow.
- Having a soothing effect, regulating emotions, calming, and reducing distress…
- Attracting needed support – serving as an alarm of “I need help!” when words can’t be expressed adequately…
- Helps relieve pain – tears release oxytocin and endorphins in the body…
- Enhances mood – the endorphins released from crying are the “feel good” chemicals…
- Releases toxins and relieves stress – tears contain a number of stress hormones and other chemicals. Remember, we want the toxins OUT of our body, not stored in…
- Aids sleep – a small study in 2015 found that crying can help babies sleep better, so it would make sense that as adults, we benefit in much the same way…
- Fights bacteria – crying helps kill bacteria and keep the eyes clean as tears contain a fluid called lysozyme, a powerful antimicrobial…
“To stay healthy and release stress, I encourage my patients to cry. For both men and women, tears are a sign of courage, strength, and authenticity.”“The Health Benefits of Tears” – Judith Orloff M.D. Psychology Today
Further science to back up the benefits of being vulnerable and allowing ourselves to cry more often comes from Stephen Sideroff, PH.D., clinical psychologist from UCLA:
“Studies of the various kinds of tears have found that emotional tears contain higher levels of stress hormones than do basal (aka lubricating) or reflex tears (the ones that form when you get something in your eye). Emotional tears also contain more mood-regulating manganese than the other types. Stress “tightens muscles and heightens tension, so when you cry you release some of that,” Sideroff says. “[Crying] activates the parasympathetic nervous system and restores the body to a state of balance.”“Is Crying Good for You?” – WebMD
“Emotional tears contain higher levels of certain stress hormones such as adrenocorticotropic hormone, prolactin and the painkiller leucine enkephalin. Adrenocorticotropic hormone and prolactin levels rise with stress. Emotional tears also contain more manganese than those from irritants, and manganese helps regulate mood. Chronically depressed people often have high levels of manganese in their systems.“The Science of Tears” – PsychCentral
A good cry from either happy or sad events releases high amounts of stress hormones, protein and manganese. Thanks to these chemicals leaving your body, you often feel relieved and relaxed. Crocodile tears don’t have the biochemical or psychic weight of deep emotion behind them, and an audience can usually tell.”
Why should we remind our men to cry?
Researches from Tilburg University studied the science behind human emotion of crying and found that on average, American women cry 3.5 times each month while American men cry around 1.9 times each month.
We should ask ourselves often – why men feel ashamed to be vulnerable. Not all men do, but not enough are feeling safe. The suicide rates reveal that truth, and its within our power to make a positive change. Men deserve to feel equally as safe to be vulnerable as women. It starts by reminding our boys that it’s OK to cry, and reminding both boys, and men, that it takes great courage, and bravery, and strength to open up, become vulnerable and HONEST about emotions. And it’s OK to cry.
If you or a loved one is feeling suicidal, or you may feel they, or you, might be a danger to yourself, please call 911 or reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255…