There is much discussion around men’s mental health and isolation…
Thus, men’s groups, providing safe-spaces for self-expression, are growing in popularity.
A recent shift in men’s consciousness has seen even the typical Neanderthal vocalizing his feelings. It seems talking and realising that we are not alone in our despair is cathartic. But what when the inner turmoil cuts deeper than words?
Today’s world is based on separation. Why? Because there is fear and insecurity, the worry of not being able to cope with things is ubiquitous. It’s good to talk about our ‘shit’, it helps us to let go. There are, however, some boundaries which need crossing delicately and few men have a strong enough network to feel fully supported.
To have foot soldiers whom we can call upon, when the mud seems too thick to wade through, can be lifesaving. A few months ago, I was one of those foot soldiers and never fully realised the responsibility or importance of this role. Unfortunately, the discussion with my dear friend never went deep enough to uncover the critical signs. Me, a mental health first aider and trained resilience coach, I just never read the signs. We lost a good man!
There is a fundamental difference between feeling low: having a bad day and verbalising it, and the debilitating, despair of anxiety and depression. Rarely is the latter something men want to share because it goes deeper than words. Men generally want to master these emotions themselves or ‘carry on regardless’. This often pushes unspent emotions deeper into the psyche where they eventually manifest in the body. Such psychosomatic malfunctions can cause the body-mind to develop a repulsion to moving forward, a feeling of being stuck. It is as though the person has come too far in life to turn back, but the fear of moving forward and making the same mistakes becomes overwhelming. Spurred by grievance, of losing his manhood underpinned by shame and guilt, the tendency is to pull-back from society.
Many losses are accumulated over a person’s life – especially for the driven ‘Alpha’ who seeks to build his empire and protect it. Our tendency is to ‘get up when the chips are down’. Therefore, grief is often repressed; it goes under the radar unnoticed. You see, grief is personal and cannot be shared, it is something most men will carry at some stage in their lives. Women find it easier to share their truths, amongst friends, but men often feel vulnerable doing so.
Coping Strategies or Transformation?
When emotions become dark and dense, rarely can they be shifted through talking alone. This perpetuates isolation, not just from society but from the unconscious emotions we harbour. Without owning and unraveling these hidden aspects of ‘the small self’ a man can feel isolated in a room of people.
To find peace we must develop enough courage to face our grief in the shortcomings we encounter. Due to our social conditioning, grief rarely shows its ugly head until there is a serious life event. Generally, grief is connected to the loss of a loved one, but what about lost opportunities and relationships that go unprocessed? Greif comes in many guises: a lower school grade than expected, a missed goal, a sweet-heart we let down, the loss of our youth, a bad performance, a bad business transaction, an idea that never took off, an unrepaired family feud, even the loss of hair or its colour – the losses keep on coming. It’s not surprising then, when life throws a curve ball, a single grey cloud can turn into a shit-storm.
Where did it all begin?
Since boys we were taught to be strong in the face of adversity, to man up, to stop crying. The transition between boy to man therefore is a great opportunity to sow seeds for emotional resilience. Unfortunately, dysregulated family environments don’t support this. Thus, grief, and its ugly sisters shame and guilt, often spill into adult hood, collecting momentum like rolling moss. We create coping mechanisms, some work, many don’t. All the while grief bubbles beneath the skin.
When we understand that grief, is something we can overcome, we move up the emotional ladder towards acceptance and eventually peace. `First we must employ courage and this is something we men do best alone. Here, we learn to self-regulate, to master our emotions over simply coping with them. With courage and maturity, we dare to look inside and feel the pain we hide from the world. Once we expose what lurks in the shadows of our mind, we can talk productively about it and begin to live our truth. To reveal our blind spots therefore is an opportunity to transform our fears and be a guide for others.
