Words by Tim, 23
As with most boys, I was taught growing up that crying was a form of weakness. When was the last time that you saw a grown man cry? I haven’t seen a man cry in some time, nor have I cried properly in years.
I was taught that boys and men were expected to ”stay strong”, which was reinforced over and over by movies, teachers, school, books and songs (special shout out to The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry”). The last time that I fully broke down was at my grandfather’s funeral. I managed not to cry for the whole lead up, but when they showed the photo slideshow I couldn’t stop myself. I was hardly 18. I did my best to hide my tears, and I haven’t fully sobbed since. Now that I’m older, I’ve learned that crying is healthy and there isn’t anything to be ashamed of, but after spending so many years suppressing my emotional response to cry, I can’t cry even when I want to – at least not properly.
This is pretty common. After years of suppressing our actual feelings, we men don’t actually cry when we’re sad, but hide our emotions instead. The dilemma is that we are no longer in 1960, but 2018; we should be expressing our emotions! Science has now proven that it’s unhealthy to hold onto our emotions, as it will cause more problems later – by keeping our emotions pent up, we ignore the bigger issues affecting us. There’s a reason that more men have mental health issues and higher suicide rates: typically, we don’t talk about our feelings or seek help when we need it. When we think about men’s health issues, we think about men trying to gain a six-pack and rock-hard pecs, but mental health is just as important – if not more important.
“You need to toughen up”, “You pussy”, “Man up you little bitch” – these are all common phrases amongst men, particularly teenagers. This attitude is engrained in our culture; it’s part of us. What I began to realise was that these phrases triggered a response in me as they do most men. For me, it’s an angry response: I wanted to prove my worth, my toughness. The male ego is one overpowering son of a bitch! These phrases might be great motivators when we’re working out, but they’re detrimental to other parts of our lives.
I’m not writing this piece because I have a solution. I don’t, I’m sure people far smarter than I have a fancy psychological name for this topic. What I can offer in the way of advice is to start to observe and become aware of how certain things within your life can trigger emotional responses. Question the reason why. Let yourself have the emotional response your body and brain are creating for you. I have started to do this, and as a result, I am starting to understand myself more. I still can’t cry yet, and it might be some time until I can, but I am no longer scared or ashamed of crying.
I have chosen to write about this now to try to break the stigma, break down the walls of people thinking that it’s not okay to cry, that it’s okay to struggle in silence. Because it is okay to cry, and it is important to seek help. The stigma still exists but it’s important to open up and seek help or assistance. There is nothing wrong with asking for help: please remember that.
I’ll write it again: it is okay to ask for help.
You don’t need to always toughen up.
Illustration by Aileen, You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc