Stop telling men to just “Open Up”

Note

If you’re reading this because a man in your life shared it with you, please continue with an open mind, he’s shared this with you for a reason.

As men why can’t we ask for help?

I saw an interesting post in a Men’s Facebook group recently, the guy asked this:
“Why do so many men pretend like they’re okay when you’re actually dying for help inside? Makes ZERO sense to me.”

All of the loaded BS reinforcing of stereotypes aside that are dripping from this question, it’s essentially saying, “man up and get help.”

I was inspired to answer it properly.

Firstly the idea that you demand a man open up, or just expect him to do it without at least some idea of the background, or trying to understand why he struggles to, completely misses the point.

What does it feel like to have never had support?

Firstly the idea that a man must just “man up” and be the version of the man that society is telling them to be in this particular moment is just laughable, and has no place in 2020.

Add on top of that the fact that some of us have 30-40-50+ years of conditioning, of anchors and triggers wrapped up in habits and behaviours that do not serve us, but that we are in some cases completely unaware of.

So when you tell a man to ask for help, he may go straight to one of these places:

“Who do I even know that could help, or would want to help?”

“Where would I even find someone who wants to help?”

“Where do I even begin to describe what I need support or help with?”

“I don’t even know what I need help with, but I know I need it”

“I already feel utterly alone and cut off from any ability to ask for support, I’m lonely and yet surrounded by people”

“I was never taught how to open up, or be vulnerable, in fact I was taught that vulnerability is weakness”

“I’m not allowed to fall apart, I must remain strong and hold everyone else up”

And so, when you’ve got any or all of that going on, is it any wonder that the men in our life struggle to open up.

So we fall in to patterns, of pushing down, and not being able to face our stuff, we become resentful, but simultaneously hold the belief that we must always “suck it up and deal with it”.

Then you’re told you must open up, you must be vulnerable, you must share.

YEAH RIGHT.

Conditioning shuts us off

This also doesn’t take into account the fact that this can be so engrained that the men in your life aren’t even aware they’re bottling this stuff up.

They’re so entrenched in their societally conditioned behaviours of holding their shit together, that they may not even be able to identify what is wrong, or what they need support with.

You may even unintentionally be reinforcing this, and holding the stereotype.

So even when you think you’re being supportive, your beliefs and biases around how men should behave are showing up in your actions and behaviours.

You can say you’re supportive all you like, but if you don’t back that up with action, the men in your life are going to know.

We’ve been ridiculed, and bullied for being vulnerable not just as kids, but as adults too, and what is called “friendly banter” can often be taken to heart.

Men are called wimps, pussies (misogyny aside) , and not real men for being anything other than made of stone.

My experiences…

It’s certainly true that as men we are getting mixed signals, from “open up, be vulnerable, share what’s going on” and in the same breath “not like that“.

Or encouragement to lean on people, but you must under absolutely no circumstances fall apart completely.

Very few people today are capable of holding space for male energy falling apart, it’s too much, because societally we’re conditioned to believe that men must always “hold it all together”.

And so we must hold back, we must not let it ALL out, because the men and/or women in our lives don’t want to have to deal with it.

What’s missing?

For a very long time men have gone without support structures, and this has only been heightened by disappearing communities, disappearing rites of passage, and any ceremony or ritual around coming of age.

This has largely been replaced with faux masculinity, the type that’s labeled today as toxic, which shows up as demeaning, divisive, dominating, and seeking to control & own anyone around them.

If it’s not masculinity overtly at it’s worse, the contrast is that of Mr. Nice Guy, who will bend over backwards for you (whilst secretly resenting you) over himself and his needs (or try to manipulate the situation because he doesn’t know how to ask for what he wants).

Both ways men do not get their needs met, either out of pride, or fear, conscious or unconscious.

There are very few grounded, healed male role models for our young men today, or for a very long time for that matter.

Men are lost, they make no transition from the wounded child into the fully healed men they are capable of being.

This is only reinforced by society, friends and family, and yet this is not me attributing blame, we all have our part to play, and the harsh truth is that, we don’t know what we don’t know.

The role of shame

Shame around not being able to hold it together is real, and because for so long we’ve been told we must be that kind of man, the shame we feel for not being able to live up to that can prevent us from seeking help.

It is absolutely imperative that you do not shame the men in your life for opening up about what they hold inside.

Shame is a deep, and ugly emotion, it get’s in the way of so much joy and happiness in life, and so the more you can do to not reinforce where shame shows up for us such as:

  • Sharing our secrets
  • Expressing our anger (healthily)
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Protecting and/or providing for our families (not gender specific but real)
  • Anything to do with our junk (some of us are already self-conscious)
  • Or sex (Some men get anxious and it affects our performance, stick with us, sometimes especially in new relationships)

The shame we feel is real, please do not ignore it.

What can you do for the men in your life?

If you’re in relationship, consider creating a time and space where anything can be shared, whether weekly, monthly or anything that suits you.

But to do that, to create space for the men in your life, you have to be willing to sit with the uncomfortable, and truly practice what you’re asking him to do.

Prompt, and be curious about his life, free of judgement, or expectation that he will want to open up in that time, but leave room and the invitation open.

