English Speaking Therapists in Barcelona

Men Don’t Cry—Why Men Avoid Therapy

Men Don’t Cry—Why Men Avoid Therapy - How We Can Help Men Move from “Manning Up” to Embracing Their Humanity

Men don’t cry? Think again. Leigh Matthews, Founder and Director of Therapy in Barcelona and an Australian Registered Psychologist, talks about men’s avoidance of professional support and why we need to turn this, and the outdated stereotypes about being a man, around.

A “Real Man”

A “Real Man” is physically powerful, a rock and an island unto himself. You won’t see a Real Man asking for help, crying or feeling emotions aside from anger or ice-cold calm. When we think about “manning up” we think about being tough, self-reliant, dominant, strong and unemotional. In fact, to be a man is to be invincible, hardly human at all. A Real Man doesn’t go to therapy.

This video reveals how some men and boys experience the phrase: “Be A Man.”

Many of these men and boys call this stereotype out for being relative, sexist and outdated, while others reinforce how it calls for strength and emotionless fortitude. While men from younger generations are turning away from toxic masculinity, numerous studies suggest the more aligned with traditional ideas about manliness a man is the less likely he will be to seek help when he needs it.

Despite suffering comparable levels of depression to women, studies show men reach out for help 29% less frequently than women and only when in severe distress and the rest of the time, they never reach out.

“This is not about being more of a man but being more in touch with our humanity.—Mark Rowland, director at the Mental Health Foundation.

Harmful masculine stereotypes leave men finding it hard to identify or express feelings and embarrassed they’ll be seen as weak if they show emotion.

As Psychologist Ann Neitlich writes in Building Bridges: Men’s and Women’s Liberation: “It has long been clear that women are oppressed by society with men carrying out that oppression. What has not been as clear is the societal oppression of men, with devastating effects on the lives of men (and women).”

A Mental Health Crisis

“​​Men do not cry

It will make you look weak

Said, mothers and fathers

Not a tear must you leak” —“​​Men Do Not Cry” by Beverly Martin

In all countries, suicide is more frequent among men than women. According to the WHO, men are two times more likely to die due to suicide than women.

Not only do men avoid seeking professional help, but they also don’t reach out to family or friends. One survey found that within a month of mental health problems showing up, one-third of women shared their concerns with their supports. In contrast, more than one-third of men waited two or more years or never shared mental health issues with those closest to them.

Men cry.

Men experience anxiety.

Men suffer from depression.

Men need help sometimes.

Men are human and all humans suffer.

Instead of saying “Man Up,”

How about: “Be Honest. Stay Alive.”

A New Masculinity

Pride, and the shame it conceals create a dangerous silence that allows men to be killed by their own pain.

The damaging message is clear: “It’s weak to talk about or show emotions.” This comes from outdated ideas about masculinity and femininity. Men are strong, rational and active. Women are weak, emotional and passive. Mothers talk more to daughters than sons about feelings, and boys’ feelings are invalidated as they are encouraged to “man up.”

It is essential to push for cultural change in all spheres of our lives, sending the message from childhood to infancy, adolescence and adulthood into the third age that “Real” men feel emotions and ask for help. In fact, we need to face up to the changing face of gender in our society and accept that firstly, we are all human, before any gender.

New Messages to Normalize

  • Going to therapy and asking for help is a sign of strength.
  • Masculinity includes having and showing a full range of emotions.
  • Men who express themselves are attractive.
  • Feeling lost, failing or experiencing mental health issues happens to all men.
  • Talking to mates and sharing feelings or challenges is essential and OK.
  • Sharing, vulnerability and collaboration are more potent than control, self-reliance and dominance.
  • “Manning up” means allowing your humanity, with all the pain and joy that being human entails.

Help Is Out There

The crisis of disproportionate rates of suicide among men has led to the evolution of services for building awareness around men’s mental health.

MensLine Australia is a helpline specifically tailored to men.

Mates promotes peer support and educational initiatives to prevent suicide among men in the construction industry.

R U OK? promotes life-changing conversations to prevent suicide and tailors programs to men. For example, R U OK? For the motor trades is a “campaign to help workmates in the motor trades industry overcome the awkwardness and talk about emotions and life’s ups and downs with one another.”

Organizations adopt athletes as ambassadors, such as CALM in the UK, whose video, featuring Rugby player Joe Marler, uses a clever YouTube tech trick to reveal the words left unsaid by so many men.

The social media hashtags #RUOKMATE and #BoysDoCry intend to break the stigma around help-seeking for men.

How Therapy Can Help Men

The message that men do not or should not feel often leads men to numb or avoid emotions but there are many reasons men may need to reach out for help from a professional.

