By Jay Timms : I am writing this blog for two types of people. 1) Men. 2) Those who are in a relationship with men. I am talking intimate relationships, social relationships, work relationships, family relationships…etc. That kind of sums up a whole bunch of people doesn’t it? I have been having the same conversation with more and more people regarding men and I think it is about time I address it in this format.
I have seen an alarming increase in the rate of depression and anxiety in men lately which is having a negative impact on their relationships. Men are not necessarily categorizing it as depression or anxiety. In fact, many of them have no idea what is happening, but the world seems to be falling down around them and they appear oblivious to the fact. What I have noticed is that the majority of these men are coming face to face with one thing…what they believe it means to be a man, and the fact that their environment is changing and taking away that thing that they measure themselves by.
What you have to understand about men is that in North America, men generally determine their worthiness by specific traits and possessions. I have done a significant amount of research into society’s view of what it means to be a man. There is actual research from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s where the definition of man was researched. They found that society felt that a man had these following characteristics:
(a) Physical. A man must be virile, athletic, strong, brave and unconcerned about appearance and aging,
(b) Functional. A man must be the provider for the family,
(c) Sexual. In intimate relationships, a man must be sexually aggressive and experienced. They also stated that single status is acceptable if you are a man,
(d) Emotions. A man is unemotional,
(e) Intellectual. A man must possess logic, be rational, objective, and practical,
(f) Interpersonal. Men are leaders, they dominate, are disciplinarians, independent, and are individualistic. Chafetz underscores the individualistic trait as being characteristic of western societies,
(g) Other Personal Characteristics. A man strives for success, is ambitious and proud, egotistical, moral, trustworthy, decisive, competitive, uninhibited, and adventurous (in Levine, 1998, p. 35-36).
I get the fact that some of these statements are 30ish years old, but these characteristics have been engrained into our North American psyche just the same way that 30-50 years ago, “Father Knows Best” was more than just a TV show. It appears that over the past few decades that as society has been focused on trying to determine the definition of what is means to be a woman and mother, the definition of what it means to be a man and father has not changed to match the significant strides that the definition of woman and mother. In fact, it hasn’t changed much at all. I believe that the view of women very much needed to change and still has a long way to go, but I think that there is a gaping hole in how we define what it is to be a man.
Now, given the fact that the characteristics listed above are still prevalent in our view of what it means to be a man, take a look around at what is happening today. 2009 showed the highest unemployment rate for Canada in over a decade. In 2009, the unemployment rate was 9.4% for men. The numbers for the USA are very similar. More men are out of jobs. The ones that are left are being asked to take on more and more, reducing the ability that they have to take care of themselves physically. We are seeing that the largest category of sickness and health problems today are directly related to stress, poor diet, and lack of exercise. “I am coming home late again because I am so busy. Dinner has been put away. I am just going to stop off and pick up a burger, shove it down my throat, and go home to bed”. (By the way, did you know that we eat 3 burgers a week per person on average? That means a family of 4 eats about 5 lbs of burgers a week on average. Yum. What that must be doing to our systems.) Take a look at the list above and imagine what all that must be doing for every single belief about what it is to be a man.
Men are going into depressive (and sometimes even aggressive) states, and my experience is that they have a very difficult time verbalizing why. I think many of them deep down know what it is, but recognizing and admitting it is not generally in our makeup (see characteristic “d” above). Imagine if you woke up one morning and looked into the mirror and the person staring back at you wasn’t the person who you saw the night before. That is what many men are waking up to. Society is saying, “because you are unemployed or don’t have as big a paycheck as you used to, you aren’t much of a man”. Men are embarrassed, scared, angry, hurt, and just want to be left alone. Bills are piling up, there isn’t enough money to get kids even the basic necessities, and often times I am seeing those in relationships with these men saying “well, you had better come up with something, because we are in trouble”. Do you know what the man is hearing? “You are failing as a man”.
So what is the solution? First of all, we need to recognize what it means to really be a man. Recognize that some of the best men and fathers in the world are ones who have very little. I have traveled to some very poor parts of the world, and what constantly amazes me is the happiness I see in the faces of people who have literally nothing but their family. “But I am losing my house”. Well, get a smaller one. “I can’t afford my car payments”. Take transit. We need to redefine the difference between “needs” and “wants”. I recognize that this is going to take a major shift in our lives (including mine), but it is a necessary shift that must take place. Place your priorities on the relationships you form rather that the kind of cars in your garage. As I said to a very close friend the other day, “When you die, I promise your kids won’t remember what kind of car you drove. They will, however, remember the rides you took together in the car”.
Second, we need to be able to recognize the signs of a man who is going down the dark tunnel of depression. I have literally seen marriages end because the man doesn’t feel like a man, and the woman looses interest and attraction to him. “What happened to the guy I fell in love with” is often the question I hear. “Where is he?” Right there in front of you. You just have to recognize what is happening and understand that your words of encouragement are at times misinterpreted as “You suck as a man”. I know you aren’t meaning it, but that is what he is hearing. Be patient with him. Like I say to my daughter, “Boys are kind of dumb”. Support him, trust him, and help him recognize that you are his biggest fan. He is going to need you for a while.
Finally, seek professional help. It is not a sign of weakness to admit you need help. It is a sign that you are human.
Jay Timms BMT MA CCC
Author, Trainer, Researcher
Empower Training Development & Research