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Mental Hygiene – A Men’s Issue?

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on June 27, 2007


Are men really less emotional than women?

Over the past decade or so the effects of emotional expression on health, and the differences between men and women in this regard, have become more widely understood. An increasing body of research shows the importance of emotional expression on emotional well-being and, while the exact mechanism between emotional expression and health is not entirely clear, the link appears to exist. Men are traditionally thought of as being less emotional than women but the evidence points more towards a situation where men tend to show emotions that are bad for them and the people around them. Here is a quick overview of some of the research findings about men, their emotional expressions and their health. More…


Big boys don’t cry. That is the first basic rule a boy is taught about being a man. I remember when my wife’s nephew, 5 y/o at that time fell and hurt himself. I rushed over to check that he was safe, and to comfort him. I could see in his face that he was both scared and in pain – yet he desperately sucked his lower lip to keep from crying. This was not something he had been taught at home, where boys and girls were taught that they are humans, people, not a gender. This was something he had learned in kindergarten – big boys don’t cry. All I could do was accept that he chose to be “a big boy” and tell him that crying is alright. Somewhere in his little soul he had already internalized the emotional abuse Society had subjected him to. Men are taught that emotional expression is unmanly. Unless it’s about sports or war.

Crying soldier

How are men supposed to handle emotions, if emotions are unmanly? Mental Hygiene is a necessity, without it you literally go mad. I think that is what happens to men in war. They are supposed to be these big, strong soldiers, yet they must constantly fear for their lives. A fear they cannot release, because it’s “unmanly”. It is no wonder that so many Veterans return home mentally shattered, they have seen and felt too much and have had no natural release for the emotions they have bottled up during the time of stress a war is.

While “Medical News Today” reports that there are few or no differences between the genders in terms of how male and female soldiers are effected by exposure to a war-zone, it is my guess that females are slightly better trained in dealing with those effects, as they are socialized differently than men.
However Donna L. Washington, MD, MPH Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says that

Research on women veterans poses a number of methodological challenges. Cross-sectional studies of veterans generally have small sample sizes of women or often are not designed to include detailed gender-related measures and therefore may lack the statistical power to detect gender differences. This may contribute to an erroneous assessment that access barriers and other factors affecting VA healthcare use for women veterans do not differ significantly from that of male veterans.”

Not that it matters. My point is that men are generally less educated in Self-Administered Mental Hygiene, apart from group-socializing, brawling and sports.

Mental Hygiene, in my opinion is made up of two elements: expression of feelings and techniques for recovering emotional balance. As it says in the initial article – men are more likely to brood on negative emotions, and brooding for a while is good – thinking things through, sort thing, but if it stops there, the risk that bits and pieces are never resolved, either because they are too painful or because they seem insignificant, is great.

This in turn may more often than not lead to the use of substances for relief (another way for men to deal with stress and emotions…), something that delays any attempts to take care of the issue behind the need for relief.

Men do not have the same social network structures women do – mens’ networks tend to focus more on activity than on peer-to-peer communication on an emotional level which means that while they very well get rid of physical stress through “goofing” and playing, they have few out-lets for emotional stress, other than those that are seen as traditionally male: Aggression and Joy. So what do you do, as a man, when there is nothing to be happy about? You either brawl or you bottle it up.

mental.jpg

Boys need to be seen as human beings, not as boys, so as they grow up, they can learn healthy expressions of feelings along the entire human emotional spectrum. Men need to learn to see themselves as human first, and men second, and validate that which is human, rather than “manly”.

Gender polarization has to go. It is doing no-one any good. Really. While women have made significant headway in traditionally male sectors of society, men have not done the same in traditionally female sectors of society. Whether we like it or not, in the end it will come back to bite both men and women in the @$$, in the form of increased substance abuse, violence and depression.

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2 Responses to “Mental Hygiene – A Men’s Issue?”

  1. This is a fantastic article you’ve written, Shadow Bear. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard that phrase (“big boys don’t cry”) and had to bite back the anger I felt. Who determined that boys weren’t allowed to cry? Who decided that boys have to hold all their emotions inside, when it’s perfectly okay – in fact, it’s expected – that girls cry? I mean, come ON!

    I am happy to say that I never raised my sons with that claptrap that says they can’t show emotions. They are human beings, and thus, they have every right to express their emotions. Indeed, I’d bet that there would be less incidences of violence if this crap that “big boys don’t cry” was done away with, and a lot less incidences of men losing their minds because they mentally imploded…

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