Firstly, men self-medicate more frequently than women, using alcohol or other drugs to cope with symptoms of depression or other mental health issues. Unfortunately, drinking is also a risk factor for suicide and magnifies depressive symptoms. Therapy can help men develop alternative coping strategies and learn what function emotions have and how to regulate them without drinking.

Further, men’s attempt to conceal emotions often manifests as an unhealthy reliance on anger and irritability as the answer to all stress and emotion. Therapy can help men identify the primary emotions that arise before anger or irritability and provide strategies for healthy expression and management of emotions.

Erectile dysfunction, low libido, or premature ejaculation are often impacted by psychological issues like depression or anxiety and therapy can help men to pinpoint the issue and work on it to resolve the sexual dysfunction.

Pushing away emotions frequently means men are emotionally distant in relationships, end relationships to avoid working through emotional issues or devalue the closeness of loved ones. This limits many men’s ability to experience one of the greatest pleasures in life: healthy intimacy. Therapy can help men to explore and experience their full capacity for closeness in relationships by learning new ways of showing love, resolving emotional issues and becoming increasingly comfortable with being more authentic with their partners.

What Can You Do?

  1. If you are a man, start talking. It takes a great deal of courage to step into a professional’s office to get support. Therapy in Barcelona, has a whole team of therapists and we personally match our clients to the best fit for their concerns and goals. You can choose a male or female therapist, and we try to meet your availability to make it easier for you to attend. Around 50% of people who come to Therapy in Barcelona have never seen a therapist before so you’re not alone if it’s a new experience. We know how hard it is to reach out for help and we are sensitive to this because most clients are anxious at their first session. You will be met with acceptance and it is likely you will feel a huge relief after the session with your therapist.
  2. Ask your husbands, friends, sons and mates if they are OK. If you need some guidance on how to ask if they are OK, check out the R U OK? Website for some pointers. There is even an app to assist with role-playing scenarios.
  3. Drop the gender stereotypes. Learning to be human, beyond the straitjacket of gender stereotypes, begins from birth. Parents, please not only sit with your daughters but also sit with your sons when they cry, validate what they are feeling rather than telling them to get up and on with it.
  4. Watch what you say about men. Be careful to affirm how positive it is when men share vulnerability. Share positive news and narratives about men with your sons. Build a new way of being for boys to aspire to and higher expectations for your daughters.
  5. Buy books and watch movies featuring men who are fully realized humans. Let’s rectify, as Ruth Whippman writes, the “bizarre absence of fully realized human beings in [our] sons’ fictional worlds.”
  6. Talk about how men and boys are represented in the media. Open conversations about alternative ways of being. “That man looks like he never cries, but all humans get sad don’t they?”
  7. Challenge conventional and all or nothing ideas about men and women, boys and girls. Do only girls wear pink? Can all kids play with all toys? Teach your children facts, like that male and female brains show very little difference at birth and it is likely socialization creates vast gender differences where nature has not.
  8. Surround your child with positive role models, men who share their emotions and labor in the house, men who are supportive and authentic, loving and warm.
  9. Teach your child empathy, talk about emotions, let them see you helping others by letting someone go ahead of you in the line at the supermarket, or asking people how they are.
  10. Reinforce the attractiveness of men who share emotions whenever you see this on TV, social media, etc. Show your sons, male partners or male friends that you value their vulnerability. Emphasize the value of qualities previously only associated with femininity and thus devalued, such as sensitivity, communication and sharing, vulnerability, openness.
  11. Offer boys and adolescents a new version of masculinity based in humanity, not gender binaries. We need to offer boys and men new narratives, not just bludgeon them with the legacies of bad men. Let’s start teaching boys and men that being human is the way. And being human means experiencing joy, resilience, strength, independence as well as sadness, anger, failure, challenges, falling down and interdependence. The New York Times offers this amazing resource for teachers called Boys to Men: Teaching and Learning About Masculinity in an Age of Change.

Let’s help men out of old stereotypes that trap them in the “man box” and teach them that being a Real Man means being a HUMAN and it’s OK to ask for help.

If you or anyone you know is affected by this story, here are some resources that can help:

Therapy in Barcelona is not a crisis service, but a great place to start talking and get help to prevent severe distress.

Leigh Matthews is an Australian Psychologist and Founder of Therapy in Barcelona, an international team of English speaking therapists in Barcelona and online. Leigh has been living in Barcelona for ten years and is in an intercultural family with her Catalan husband and son. Leigh can be found on LinkedIn, Instagram at @therapyinbcn and on Facebook at @therapyinbarcelona. You can join Therapy in Barcelona’s Therapist Led Peer Support Group for tips and inspiration.

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