From an early age, boys are strongly discouraged from showing vulnerability. They are told to bear things “like a man”. In some cultures, people go as far as punishing them when they express pain. For instance, it’s common practice for boys to be beaten or chided for acting “like a girl” when they cry. In other climes, the ability to withstand tremendous amounts of pain without showing signs of discomfort qualifies you as a bride. Yet, bridled emotions aren’t healthy for boys’ mental health. Experts have shown that these habits are toxic for men and human existence because they encourage violence and cruelty in men. It causes some of them to channel that emotional energy destructively.
Could this be one reason why we all complain about toxic masculinity? Yet it seems we have not pinpointed a key root cause. This toxicity starts from the cradle with the way we raise our boys. We discourage them from showing their feelings or expressing how things really are. They are always scolded for being weak and bullied into being strong. This is not healthy as no human being can be strong all the time. In this world where there is chaos and so much uncertainty, where there is loss and things don’t go as planned, where we lose some and win some, there are bound to be hard times. Hence, one must cry and show emotions of loss and frustration. This is why it’s not healthy to dissuade men from being expressive when they don’t have it all figured out.
Another key way this affects men is the depression rates we see. Worldwide, experts agree that suicides occur more frequently among men than among women. This is largely because men are usually under a lot more pressure than women. They are under pressure to provide, to lead, and to be rich. When they don’t achieve these things, they have no support group to lean on. Rather, they feel like failures and loathe themselves for it. Rather than admit it to the world and have a good cry, they take their lives. This cycle is a vicious one that happens year in and year out yet it seems like many people haven’t seen the need to make conscious efforts to turn things around.
We need to start telling our boys that it is okay to cry because it doesn’t make them less. Even the greatest man that ever lived wept so many times. He wept when his dear friend died. He wept when he saw the city of Jerusalem in confusion. He was not afraid to be vulnerable yet he had all power.
Thankfully, there are men picking up the gauntlets and showing boys what it means to be a real man. It doesn’t mean that you can’t show your pain or sorrow. Rather, it means that they don’t define you. That you are down now doesn’t mean you’ll be down forever so let it out, grieve, and get all the help and support you need. You will come back stronger.
Today, I encourage you to be a safe place for the boys and men in your life. Don’t force them to be strong all the time. Listen, be there for them, and help them. By doing this, we will be reducing suicide counts and making our society and the world a better place for us all.