Male survivors are asked to blindly accept the messages they receive about the requirements for being a real man, even though those messages cause them pain, loneliness, isolation, shame, and fear. Some of these messages keep men from making connections with their own children and partners. What are those messages? “Be strong, buck up, it doesn’t hurt, be a man, don’t cry, don’t be vulnerable, don’t be a sissy or act like a girl, protect yourself and everyone in your charge.” These messages are conveyed to boys from the moment they learn language.
These are not healthy messages for men, and we must help change them in our own homes, communities and schools. So many parents tell their boys not to cry, or be angry.
It is essential for men to be seen as human beings with feelings, tears, laughter, anger, sadness and vulnerability, as well as strength, courage and perseverance.
My group and I speak at middle and high schools helping teenage boys speak up and release the secrets they have been carrying around for years. One of the survivors in our group, who is a manly man often starts shedding tears as he shares stories about his past relationship with his children. At this point in his life, the tears are gratitude for his progress and the current relationship he has with his children. As he is speaking, someone runs to get him a tissue and we explain, “When someone in a group setting is getting in touch with their feelings and shedding tears, please don’t rush for the tissues. Someone who is crying is in their feeling space, not thinking much, just feeling. When a tissue is handed over the unconscious mind interprets that message as: “I should not be crying or I better stop crying or be able to clearly describe why I am crying.” Then, they come out of their feelings and go back into their usual thoughts. What survivors need is a compassionate listener, someone to validate their experiences. After we leave a school, we get thank-you cards from the students and every year we get some that say “Thank you, Daniel, for showing us what a real man is.”
One year at our It Happens to Boys Conference, a speaker asked the audience to name five good things about men. It was a sad moment. A veil of silence fell over the room for (and I timed it) two full minutes. Then, a hand shot up in the back of the room and the young man said, “I know, I know, Tomas Edison invented the light bulb.” To think, a room full of 250 people and the only good thing that could be said about men was an invention?
Let’s work on this as a healing community. Men, I challenge you to start sharing the positive qualities you have with others, and say positive things about other men. Women, stop pumelling your sons with negative be a real man messages. Men, heal yourselves with acceptance so you can become positive role models for your sons and daughters.