How often do you hear someone say "he never talks to me", "he never tells me....", or "I wish he opened up", etc.? Probably, more frequently than you here the opposite, "she never talks about....". As a man, I can have great conversations, well except when discussing football or rugby, then I am useless. However, I do, or more appropriately, I should say I used to have that age old problem, of withholding my deepest thoughts, considerations, concerns, worries, and emotions. Not an unfamiliar story, as I am sure there are many who can relate. So why is that, and is it helpful, is it protective, and why, to broadly generalise, is it a trait more frequently adopted by men.
Some would say this lack of willingness to share, is a protective attribute that stems back to Neolithic man. An intrinsic desire, or need to protect the more vulnerable, to spare them the concerns, worries, or fears of the reality, and the dangers of life outside the cave. As civilisations have evolved over the centuries, this protective instinct, the need to protect from physical harm, innate to men, has evolved into a less obvious physical aspect of physical protection. No longer do men need to protect their family, from mammoths, bears, and other sorts of worldly dangers, but rather the perceived dangers. In that I mean, they acknowledge the risks of rape, theft, war, even traffic. Yes, I was always taught, 'a man walks on the outside of the pavement'. Why do men walk down the aisle with the bride on their left, so as to have their sword hand (predominantly right) free to protect, should the need arise. In latter years, the Victorians would have dinner, the men would go to discuss business politics etc., whilst ladies talked about 'what ever'. Some may have seen this as sexist, misogynistic behaviour, but was it? Was it more a cultural, and historical aspect of society, that was born out of those caveman, Neolithic characteristics, the desire to protect the ladies, from the troubles, concerns or difficulties of the world outside the cave/Home.
However, as society has changed, and women have been given more recognition for their abilities, And I say more at this point, due to the acknowledgment, that in parts of modern society today there remains many inequalities, those we would normally like to assign to history. Never the less, Society has changed in westernised cultures at least, but has the psychology of male society caught up? I do not believe so. Whereas, before, the lack of openness by men, may have had a physically protective nature, to keep the more "fragile/delicate" of the species from harm and destress, these days, does it have a more psychological element? I would like to add at this point, that the terms "fragile/delicate" in relation to women, are not my own thoughts, but that of historical society at the time. So, in a society where women need less, if any, protection provided by the men in their lives, does the psychology of many men follow the this development. Personally, I don't think it does.
For many men, the psychology of their reluctance to talk is a misguided concept of protection. This protection is 3 fold. Firstly, the belief that withholding details, information, concerns/worries, and deep feelings etc., they are protection their loved ones from emotional, psychological stresses, strains, worries, headaches, and inevitable sleepless nights. This false perception is not only an unevolved misguided concept of protection, but a naïve psychological misconception. After all, who hasn't heard the saying "a problem shared, is a problem halved." I, for myself know that this is a certain truth, for when I have opened up, I felt an ease of the burden I carried, not gone, but eased.
Secondly, this protective instinct is not only for the loved ones, but also to protect self, to preserve the self, in particular our masculinity, our own perceived sense of strength. I know this again for myself, for a one point in my life, I was a specialist nurse in the NHS UK, undertaking my Masters in advanced practice, named as part of published research article, I worked on, I was part of the All Wales respiratory committee, and presented publicly at meetings & conferences. I was a regionally acknowledged clinical trainer and assessor, for both professionals and volunteer ambulance personnel (St John Ambulance). I trained members of the public in Life saving First Aid techniques, I was a recognised public speaker, preacher, and public speaking trainer. I was a counsellor, and dream interpreter/guide. I was a husband and new father. A good CV, and all this looks impressive, however, I had compartmentalised all these different aspects, that was until I had an "acute stress episode" (old fashioned breakdown) diagnosed by Doctors. At the time, my then wife, said "don't you feel better now that you have told someone", I said NO, I felt like I had failed, I had lost control, and was no longer able to function within those roles afore mentioned. In fact, I fell apart and due to a Mental Health diagnosis, I could not go out, speak, spent vast swathes of the day sleeping.
The stress episode was not caused by admitting I was struggling, but rather, the fact that I had under lying issues I had bottled up. Therefore, although, during that period in my life, I felt like I had failed, and opening up was a sign that I was weak, and no longer could cope, I realise now that, the hesitance, was in reality fear, and that I had to address, deal with, and talk about the long standing underlying issues, this was the cause. What I thought was my strength, managing, isolating different feelings and thoughts, keeping everything in check, supressed, these "strengths" were in fact my weakness. Failure to talk, to release the pressures, to share, the fear to express, sometimes strong, emotion(s) will, in time cause that 'breakdown', the cracks will show.
Thirdly, this psychological protective characteristic, this unwillingness for men to talk, has a greater/wider significance. There is the element, that not only are they protecting their loved ones, and themselves, but also the wider community, friends, work colleagues etc. Somewhere in the male psyche, we believe that by being strong, controlling the emotions, showing we can cope, men believe we are protecting others around us. That is, as a man I wont let others down, we are someone to be relied upon, a strong, valued member of the work team, community, and society. If we admit our 'weakness', as a man, the feelings of fear, the feelings of being overwhelmed, the uncertainty of "what am I going to do?", this is getting a bit too much, I am hurting, is this an admittance of our failure to be the person I should be in society, or rather is this admittance that I need help, actually a Strength, a sign I am a real man. I have learnt, personally, that this is so, I am a man because I need help! In the Christian Bible it says, "God said it is not good for man to be alone, so he created woman." So, even in the ancient texts, and traditions, it is recognised that a man needs help, he does not need to walk this Life alone, he is not the only one who needs to carry the burden.
Finally, I believe this lack of willingness for many men to not talk, can impact their spirituality. It is known, evidenced, that far more women are in touch with their spiritual nature, than men. Why? again, this denial of fear that seems to grip many men, requires that, if they open themselves up to a spirituality, they will be admitting to weakness, that inability to cope, the lack of strength to manage, the admittance they 'don't know', they need the help/support of the others they find within a spiritual/religious community. For many men acknowledging a spiritual side, means they would have to open themselves, to allow someone, some deity, higher being, or force into their lives. Although, in this situation a man would, unlike the previous need for the man to protect the physical, and psychological, he rather, needs to release that sense of control. By acknowledging a spirituality, a leading by a higher being, or god, being directed by religious tenants, means men have to admit that despite centuries of western teachings, and cultures saying, be a man, be self made, direct your own destiny, this needs to be laid aside. However, if a sense of the true self can be found in spirituality, that sense of belonging, purpose, resolve, support, inner strength, this can provide a peace that surpasses all our current, circumstances, concerns, and emotions.
So why don't men talk; they want to protect the physical, the psychological, and have a perceived need to be in control. They feel that talking is not helpful, its not practical, its not doing. However, talking has been shown to have beneficial effects on the holistic individual, Body, Mind (mental health) and Soul. We need to be patient, gentle and sensitive with the men in our lives, when encouraging them to open up and talk. We, ourselves need to be open, unopinionated, and ready to see everything from all perspectives. Are we good listeners. #TimeToTalk #MensMentalHealth