Last week found Nick and I were delivering a two-day workshop on Leadership and Communication to a local client group. It was a diverse group, and we enjoyed our time interacting and getting to know them a little over that time. We received positive feedback and it was at the close on day two that the client representative said something that touched Nick and me. He expressed how he holds Nick up as proof that a man with a kind heart is not a weak man and should never be viewed that way, that being kind is a desirable trait and part of being comfortable with who he is and what he stands for.
It was a lovely thing to say and important message to the group, which was largely male.
It resonated because, what Nick and I have observed over time, often in clients but also generally, is that many men of all ages have lost connection with who they truly are and what they bring to the world. In that confusion and disconnect they can end up feeling lost and demonstrate behaviour that they have come to believe is appropriate for men, but they are not born that way.
Every young boy is innately gentle and tender and can be encouraged to continue to express that nature if they are offered a supporting, loving and non-threatening environment in which to develop and grow. Sadly, that is not the case for all of them. Picture a boy in a more traditional, old-school, strict environment, it is more likely that, by the age of 2-3 years old, he starts to be shut down by one of the adults around him and discouraged from expressing himself in a way that is natural for him. It’s no longer acceptable for him to cry to show or talk about his feelings and, if he does, is chastised, belittled or told ‘toughen up’, ‘suck it up’ or ‘big boys don’t cry’.
Over time, it becomes more difficult for the boy to be honest about how he’s feeling and, in the face of punishment or even the threat of it, will opt to do as he’s told, stop bothering and toughen up. At least on the outside. But what internal turmoil and unease does that create? He will no longer feel safe expressing his true self – not just in the home environment but anywhere. The same message is often reinforced in social settings; any sign of emotion or revealing feelings may be met with bullying and feeling left out, it’s no longer safe to be me.
If this is their experience, it’s hardly surprising that some adult men feel unsafe expressing their emotions, particularly around other men for fear of being labelled weak so continue to internalise how they feel. In a desire to fit in or conform. No longer able to recognise or express how or what they are feeling, the result may express in frustration or expand into anger.
Internalising creates the disconnect; they may have to be one thing on the inside and something entirely different on the outside, just to survive. Having to hide their true essence can lead to numbing the feeling in a variety of ways; overeating, alcohol or other drugs, working long hours, over exercising, endless hours surfing the internet or whatever seems to help, albeit temporarily. Is it any surprise that many adult males default to anger when actually they are carrying emotional pain and hurt?
There is a real need, particularly for men, to demonstrate vulnerability and while some readers may interpret vulnerability as weakness, Brene Brown (her books are well worth reading) disagrees and writes about the need for and value of vulnerability and that it takes courage to be vulnerable. Courage is definitely seen as a positive trait particularly in men.
My point overall is that I feel the key to creating kind, respectful and rounded adults with healthy boundaries who are grounded in who they are and what they do, is for every male whatever their age to have at least one positive male role model around them who reflects those traits and ideally several. In my opinion, Nick is one of those and I feel many who know him would agree.
Having a healthy role model can be more of a challenge in modern society where an older male may not be around all the time or at all, however good role models come in all ages and guises. It could be a neighbour, uncle, teacher, grandfather or someone at the local store, provided they demonstrate what a truly good man brings to the world then they will show the boy a different way of being, one that reassures him that it’s ok and safe to experience and know what they are feeling and be true to that.
Although, this article is written about men, there is a similar reflection for women but I’ll save that for another article!