One of my favourite films of all time has to be ‘The Big Lebowski’. For me, it’s an absolute classic!
If you’ve seen it, you may remember the scene where the main characters, The Dude, Donny and Walter, are taunted by Jesus Quintana from a rival team as they prepare for a bowling tournament. The Dude, struggling to think of an appropriate response to his taunts says, “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
I sometimes feel like The Dude
When I feel anxious about something, it feels like my thoughts are racing at about 100mph. I find it difficult to concentrate on a single task. I struggle to get my words out and find it difficult to express how I feel.
How do I feel? Why do I feel like this? And what is ‘this’, anyway??
Emotions are strange things.
Recently, I was asked to speak on a local radio talk show about an article that had been published in The Telegraph newspaper that asked the question, “Why are blokes who blub in public now thought to be brave?”. I spoke about how important it is that men are able to express their emotions without feeling as though there is a stigma of weakness attached. Whether this is done by simply having a good cry, talking to a mate, exercising or finding something that works for them.
Children can definitely teach us a thing or two when it comes to showing our emotions in a healthy way! I have a 1 year old daughter, and it is amazing to watch her discover new things. Recently, she has begun to outwardly express her feelings of excitement. She will wave her arms frantically, and really vocalise her feelings when something happens that is exciting. Three days a week, I take my daughter to nursery while my wife and I go to work. As soon as she realises where we are going, she begins to get so excited, chatting loads and waving her arms and kicking her legs! When we approach the door, she begins to repeatedly and excitedly shout “hiya!” and starts to chat before the wonderful staff there have even opened the door!
She is understands how to use her emotions to reflect her feelings, and allows this to happen naturally. All babies do this from the moment they are born!
The ‘Real Man’ Un-learns How to Feel
I like green tea. In my desk at work I have a few different varieties. Standard green (as I like to call it), Green with mint & the delicious Salted Caramel Green Tea – you have to try it to love it
Green tea has some great health benefits. It helps with brain function, is good for burning fat and there are claims that it can also help to prevent some types of cancer. So why is it that when I pull out a green tea bag, I get negative reactions, and implications that it’s a ‘women’s drink’? Is masculinity that shallow that it is defined by what hot drink I prefer?
Drinking green tea, eating a salad, not liking football and all these other things have absolutely nothing to do with masculinity, so why do we make it about it!
For decades, men have been fed the idea that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. We are taught that showing emotions of sadness, perhaps by crying, makes us weak or less of a man and that being a real man means you must be strong, controlling your emotions. We have accepted this idea of masculinity for too long.
At school, if one of the lads were to cry after injuring themselves, the news would travel fast and other children would begin to tease them for it, and would continue to do so for some time after.
It is experiences like this that cause us to think that we need to suppress our feelings. One experience like this may not have a great effect on you, but as this happens more often, children, particularly young boys, begin to grow up accepting that “boys don’t cry”, and become nervous of showing their emotions.
Eventually these young boys learn how to suppress emotion, start bottling their emotions up and, as a result, unlearn how to respond emotionally to whatever they are facing
This is a HUGE problem.
The Root of The Problem
One of the reasons that I had anxiety, was that after years of supressing my emotions, I didn’t understand what was happening to me when the emotions began to surge unexpectedly.
Sadly this is the case with so many people.
You can’t cut down a tree without understanding where its roots are. Society may tell us that real men don’t express their emotions (at least not in public!), and to forget the roots of our feelings, when in fact taking good care of our emotional health is just as important as looking after our physical health
I made the decision a little while ago that I want to be able to understand my emotions. I want to be able to react in the same natural ways that my daughter does. I am still on the journey and I am still constantly evaluating how I feel and looking for ways to change my thinking, but I can tell you that learning to understand my emotions has helped me a lot.
I takes a conscious decision to be able to do this. You might not get it right the first time or even the one hundredth time, but keep at it! ! CBT is a great way to help you with this.
The Help That You Can’t Give Yourself
You can learn so much from kids and their first experiences. When my daughter falls over or hurts herself the first thing she does, as she takes in an enormous amount of air for the large scream to follow, is look around for her Mammy or Daddy and reach for one of us to pick her up and comfort her.
She understands that she has hurt herself and reacts accordingly, but also seeks the comfort of someone familiar who can tell her that she is OK, and that the pain or shock she has experienced, won’t last forever.
Sometimes you just can’t talk yourself out of your emotions on your own. You may feel as though there is a battle in your mind between logic and overpowering feelings. It’s at these times that you need a mate who has been through it or is going through it to listen to you and help you to get through it.
This was the thing that saved me. I took the time to have some real conversations with my close friends, and found out that they knew exactly what I was going through and could therefore help me to figure out my emotions and work through my anxiety.
I didn’t lie on a couch while they listened to me or sit in a circle while each of us took turns in talking about our experiences (although this is also a helpful form of therapy), instead, we went out to the pub, for a run or worked out together and talked about our struggles, anxieties and stresses in a natural way, enabling us to help and encourage each other in overcoming and managing them.
Getting professional help alongside this is also a great help. If you would go to a doctor about your physical health, why not go for your mental health too? One of the therapies on offer on the NHS is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), and this really helped me to work out techniques for managing my anxiety every day. If you feel that this is something that would help you, contact your GP who can give you details on how to refer yourself to your local mental health team.
So if you were to ask me what makes a real man I would say, “Real men talk about how they feel”.
But, you know, that’s just, like, my opinion, man.