Never demand that he open up, and this can be done with more than words, if you’re leaving with frustration because he hasn’t shared or opened up you may be part of the problem.

It is necessary to allow for whatever opening up means for him – if he’s resisting, YOU may be part of the problem, you may be holding beliefs about how or what he can share, leave that shit at the door.

THE KEY is coming to the space and leaving your shit behind, if you become defensive, or take what he has to say personally, you may lose trust, and close him off for good.

Leaving him thinking “well they wanted me to open up, and then I’m punished for it, why do I bother?”

He also, may not be asking you to fix it, he is likely capable enough to do that himself, what he’s asking for is emotional and/or mental support, and that he doesn’t have to carry all of the load.

Unless he asks for solutions, don’t provide them, it is not your job to fix him, that’s his, he may just need a space to breathe.

And never say you will be there if you can’t or won’t, check in with yourself to see if you genuinely hold the intention to show up when he needs it.

This is as much about you setting clear boundaries as it is him being able to express himself.

Don’t be woolly.

If you can be there, you have to be willing to go to that uncomfortable place, this is as much about you learning to be comfortable with male expression, as it is him.

If you really cannot handle it but you love him dearly, support him in finding the professional help and support he needs, he may need that more than anything else.

Bottom-line, this is about trust, trust that you have him, trust that you will not demean or degrade him for being totally vulnerable, trust that you won’t use it against him in the future.

The truth about trust is that it does not happen overnight, and you’re talking about building trust in an area where he probably has none, he’s never been able to cultivate trust in the ability to open up, remember this.

Also remember that if a man in your life chooses to share with you, that it’s a gift, one he does not bestow upon many, he’s inviting you into his life, which now and up until now he’s not found easy.

As men what is our responsibility?

Holding our own, and I don’t mean bottling it all up and never speaking about it.

I mean asking for what we need, and if we’re rejected, or receive unjust pushback, at it’s worst, it may be an indicator that the people we have in our life are not good for us.

I have pretty strong feelings about this, and although yes people in our lives play different roles, and fulfil different needs, the ability to go to those we love with for support, and to have a sounding board occasionally, I don’t believe is too much to ask.

Stand up for yourself, and for what you need, it’s scary as all hell, and you have to risk rejection, but the alternative is that you end up never truly being seen, heard, supported or understood.

Maybe that feels safe, maybe keeping it all to yourself feels like the safe option, and right now it probably is, just know that a level of connection, a level of intimacy (scary I know) is available to you beyond this.

Yes, there are professionals, therapists, counsellors, and coaches if you are action oriented, all of which will be trained to hold the space you need to explore and confront your truth and reality.

You must absolutely seek this help when you need it, and it may be that professionals are where you start, which I would certainly encourage.

AND I encourage you to start cultivating an environment with your nearest and dearest that allow you to be grounded, open and vulnerable, and explore the issues and struggles you face in life.

It is important that we take responsibility for this, that we ensure we do seek professional help when needed, our nearest and dearest are usually not trained professionals (even if they are it is not their job to support you in that capacity), and can only provide a sounding board, so if you do feel yourself heading into that space of relying on those around you, when you really should be seeking a professional, it is your responsibility to seek that help.

It is not the job of the people in your life to fix you, they can absolutely be there as a support, and do not treat them like therapists or other professionals, these people exist for a reason.

How do you start?

When you’re ready and there are people you want to share with in your life, feel free to give them this article to read, especially if you’re worried at all, and want to set the tone ahead of your talk.

Bottomline here is that it is your responsibility to seek help, to work on yourself so that you have deep inner strength, AND you get to do this with a community around you that cares, loves you and supports you.

If you’re at the point where you simply just don’t know what you need support or help with, but you know you need help, I would always recommend starting with meditation and/or journalling.

You can easily download one of the many many many apps available for help with meditation so you can get started.

What I see often is that our minds become so messy, so overwhelmed that we just cannot see the wood for the trees, mediation and mindfulness can help to calm and lessen that noise, so that we can begin to sort through it.

This is a journey to reconnecting with your body, your natural intuition about what you have going on, and you will find quite quickly that your body often has the answers you’re seeking.

Journalling, and I mean complete and total free writing is incredible for bringing to the surface what is on our minds that we may not be aware of.

A few tips for journalling, start small, writing for 1-2 minutes and building from there is a good place to start.

Remove all personal judgement ahead of time, and if you’re worried about privacy and are okay with technology, find an app you can write in with a password protect (and make sure you go airplane mode while writing).

The key here is to leave all expectation or intention other than to write what comes up at the door.

Once you’ve begun doing this and you have a clearer idea it’s time to begin sharing this with loved ones, and maybe professionals (though you can start with professionals).

What does grounded embodiment in the masculine feel like?

Safe, secure, with deep personal and internal knowledge.

If feels like tapping in to your inherent wisdom and intuition.

It is knowing the boundaries of your life, both yours and those of others.

It is being able to stand in vulnerability and strength simultaneously.

If this is not your experience, and you have all the support you need, and are able to open up and share freely, take a second to consider your brothers that don’t have that luxury, and do not minimise their struggles.

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