It’s OK to be Angry
It is important to understand that anger often breeds in men that shun their chequered pasts. Anger is another heavily guarded emotion; heaven forbid we show our anger. Because anger is ugly we suppress it! But, when understood and utilized correctly, anger has the potential to fuel transformation – we are in a rage to change things. Once we learn to contain anger, and not suppress it, courage is earned. With this type of courage, we can face anything.
The anticipation of grief, shame and guilt is often what causes our anger and anxiety. To avoid this, the tendency is to shift our attention elsewhere. Over working, over training, over eating, over talking (bullshitting), drinking and drugs are all forms of distraction. If storing emotional baggage sounds exhausting, over distracting oneself can be deadly.
The Poison is the Cure
Sipping on the poison is the medicine for those courageous enough to taste it. A bout of grief, felt in the body, lasts around 20 mins once acknowledged. Accumulated grief however can impact the body for years, even decades. The solution, therefore, is to micro manage our stress. We stop and reflect, we feel into the body and process the impact of what life throws up. We allow authenticity to dominate. We let the tears flow and our shame in crying or becoming emotional dissipates. In these moments, we begin to defuse the physiological charge of life. Anything less is to bury our heads in the sand and deal with accumulated traumas when less prepared.
The unconscious mind often holds onto trauma to protect us, the deeper the trauma the sullener the impact. A positive shift happens when we reduce our grievances and accept that life is a cycle of letting go, of none attachment. Here the body becomes lighter, we dilute that which holds us back as we shine a light on it. Only then can we live our fullest expression.
A practical way to let go of deep seated emotions, is to ‘pre-tend’ to them. When we prepare our nervous system, we develop emotional intelligence. Anxiety is experienced in a mind that ruminates over things that may never even happen. When we ruminate over fearful thoughts, it is good to ‘re-cognise’ that they are simply there to protect us, they are on our side. What if this or that happens? is simply the mind’s way of preparing us for all eventualities. One way to reduce impact is to disseminate our problems, to break them down. We ask the mind to ‘re-present’ a more favourable solution to each component of the problem. It is healthy to meet our fears, by challenging the mind in this way, we teach the mind to work more favourably for us: is there a more beneficial way of looking at this problem that supports me? The mind’s heat seeking device then goes to work on searching for answers outside of our field of awareness.
Imagine a hurdle you face. Feel the emotion in your body, where do you feel stuck? Next, take a pen and paper and compartmentalise the problem, break it down into bite size chunks. Ask your unconscious, how are you trying to help me by making me feel this way? Rarely do we believe that our pain speaks to us. Write down what comes to mind, as quickly as you can, without pausing for thought. Next ask: what other emotions could I feel as I move towards this hurdle? What emotions will I feel after the event or conflict has past? Next we ask: what emotions will be unmet if I walk away and don’t resolve this problem? The transformation then comes as we ‘pre-tend’ the outcome we want: we see, feel and own the outcome we desire, instead of feeling the anxiety of being afraid of it. Addressing our fears in this way, reduces their potency; Why? Because it is usually fear of the fear itself that causes our anxiety.
Breathe life into your visualisations
To harmonise our breath with the experiences we seek, is to hold the trophy above our head before it is won. To assist with manifesting our dreams we align each exhalation with a feeling of letting go – even of the trophy itself. Here, we let go of anything that is holding us back from peace – we become peaceful with or without the thing we desire. By reducing the sympathetic load of the nervous system in this way, our mind begins to regulate and the anxiety of being outside of what we want falls away. When starting embodied breathing in this way, it is important to invite the breath into the body gently. We inhale long and smooth without pressurising the body. Remember the body is where we store our emotions, we don’t want to agitate them. Here, the exhalation becomes our guide and greatest asset. We make peace with our internal terrain as we exhale away accumulated stress – back to where it came from. Physiological adaptation of this nature develops lasting transformation. Bathing in our potential is a powerful tool and helps reduce our limitations…
Will we still make mistakes? Well, that’s one possibility! But, always remember, there are many outcomes available to you. Some, maybe more incredible than you could ever imagine.