Kerrie Atherton, Founder of Stories of HOPE Australia/Worldwide and EMPOWER Life Solutions, is a Keynote Speaker, Author, Mental Health First Aid Course Trainer, Event Host, and Trauma and Addictions Recovery Coach/Counsellor. After planning suicide at 18, Kerrie walked through the doors of the 12 step rooms and since that day 40 years ago, has remained clean and sober. Over the past 30 years, Kerrie has worked in the business and community sector helping those who are struggling with the issues of life find hope.
Have you ever been told at different times in your life to sweep your vulnerability under the carpet? Here’s how it can sound….
“Real men don’t cry.”
“Toughen up princess.”
“Stuff it down and get on with the job.”
“Don’t show your emotions.”
“Tears are a sign of weakness.”
And there are more, too.
After many years of working as a therapist and seeing men for a myriad of different reasons for everything from addictions, relationship breakdown, job loss, anxiety, stress, identity crises, along with my interviewing men from all around the world and hosting men’s Mental health events, I can assure you that Real Men Do Cry!
This is not to say that if you are a man and don’t cry that there is anything wrong with that either, maybe you express your emotions in different ways – but the bottom line is this… when you experience difficult times in life, the pain has to go somewhere. If you don’t get it out, the pain stays inside. Maybe for a short time, maybe even years. But eventually, it will start to spill out in places and at times that you will least expect if not dealt with in a timely manner within the confines of a healthy safe environment.
A BIT OF SELF SEARCHING GOES A LONG WAY
For many men, self-searching is a scary thing, and after all, they are also often told not to get too deep, that emotional stuff is for the girls. So instead of looking deep within and being prepared to stare pain in the face and sit with it head-on, it’s easier to escape in things that bring that gratifying momentary high such as alcohol, porn, gambling, substance abuse, big boys’ toys, and so on.
The reality is, in the endless search for fulfilment, these things never bring true lasting satisfaction. Real inner peace and joy come from being prepared to look deep within and if necessary seeking professional support.
Another myth or message that male socialisation tells us is that ‘you are what you do’. A belief that often leads many men to be caught up in workaholism. If you think about it for a minute, what is the first question we ask someone when we meet them for the first time? What do you do? This is a massive fear evoking topic, especially for the guy who has just lost his job. All of a sudden male socialisations tell them they are no longer worthy. The shame and humiliation a guy experiences after a job or financial loss is massive and can be the catalyst for a huge identity crisis.
I will never forget a conversation I had with a man who had been a workaholic his entire working life and worked himself into a very bad breakdown and burnout at 52 years of age. It had been role modelled to him by his father that working hard, giving 150%, making no mistakes, and being perfect was the way to conduct oneself. It was how he operated as a top salesman in his field, continually blowing everyone else’s sales out of the water. But at what cost?
As he pondered his current situation and his future, he realised that in his genuine pursuit of trying to be the best provider possible whilst operating under these self-defeating fixed beliefs, he had alienated himself from his wife and lived in constant anxiety, frustration, and fear of the future. He had become physically sick and was having anger outbursts and crying often. Unresolved things were starting to spill out! As we discussed the prospect of him leaving his job and having a break for a few months, he broke down and through his tears said, ‘If I leave my job, I won’t know who I am.
He had a huge lightbulb moment as I said these words to him, ‘You are not your job. Your job is just what you do, but it is not who you are as a person. There is so much more to you than the work you do’. Upon the realisation that he could learn to separate himself as a person from his performance, his life started to transform. He started to see the light and discovered who he really was again, what he liked and who he was outside the workplace.
As a bonus, he started to have more meaningful conversations with his wife and reconnected in a greater way with his kids. Giving up his job and engaging in self-care in essence transformed his life. Something he wished he had given attention to a lot earlier. A year later he realised that he no longer wanted to bust his guts working at that pace for someone else and started his own business. Now he makes six times what he did before and has the quality of life and a healthier sense of self.
BRICKS IN THE BACKPACK
We all carry bricks in the backpack that have been passed down from the generations before us. Some are serving us well and others are becoming a burden too heavy to carry. There are some bricks we need to let go of in order to keep moving forward in a more sustainable way. My client had been carrying the bricks of integrity, honesty, perfectionism, workaholism and being a good provider for a very long time and realised that perfectionism and workaholism were two bricks that had to be taken out. *
Maybe you’ve been carrying bricks in your backpack about what a real man should be like, but they haven’t been serving you well. Are there bricks you need to take out to make your journey in life lighter? Up until now gender norms have sent men all the above messages and more. Thankfully now the stigma around men speaking out about how they are really doing is changing and thus altering the culture, and it’s about time. Hopefully, masculine socialisation is gaining a different voice – a voice that tells men it’s time to start looking after your mental health. Instead of those sayings, I called out earlier, wouldn’t it be nice that men start hearing these words of encouragement instead….
“It’s okay to speak out.”
“It’s okay to seek help.”
“It’s okay to write down how you feel.”
“It’s okay to heal.”
“It’s okay to cry.”