Rescuing Men: Emotions, Manhood, and Well-Being
By Stacey Bellem
New York, New York USA
“Many men and boys feel shame when they have emotional, mental, or physical health concerns and believe going to the doctor, therapist or asking for help may threaten their masculine identities.”
Our gender identities have a powerful influence on how we think, feel and behave. From an early age we receive messages from family, friends, peers and the larger community about what it means to be a man or a woman. Men are tough and emotionally stoic; women are gentle and compassionate. Men are providers and good at business and science professions; women are nurturers and excel in the helping professions. And, the messages we receive extend beyond gender to also include race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, abilities, education levels… and the list continues. These socialized roles and respective “boxes” shape core beliefs about ourselves and those around us. They impact our personal choices, sense of self-worth, the quality and types of relationships we keep with others, our health care and even mental wellness.
Masculinity ranges along a continuum. Contemporary masculinities are diverse and vary from hyper-masculinity to hypo-masculinity. In most societies today we see an image of manhood that is higher on the scale toward hyper-masculinity. This image of what it means to ‘be a man’ is tough, strong, emotionally stoic, fearless and rugged. He doesn’t express many emotions and rarely if ever cries. If he experiences or witnesses something that may cause him pain, he quickly learns to keep those feelings to himself or risk being called names like “sissy,” “wimp,” “gay,” or possibly worse, “a girl.”
Because men and boys are raised to be stoic and seemingly invulnerable to pain, there are few opportunities for them to practice reaching out for help or practice expressing their emotions. Many men and boys feel shame when they have emotional, mental, or physical health concerns and believe going to the doctor, therapist or asking for help may threaten their masculine identities. Consequently, they learn to keep any challenges they may be going through to themselves and not reach out for help. They find other ways to soothe and temporarily fix the problem, sometimes through self-medication with drugs or alcohol, by developing an addiction or by isolating themselves from family and friends. Some men may also process their painful experiences by acting out violently in anger or rage, externalizing their pain toward others and controlling or abusing the ones they love.
Gender-based mental health care is the practice of mental health education and treatment which is gender inclusive. More specifically, just as we would sensitize our program and interventions around race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation or ability, it is crucial that in practicing mental health we have a thorough understanding of the impact gender has on our development and identities. Through gender-based mental health promotion, we can understand boys and men better. We can use specific interventions to reach them in special ways and promote their mental health and well-being.
In our patriarchal world, men are in positions of power in both personal and professional domains. The health and well-being of men impacts us all on social, economic, political, and environmental levels. If the men and boys in our lives are not healthy, this will negatively impact us in direct and indirect ways. Conversely, if men are emotionally well, healed, sober, conscious, and healthy, then the women and children in their lives, friends, and colleagues will benefit as well. This benefit will have a ripple effect that will lead to more loving families and safer communities. This is the vision behind The Unifying Center projects and work. It is also the vision behind a movement we hope to inspire in doing this work. Greater change, healing, and wellness are possible—for the betterment of us all.
Stacey Bellem is Founder and Executive Director of The Unifying Center. To learn more about their future programs, become a partner in this movement, or get involved, please email them directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.