Many of my conversations with men focus on their struggle in taking better care of their mental health.
Their struggle is, in part, blighted by their self-stigma surrounding psychological distress.
Stigma is another way of describing shame, disgrace, dishonour and humiliation. Pretty awful feelings to swallow and leaves men gasping for life, literally. Suicide rates for men globally remain too high.
Men and women experience stigma around mental health issues. I think stigma in our community is associated with ignorance and fear.
Some men feel lost, confused and stuck because their skills at seeking and accepting help is hampered by their self-stigma.
I recently heard stigma being described as a form of discrimination.
How do we discriminate against ourselves?
Emotional awareness, acceptance and expression are often borne within a family, relationship, community, culture, religion and society in general.
Stigma is created by the messages we give openly or indirectly about which emotions are acceptable or unacceptable.
Consequently, some boys and men in particular get stuck in a shameful, restrictive, limiting response to their negative feelings.
The stories we tell ourselves
Men’s stories about their negative feelings sound something like this:
“If I bottle it up, suck it up; just carry on, I’ll be right.”
“I am strong when I’m tough, independent and unemotional.”
“I don’t trust negative feelings.”
“Taking care of others is more important than taking care of myself.”
“If I can’t tough it out alone, there is something wrong with me.”
“It’s not manly to ask for help.”
“I manage pain by avoiding it or using alcohol or drugs.”
“Fear, hurt and sadness are signs of weakness.”
“I’m good at fixing things, or solving problems. If it can’t be fixed then I leave it alone.”
“I’m ashamed of my negative feelings.”
“I’m stupid for being such a wuss.”
These views form a centrepiece of self-stigma. It is how we add shame, embarrassment and humiliation to our emotional experiences.
Getting in our own way?
Not only do men feel bad, they feel bad about feeling bad.
This leads to men suffering alone and in isolation leading to depression, anxiety, addictions, relationship and family breakdown and more.
Some guys make no room for normal feelings that naturally emerge in our lives from time to time. Feelings like sadness, grief, loss, worry, fear, helplessness and more.
How to re-write the story? – Getting relief and reducing the stigma!
Community acceptance of mental health issues requires considerable education, awareness raising and conversations that are normalising and empathising of emotional and psychological distress.
Permission to express and communicate emotion lies at the core of decreasing men’s self-stigma. Stigma disappears with more tolerance, less judgment and more acceptance.
When blokes learn how to tune in to their feelings with courage, with less judging, more tolerance and skilful flexibility with their feelings about feelings they can re-write their own story.
I’m privileged to support men in guiding them towards the skills of emotional acceptance.
Counselling acts as a coaching ground for men to cultivate courage to experience emotions with a sense of internal safety, relief, a sense of lightness and pride in shaking off their story of shame.
Do you see vulnerability as a great strength or a weakness?