In some of my hardest life moments, I’ve resorted to both constructive and destructive coping mechanisms. But while pin-balling back and forth from the anesthetics of mild alcohol use and sexual gratification to attempted spiritual awakening one thing remained crystal clear; the more I expressed myself while keeping honesty as my main goal, the lighter my heart became.
In that sense, I would say that it is always great to have close, trustworthy (can’t emphasize that word enough) friends and family who you can be yourself with and who you can express vulnerability to. It is soothing to the mind knowing that someone is listening to what you have to say and hear the pain that you feel. Like a weight lifted off your heart and mind.
That extra emotional weight guys carry
But for us guys, I feel like there’s an extra burden to expressing ourselves. An extra few pounds that seem to make the difference between completing your twelve-rep set and falling short at eight reps (a gym metaphor I know all too well unfortunately). We seem to stop short of saying in no uncertain terms: “I am sad, I feel embarrassed, this is hurting me, I am vulnerable, I felt scared in this situation”.
Some say that men express themselves in different ways and therefore certain forms of expression may not come easily to them. Others claim that men are not socialized to express themselves. We are socialized to keep our feelings inside and in some cultures are ridiculed for not being “man enough”. Some people make it a point to place the blame for this on a false notion of “patriarchy”. These topics deserve essays of their own, of course.
As for me, I feel that many males do not feel safe to speak and do not feel that they will be listened to without judgement. They feel that somehow, they will end up being preached to when they express their vulnerabilities even as the rate of male suicide and depression remains at an alarming rate.
I believe that as a society, we tend to show far less empathy toward males than we do toward females. It makes the process of expressing vulnerabilities a far more difficult prospect for males than it already is. This empathy gap must quickly be removed within society to save our future generations of boys. Our boys and men need to feel safe to speak and be vulnerable. They need to know that they can also be victims and it is not something to hide; that we, as a society want them to be OK and they deserve to be OK. The change required will be a mountain of a task in the face of the anti-male agenda and false notions of “toxic masculinity” that seem to be deliberately designed to erode the psyche of males.
Can “journal-ing” mitigate against the empathy gap?
One of the coping mechanisms that has helped me tremendously and still does today (being the “work-in-progress” that I am), is journaling thoughts whether it be using words or simple drawings. There is something to be said about that as I feel males tend to gravitate toward visual representations.
I think this is something that we should be encouraging our males to engage in from a young age. Putting your thoughts down is not just for girls in a daintily patterned book with a lock. The freedom felt by expressing your feelings and thoughts is a human thing that we as males should benefit equally from. It is necessary to have a safe space, your own space to freely expose your thoughts and yourself with complete honesty and without fear of judgement. In the absence of empathy from society, this may prove invaluable to the psyche of our precious boys and men.
From my own personal experience, writing my thoughts, no matter how good or bad or politically incorrect or socially unacceptable they may be, no matter if I have to repeat myself several times in different ways just to express just how strongly I feel, it works. My first step is usually to attempt answering the question of what is bothering me. Then I recount the incident in sequential order making sure to say exactly how I feel about each incident or conflict. There is something really uplifting about brutal repeated honesty and facing a situation as it is.
Of course, it also means that I often experience a mix of vulnerability and humility as I see myself for who I am but even then, I try to push forward as best as I can with honesty as my priority. The spoken truth bare and unabashed and without judgement is powerful. I also get to see other people from a different perspective which can be a bitter pill to swallow at times.
We can only solve our problems in life if we first understand it. And to understand it, we must be honest about it. As it stands, I don’t think that males have enough support and encouragement to really speak openly and honestly. Many times they are belittled and judged for simply being male. But I think that by encouraging our boys and men to journal their thoughts and embark on their own journey of self-discovery, it will go a long way to bridge this gap. I myself try to do the same and I do fall off the path many times but I have come to love journaling and hope that many men take that well-deserved time to learn more about themselves. It’s a riveting and empowering journey!