One of the things I see holding men back over and over again is a fear of being a burden. They don’t share their thoughts or feelings, their creative works, or even their hopes because they are afraid of being a burden on others. This can cause a lot of pain for a man who needs to share, or can hold him back from growing because he doesn’t get the feedback he wants.
Some people really do respond poorly to a man talking about his fears or troubles; they need to feel like they are surrounded by strong and brave men to be safe. A man who complains can shatter their illusion, and make the world seem a more dangerous place.
There are enough of those kinds of folks around that most young men get punished for expressing themselves when they are young. Sometimes men in authority will leave little boys to handle big problems on their own, knowing that they might get hurt, might get upset, and may fail. They do this to “toughen up” the boys; to make them strong and teach them not to complain, so that the world will be full of tough men. It’s a cold a cruel practice that was, sadly, necessary in the harder times of our past. Today it is the mark of an immature person trying to force their ideas of manhood on others.
Today is different… or it ought to be. We still need men who are strong, resilient, and self-possessed. We need men who are leaders, and refuse to play the victim game. But we also can’t afford to have men who are emotionally bottled up until it makes them sick. And we need men who know how to get feedback and grow as people.
In that same hard past, Men always had sacred and special places they could go where they were allowed to talk about their feelings. Where men could be free to talk out the things that bothered them and the rules told us that they needed to be listened to and respected in those spaces. People who are too insecure to live in a world where men could be less than perfect were not welcome in those spaces.
Sadly these “Male Spaces” disappeared a long time ago, but the demand for Men to be hard and strong stayed, as did the practice of “toughening men up.” We have had many generations of Men grow up being told they need to be tough, and sometimes being mistreated in the moments where they are most vulnerable… but had no safe place where they could share their needs and feelings.
And there are others who think that the way Men do express their feelings is unhealthy. They want us to emote the same way women do. To wear our hearts on our sleeves, to always talk about what’s on our minds, and to cry often. But this is no more healthy than bottling things up. Men’s emotional landscapes work very differently from women. We need time and quiet to process our feelings. We also need to have some privacy about our feelings and a sense of self-control that makes emoting in the same way as women unhealthy for us.
And the people who demand this often are doing so with an agenda that has nothing to do with the welfare of Men. They often are the ones who are most likely to feel insecure about Men being too emotional. And so, when they get what they want, it makes them unhappy, and they punish the people around them for it.
It’s lead to generations of men who haven’t had much of a chance to process their feelings in safe and healthy ways outside of therapy. Thankfully, things are starting to change. Men’s groups are coming back, and we are learning how to express ourselves in ways that suit us as men. I hope that my the time you grow up Men’s groups are common and accepted.
In the meantime, most men have to learn a careful balance when it comes to sharing their needs. Learning to ask for feedback and to ask for help works best for us when we ask for it from a position of courage. This is something I teach many men, and hope to teach you as you grow. The basics of it are this:
- Know what is really important to you, and refuse to stress over the rest.
- Choose your battles based on what is important to you.
- When you are asking for feedback, tell people about your positive goals.
- Express hope and confidence that you will get the outcome you want.
- Never come to a person from the posture of a victim, be sure that you are looking for a solution.
- Tell people what kind of feedback you need from them.
- If you just need to vent, ask them if it is okay for you to vent for a bit.
- List what you have tried, and if possible, what you have not.
- And if you are venting, end positive, talk about how you are going to turn the situation that is bothering you into a good one.
- Thank them for listening.
This isn’t just about making sure others are comfortable – it changes your own mental frame, too. If you focus on solutions, then you will be in a far better position to handle your feelings constructively. It also means before you even give voice to your fears or pains, that you are thinking about a solution – and that gives you incredible power over your emotions.
If you open up in the right way, to people with whom you have built a good relationship, you will find not only do you get the support you need, but that you inspire others, too. Your courage in handling the problem will make them feel brave. Your wisdom in knowing what to ask for will be something that they will imitate. Asking for help the right way can be a help to others.
And once you do open up in the right way, don’t hold back unless the other person starts to seem overwhelmed (be mindful of that, of course). If you cut yourself off because you worry that you are bing a burden on others, then you are doing yourself a terrible disservice. You are letting your fear of being punished for having feelings (which many men learn) get in the way of your own growth. Remember:
You don’t get to decide how much other people can handle; it is their right and responsibility to decide that for themselves.