By Dr Tim Sharp (AKA Dr Happy) on 24 October 2017
For a variety of reasons, over the last few weeks and months, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what it means to be a “man”.
I’m actively involved in a range of mental health services and organisations and causes, and the sad reality is that men tend to be poorer at reaching out and getting the help they need.
Why is this? Why would so many men choose to suffer more than they need to and choose to suffer in silence?
Well, I think there are a number of answers to this complex question; but at the core of all of them is the definition of “manhood” and/or “masculinity”.
Typically, manhood is associated with words and constructs such as courage and strength, determination and forcefulness, self-reliance and sturdiness.
Unfortunately, these words are too often understood by too many as meaning…resolutely standing and/or coping on one’s own, not needing or asking for assistance, resisting showing any signs of weakness of vulnerability.
And herein lies the problem!
These are all key contributors to distress and suffering. Whereas real resilience and effective coping often involves the opposites of such concepts such as unashamedly expressing emotions, reaching out and accepting help, forming strong and open connections and realising imperfection is a universal feature of humanity (for men and for women).
In my humble opinion, therefore, what’s needed is a new definition of “manhood”; or more realistically, a realisation that there are many definitions of manhood…different versions for different men in different contexts.
Dr Tim Lomas, a UK academic, has researched and written a lot about “masculinities”, the idea that more than one type of masculinity exists. And just thinking about this notion would, in my humble opinion, have a massive, positive impact on many man (and, therefore, on many wives, girlfriends, mothers, children and more).
Because what it means is that each of us can choose to define our own version of “manhood”; one that suits our personalities and builds on our strengths and is appropriate for our lives within our cultures and communities.
My manhood may well be different to yours, and my manhood may well be different to my son’s … but surely that can be a good thing!