Some Facts About Men:
- Men, on average, live for six years less than women do. They also have higher death rates in every age category, ‘from womb to tomb’
- Men routinely fail at close relationships. (Just two indicators: over 40 percent of marriages break down, and divorces are initiated by the woman in four out of five cases)
- Over 90 percent of acts of violence are carried out by men, and 70 percent of the victims are men
- In school, around 90 percent of children with behaviour problems are boys, and over 85 percent of children with learning problems are also boys
- Young men (aged from fifteen to 25) have three times the death rate of young women, and these deaths are all from preventable causes – motor-vehicle accidents being the greatest
- Men make up 80 percent of the homeless
- Men comprise over 90 percent of prison populations
- The leading cause of death among men between fifteen and 44 is self-inflicted death. Men and boys commit suicide four times more frequently than girls and women.
- Just being male is the biggest risk factor of all.
– The New Manhood: Steve Biddulph
As a man, father, grandfather to two boys and as a homeopath treating mainly male patients, these facts and statistics have long been a major source of concern for me. How did we get here? How can we respond to these shocking facts? And how can we best support the men and boys in our lives and families to live healthier and more fulfilling lives?
The three most destructive words that every man
receives when he’s a boy is when he’s told to ‘be a man,’Joe Ehrmann, coach and former NFL player
From the above, it is clear that modern masculinity is killing men. While current social constructs of femininity place many demands and restrictions on women, the social constructs of masculinity restrict men enormously, demanding that they constantly have to prove and reprove the fact that they are men.
Both of these social constructs are poisonous and potentially destructive but statistically speaking, the number of addicted and afflicted men and their comparatively shorter lifespans proves that the currently accepted version of masculinity is by far the more effective killer. Even when it does not literally kill, it causes a sort of spiritual death, leaving many men traumatised, dissociated and often unknowingly depressed. And for many men, the process begins long before manhood.
The emotionally damaging “masculinisation” of boys starts even before boyhood, in infancy. Psychologist Terry Real, in his 1998 book “I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression,” highlights numerous studies which find that parents often unconsciously begin projecting a kind of innate “manliness” – and thus, a diminished need for comfort, protection and affection – onto baby boys as young as newborns.
This is a pattern that continues throughout childhood and into adolescence. Real quotes a study that found both mothers and fathers emphasised “achievement and competition in their sons,” and taught them to “control their emotions”—to ignore or suppress their emotional needs. Similarly, parents of both sexes are more punitive toward their sons.” Beverly I. Fagot, the late researcher and author of “The Influence of Sex of Child on Parental Reactions to Toddler Children”, found that parents gave positive reinforcement to all children when they exhibited “same-sex preferred” behaviours (as opposed to “cross sex preferred”). Parents who said they “accepted sex equity” nonetheless offered more positive responses to little boys when they played with blocks, and offered negative feedback to girls when they engaged in sporty behaviour. And while independent play away from parents—and “independent accomplishments” were encouraged in boys, girls received more positive feedback when they asked for help.
Lessons like these impart deeply damaging messages to both girls and boys, and have lifelong and observable consequences. But whereas, as Terry Real says, “girls are allowed to maintain emotional expressiveness and cultivate connection, boys are not only told they should suppress their emotions, but that their manliness essentially depends on them doing so.”
Real’s research suggests that little boys internalise this concept early and begin to hide their feelings from as young as 3 to 5 years old. “It doesn’t mean that they have fewer emotions. But they’re already learning the game – that it’s not a good idea to express them,” Real says.
“There is growing evidence that in constructing,
displaying and maintaining their male identity, men
engage in risk behaviours that can be seriously hazardous
to their health. Since sickness may be seen as an expression
of weakness, many men may decide not to seek help and
instead, present a stoical, brave and unflinching front
to the outside world.”Men’s Health Forum 2007
We are also bombarded with images and messages about masculinity presented in our media. TV shows, video games, movies and comic books inform children, not so much about who men (and women) are, but who they should be. While much of the research about gender depictions in media has come from feminist researchers deconstructing the endless damaging representations of women, there’s been far less research specifically about media-perpetuated constructions of masculinity and the inherent pressure to conform to these.
The most common images of men in the media include:
- The Joker
- The Jock/sports Hero
- The Strong Silent Type
- The Big Shot
- The Action Hero
- The “geek”
- The Buffoon (who somehow always gets the girl)
In a time when a U.S. presidential candidate can boast about his “pussy-grabbing” and when elected boasts about the size of his penis and the “big” nuclear button he controls, the U.S. National Coalition on Television Violence study found that, the average 18-year old American males will have already witnessed some 26,000 murders on television, “almost all of them committed by men.” Combine this with all the violence shown in film, video games and other media, and the numbers are likely huge.
The result of all this is that boys are effectively cut off from their feelings and emotions, their deepest and most vulnerable selves, with little sense of consequence for their actions. It also leaves little boys and later, men, emotionally disembodied, afraid to show weakness and often unable to fully access, recognise or cope with their feelings.
Add to this the biological imperative of a massive 800X increase of the male hormone Testosterone at puberty and we have a potential time-bomb ready to explode into manhood.
This energy urgently needs to be harnessed and focussed but unfortunately this rarely happens in our culture. In traditional indigenous cultures this would be the time for a boy’s initiation into manhood by the community’s male elders, teaching him how to be a man in the world. In our culture’s absence of this, we have, in the words of African elder and teacher Malidoma Somé, “a dangerous population of boys in adult bodies.”
The Role of Shame
In his book, “Why Men Can’t Feel” Marvin Allen writes, “These messages encourage boys to be competitive, focus on external success, rely on their intellect, withstand physical pain, and repress their vulnerable emotions. When boys violate the code, it is not uncommon for them to be teased, shamed, or ridiculed.”
