“I blow up at my wife and kids for no reason.” I don’t want to be that way anymore. I want to stop this cycle of blowing up and then feeling guilty immediately afterwards. It’s not how I want my kids to grow up-thinking this is a healthy way to handle your feelings.”
Chad’s story is not all that uncommon. Anger is the easiest, safest emotion that gets displayed because showing anything else is thought of as going against the ingrained societal norms. The norms of what it means to be a man.
There are countless definitions of what it means to be a man. In our American culture, it seems we’re moving toward a more gender neutral society. In 2016, the U.S. Departments of Justice, Education, and Defense affirmed antidiscrimination policies that recognize a person’s self-assigned gender identity, regardless of the sex on a birth certificate.
Traditionally, men were seen as a one size fits all. There was a practical guide as to how men were to behave in society: they were the protectors and providers. But what happens when there’s nothing to protect? What happens when the other half of society earns a livable wage? All of the sudden, our practical guide of what it means to be a man is not as clear!
However you define masculinity, it is often thought of as the repudiation of the feminine. We cognitively know that gender roles are fluid, but what happens when you have a culture dictating what it means to be a man? For the answer to that, just reread Chad’s comment.
Throughout history, cultures have devised a host of practices to help boys transition to manhood. The practices very widely, but there are universal themes that reflect a community’s values and the roles that men are expected to play in it. The Bukusu tribe in western Kenya practices a ritual of circumsizing men in front of all of the relatives. And the Satere Mawe boys in the Brazilian Amazon insert their hands in gloves filled with bullet ants whose neurotoxic sting is said to be among the most agonizing in nature. Many families lead by example as to what is expected of their boys. In America, the path to manhood is much more ambiguous. Many men have learned what it means to be a man from their fathers, brothers, coaches, and teachers. These men – in their traditional roles – might not be aware of a variety of experiences, especially in family life.
Chad, the “angry” Dad I know sometimes feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. He feels he has to take care of his family financially and also be there for them emotionally but that last part he struggles with. He struggles with it because he was brought up with the understanding that “real men” don’t cry. Men get angry-that emotion is “acceptable” and well rehearsed. Afterall, he learned how to deal with emotions from watching his Dad (who happened to die of a heart attack at age 40).
As a society we want men to cry, we tell them it’s alright but do we then judge them for it afterwards? Men sometimes feel inadequate on the subject of how to deal with the demands of “manhood.” Perhaps the pressures of work and providing for their family fall short in their eyes and the pent up energy comes out as anger at their partner and family.
Men should find a group in which they feel like they belong and have a safe place to work towards developing more authentic relationships in the group. And ultimately in the outside world.
When we think of depression, we often think of women that fit into this category. And the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Health (DSM-5) would agree that Women fit the criteria for depression 2 to 1 over men.
Not only is depression underreported & underdiagnosed in men but if men feel it relates to failures in their professional life, they are even less likely to get help.
Most often I see covert depression (hidden depression) in men as not only causing many physical problems (physical illness, substance abuse, self sabotage in careers) but relational problems as well-strain on marriages and discord with their children. Men are also less likely to talk to other men about their depression due to the social stigma attached to a diagnosis of depression.
The definition of “manhood” lines up with standing up to discomfort/pain. Therefore, men are more likely to stand up to depression by doubling their efforts at work than feeling the feelings.
Renowned therapist Terry Real says, “The essence of masculinity under patriarchy is invulnerability.” Thus, the more vulnerable you are, the more feminine you are perceived to be. And the opposite is true as well: the more invulnerable you are, the more manly you are. The problem for adult men can be that they aren’t permitted to be intimate and vulnerable at the same time. I would go further to say, the socialization of boys is still dictated by the old rules of toughness and stoicism.
As I pointed out earlier, in today’s culture, there are millions of definitions of what it means to be a man. The conversation can get stalled because some men might feel like they are being asked to give up something or become something else.
Chad, for example, might say, “I know what my dad’s definition of manhood is, and I’m not living by the code.” And to Chad I would say this: “You are free to choose your own definition, and to grasp the responsibilities manhood entails and reject the inequities it perpetuates.” Chad and all men should have the freedom to establish a unique and fluid definition of manhood. Do not let others define what it means to be a man.
Once one can stand up to depression, the healing can begin. Unresolved depression can be passed on from father to son, despite the father’s best intentions. With this healing, men can affect his children and his children’s children by not going through the pain and suffering he has endured. This can affect up to 3 generations of family members. Don’t let the suffering continue any longer! Sign up for our online Men’s Support Group now or call us at 804-536-9143 with any questions you may have.
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