In our culture, there are different expectations for men and women in terms of how they feel, think, act, behave, and dress. Unfortunately, sometimes we can be very rigid on upholding those expectations (for others and for ourselves.) Due to many years of cultural wisdom accumulating and being passed down from generation to generation we’ve received a lot of information about what is acceptable for boys and girls to do, whether it is explicitly stated or implicitly communicated through tone, facial expressions, body language, etc. Even the most progressive among us may still think it’s not “manly” for a male to cry, or to share any feeling outside of anger (for so many men, anger is one of the only “safe” and “masculine” emotion to show- how messed up is that!?)
According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), many mental illnesses affect both men and women; what differs, however, is that men may be less likely to talk about their feelings and seek help. To me, this fact is both sad and disturbing; sad because people who need help are not asking for and getting it, and disturbing because we have inadvertently raised a generation of men with the toxic and dangerous notion that being a man means always being “strong” and that equates asking for help with weakness.
That being said, here are the top 5 things that men in their 30’s need to hear and to understand:
Asking for help is not weakness- in fact, it’s just the opposite.
Change of any sort is always difficult. If you’ve been feeling stuck in a rut for a while, the easy and comfortable choice is to stay there. I always commend my clients during our first session for making the very courageous choice to reach out for help. Especially when it comes to starting therapy for the first time. There is often a lot of fear and uncertainty about the process. To me, taking that first step toward improving mental health is one of the bravest, badass decisions possible!
The “lone wolf” persona is not a healthy one.
Since when did needing social connection and the company of others become a “girl thing?” Very often among heterosexual partners, I see a pattern where the female partner becomes the keeper of all social ties and the male partner is simply “along for the ride” when it comes to socializing. Guys, having friendships and social connections is very important for good mental health! And no, only socializing or sharing your true self with your romantic partner is not good enough. Ideally, we should strive for multiple close friendships in our lives. Isolation can be very damaging, especially when paired with a mental disorder like anxiety or depression.
Women and men have more in common than they think.
In a society that focuses very heavily on gender differences, we often ignore one hugely important fact- we’re all human, and we all have human needs. This includes the need for love, safety, shelter, social and emotional support, friendships, intimacy, and a safe place to talk about our feelings and the hard things in life that we all experience. No matter your genitalia- you are entitled, as a human, to have all of these needs met. You’ll feel much better when they are.
Not only is it OK to cry- it’s a vital part of the human experience.
I want to hunt down the first man (sorry- person, but let’s be real, it was probably a man) who started this idea that it’s not OK for men to cry and give him a very stern lecture. I have seen first-hand the damage that has been done to so many men through years or decades of suppressing or “stuffing” their emotions because they didn’t feel it was socially acceptable to express them. There’s a reason that letting yourself go into full-blown hysterical crying can feel so cathartic. And you, as a man, are doing yourself a major disservice if you don’t let those feelings out.
The social pressure to “settle down” is real – and it’s garbage.
This one can apply to both sexes. Men, in particular, seem to struggle with pressure from parents, friends, and family to get married, buy a house, and have 2.5 kids and a dog when they reach a certain age. But you know what’s worse than social pressure? Being stuck in a life you never wanted because of it. In therapy, I help men explore their own values- what is important to them, as opposed to what others want for them and try to build in things to their lives that are in line with those values. Some people don’t want marriage or kids. Other people want just one or the other – and all of those options are OK! The path to happiness is unique and different for everyone.
Guys, if any of the points above hit close to home for you, or you feel like you’re struggling and not sure where to turn, therapy is a great option for you. In therapy, we will work together to help break some of these long-held ideas about masculinity. We will to learn healthier ways of relating to yourself and others. We can also collaborate to help you really figure out what brings you joy and meaning and to start focusing your time and energy toward those things instead of just fulfilling the expectations of others. If you think you could benefit from any of the above, please give us a call today!