Best selling author and researcher Brené Brown also discovered in the course of her research is that, contrary to her early assumptions, men’s shame is not primarily inflicted by other men. Instead, it is the women in their lives who tend to be repelled when men show the chinks in their armour.
“Most women pledge allegiance to this idea that women can explore their emotions, break down, fall apart – and it’s healthy,” Brown said. “But guys are not allowed to fall apart.” Ironically, she explained, men are often pressured to open up and talk about their feelings, and they are criticised for being emotionally walled-off; but if they get too real, they are met with revulsion.”
That trauma makes itself plain in the ways men attempt to sublimate feelings of emotional need and vulnerability. While women tend to internalise pain, men instead act it out, against themselves and others. According to Real, women “blame themselves, they feel bad, they know they feel bad, they’d like to get out of it. Boys and men tend to externalise stress. We act it out and often don’t see our part in it. It’s the opposite of self blame; it’s more like feeling like an angry victim.” The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that across race and ethnicity, women are twice as likely to experience depression as men. But Real believes men’s acting-out behaviours primarily serve to mask their depression, which goes largely unrecognised and undiagnosed. “A depressed woman’s internalisation of pain weakens her and hampers her capacity for direct communication. A depressed man’s tendency to extrude pain…may render him psychologically dangerous.”
James Gilligan, former director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Harvard Medical School, has written numerous books on the subject of male violence and its source. In a 2013 interview with MenAlive, a men’s health blog, Gilligan spoke of his study findings, stating, “I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed, and that did not represent the attempt to prevent or undo that ‘loss of face’ – no matter how severe the punishment, even if it includes death.”
It is worth noting that typically men who are shamed live in a horribly conflicted world, hiding their shame because admitting it will reveal the pain that they have something to be ashamed about. These men will often brag or present with bravado, putting up a huge defensive wall.
“Most men don’t have a life, they have an act, a role to play, without a clear sense of self”Stephen Biddu;ph
Helping Men to Heal Shame
- The overarching message that men receive is that any weakness is shameful • Since vulnerability is often perceived as weakness, it is especially risky for men to practice vulnerability
- The antidote to shame is vulnerability
- Recognise and acknowledge shame: the first step in healing shame is to become aware of it
- Start by identifying what triggers the shame and the thoughts and beliefs that fuel it • Shame is a universal emotion; it’s okay to feel it
- Practice self-compassion: learn to treat yourself with kindness, understanding and self-love, even in the face of shame
- Challenge limiting beliefs: examine the beliefs that fuel your shame and question their validity. (Often, these are based on outdated societal expectations or personal experiences that no longer serve you)
- Cultivate self-awareness: increase self-awareness by exploring your emotions, thoughts, and behaviours
- Reach out, ask for help
- Set boundaries for yourself: don’t take on work or responsibilities that you don’t want to do or haven’t the resources for
- Apologise, “own it” when you are wrong
- Connect with other men: find support and community by connecting with other men who are also on a journey of healing and growth
Masculinity as we know it is constructed and defined socially, historically and politically, rather than being biologically driven. It is destroying and killing men and is extremely damaging for the women and children in their lives. We urgently need a new model, a model that embraces inner strength, wellbeing, power, and real purpose – the healthy, sacred qualities of masculinity.
Healing shame and embracing one’s sacred masculinity is a personal and ongoing process that requires self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-compassion. This requires courage, patience and a lot of support, especially from other men. It also needs a lot of courage and presence from therapist, as well as a willingness for us all to examine and move beyond the current, narrow and often toxic social constructs of masculinity.
Men do not usually learn much through things going well. It’s pain and suffering that are their best teachers. Sooner or later they will be confronted with grief, loss and shame. If properly supported these three ‘enemies’ can become men’s greatest allies in their initiations into becoming whole, healthy adults.
Men who go through this process will typically feel empowered and confident in their power. They will have a strong, clear and embodied presence; have the ability to create and hold safe space for others; be able to witness without judgement and able to meet and hold the sacred feminine energy.
Psychologist and bestselling author Steve Biddulph sums up this process very succinctly in the following steps:
Seven Steps to Manhood
- “Fixing it” with your father: out of 100 men, only ten are close with their fathers; the ‘father wound’ is one of men’s greatest challenges
- Finding sacredness in your sexuality: learn to ‘make love’ rather than to ‘have sex’; free themselves from the pornification of their sex lives
- Meeting your partner on equal terms: commitment is a big thing; being loving and kind is important in relating to partners; so also is honouring your own needs.
- Engaging actively with your children: a father often sets the mood for the family, for good and bad; boys need active care and example to become ‘good men’; girls need healthy examples of “good men”
- Having real men friends: “friendships” with other men are often superficial and competitive; real male friendships provide safety, security and acceptance
- Finding your heart in your work: for many men their work is a kind of slavery; help them find their real work and how to live from it
- Freeing your wild spirit: having a sense of purpose and meaning is essential for men’s life
Declan Hammond is a homeopath, transpersonal therapist and shamanic practitioner, co founder and former director of The Irish School of Homeopathy. His life and work has been a passionate search for the most effective healing tools for himself and his patients.
Declan has developed a unique synthesis of both ancient and modern healing techniques and works with individuals and groups to empower deep personal growth and spiritual development.
His passion is working with people challenged by non-ordinary states of consciousness, who are undergoing Spiritual Emergency/Psychosis type experiences.
He has a particular interest in drug harm reduction and integration work. He is part of the Kosmicare Medical Team at Boom Festival, Portugal and is a founding director of PsyCare Ireland.
Read more on https://declanhammond.com/