Fathers are one of the biggest influences in our lives. Whether you are close to your father or have a distant (or non-existent) relationship with him, the role of a father in one’s life is hard to capture succinctly. As we approach Father’s Day, here are some ideas that I wish my father had told me about men and mental health.
“It’s OK for Men (and Boys) to Have Deep Interior Lives Too.”
One of the mental health lessons I’ve learned over the years is how to become more accepting of my own emotions and internal life. This lesson has helped me tremendously in my work as a therapist. But, I wasn’t always comfortable with this part of myself.
For all of us — but especially men — we learn to question even the existence of our emotions. As a result, we often deny that our choices and behaviors are largely motivated by reactions to others. It could be helpful for fathers to model the deep emotional lives men are capable of. This can only serve to make us more well-rounded, compassionate humans.
“How We Treat Others is a Reflection of How We See Ourselves.”
Have you ever heard the old adage “hurt people hurt people”? I believe this, in large part, to be true. I’m not sure where I learned this, but it has proven time and time again to be true as I sit in counseling sessions with my clients to help them process their experiences.
I’ve also come to realize that the people who we see as ”problematic,” or who often act out, have troubling things to heal from themselves. Combined with the emotional isolation that traditional masculinity requires, it’s easy to see how men with unresolved pain can hurt the people around them, sometimes unconsciously. We see this emotional isolation all the time.
Too often, as men, we externalize our pain and hurt those around us. Many times, we’re afraid to be honest about how we really see ourselves because it makes us seem vulnerable or weak. However, it’s precisely this kind of emotional exploration that helps us forge new paths forward.
Sometimes our mistreatment of others can be a deep clue into how we feel about ourselves. It can be hard to extend compassion to others if you don’t know what that looks like, or how to offer it to yourself.
“It’s Not Good to Go it Alone All the Time.”
Like many men, I grew up with the idea that healthy masculinity included handling any task completely on my own. As I’ve matured and developed my own view of masculinity, I see how this perspective can cause many men pain.
We’ve survived with and because of others, not in spite of them. And I’ll continue to rely on others. Diversity of lived experience and diversity of thought helps us create a more balanced life. When you have blind spots (due things you’ve experienced), having an outside perspective is tremendously helpful.
While it probably isn’t a good idea to share your troubles with every person you meet, sharing your experience with friends, family members, or even a therapist can help you feel supported. Sharing your experience with others can provide new solutions to all kinds of problems.. This idea has remained true throughout my life and career so take advantage of the knowledge of those around you.
Manhood and masculinity are ever-changing, and in my opinion, that’s great news. Evolution is a marker of progress and if we allow ourselves to continue to develop, imagine what the next generation may be writing about masculinity and mental health in 20 years.