Dr Pamela Prince Pyle

Breaking The Silence Of Male Suffering

I was recently talking with a friend whose father died within the past year. He shared the complex journey of grieving for his loving father while caring for his ailing mother who was also grieving. He began attending a grief program offered through his church but struggled as the members of the group continued to share the same stories as new people attended. In a group of forty people you can imagine how one’s personal grief can be lost in the process. This is especially true if you are one of three men in attendance.

I shared with him two books about grief which I have also shared in the resources below. However, our discussion then led to the truth that men grieve differently than women. In fact, men suffer differently than women, especially when it comes to the topic of mental health. November is men’s mental health month and as we consider the suffering which occurs with a serious or terminal illness, and grief, we must consider the unique experience men feel.

Suffering in Silence

Suffering is a universal human experience, yet it’s often met with silence and discomfort when it comes to men expressing their emotions. Society’s expectations for men to be stoic and unemotional can be detrimental to their mental health, leading to a culture where many men suffer in silence. Let’s explore the unique challenges that men face and the importance of breaking the stigma surrounding men’s mental health and male suffering.

The Mask of Masculinity

Society often expects men to embody traits like stoicism, strength, and emotional resilience. While these qualities are admirable, they can also lead to a stifling of authentic emotions. Men are often discouraged from expressing vulnerability, which can exacerbate feelings of isolation and loneliness.

It’s essential to understand that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but rather a display of courage and strength. Encouraging men to embrace their emotions and seek support when need is a crucial step towards breaking down the barriers that prevent them from seeking help.

Unique Challenges Faced by Men

  • Expectations of invulnerability: The idea that men should always be strong and invulnerable can prevent them from seeking help when they need it most. This can lead to prolonged suffering and worsening mental health conditions.
  • Career and Financial Stressors: The pressure to provide for their families or succeed in their careers can weigh heavily on men. The fear of failure or job insecurity can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety. This is exponential in the setting of a serious or terminal illness. They may be unable to keep a job position and inevitably worry about those they leave behind in the event of their death. These added pressures inevitably affect their mental health but also their physical health.
  • Relationship Dynamics: Traditional gender roles and expectations can affect how men navigate relationships. The fear of not meeting societal expectations as a partner or parent can contribute to feelings of inadequacy.
  • Stigma around Men’s Mental Health: Women tend to share more freely with each other. They process their emotions if not in real time, at least closely thereafter. They have many opportunities to do so in an environment that feels safe and comforting to them. In the case of my friend in the opening story, it would have been better for these three men to work together independent from the women’s group. Men ultimately benefit from talking about shared experiences; however, it also needs to feel safe. A place where they sense a no judgement zone. Even in a safe place, men are “fixers” by nature. They need to find solutions. The only way to solve any emotion is by recognizing it first.

Breaking the Silence of Male Suffering

To address men’s mental health, we must encourage open conversations and provide safe spaces for them to express themselves. This can be achieved through:

  • Destigmatizing Mental Health: Normalizing discussions about mental health can make men feel more comfortable seeking help. This can be achieved through awareness campaigns (such as Men’s Mental Health Month), community events, and educational programs.
  • Promoting Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Encouraging men to engage in activities that promote mental well-being, such as exercise, mindfulness practices, creative outlets, and ultimately faith. My friend found comfort in his faith and the church, even though not in this grief group.
  • Providing Accessible Resources: Ensuring that mental health resources are readily available and easily accessible can be a lifeline for men in need. This includes therapy, support groups, and crisis hotlines. Men may not feel comfortable going to a therapist, however, they are more willing to talk to each other. This is especially true when they have a common experience. I serve on the Medical Advisory Board of the White Flag App. This is a peer-to-peer mental health app which helps create an anonymous platform for “raising your white flag” if you need to communicate with someone 24/7. For the suffering associated with grief, I recommend the books: Grace Disguised or It’s Okay, you’re Not Okay.
  • Educating on Emotional Intelligence: Teaching emotional intelligence from a young age can help men develop the skills to navigate their feelings in a healthy and constructive way.

Men don’t suffer less, they suffer differently. Understanding the complexities of men’s mental health is crucial for self-care and for the men in our life. Let’s break the silence together.

3 Responses

  1. Pam, thank you so much for a much needed article. As a counselor and pastor I encounter men who just can’t grasp the truth that suffering in silence is not an effective coping strategy at all! I also have a hard time getting their wives to understand why they “are the way they are”. They want their husbands to be more emotionally intimate and get frustrated when their husbands are not. God created us different and society has created even a greater divide with these messages about masculinity and emotions. Jesus was a man who had emotions but they were control emotions not stifled emotions. We need to embrace our emotions as a gift from God not a curse.
    Keep up the great work!

  2. Here’s a great book for you to consider: Why Men Struggle to Love: Overcoming Emotional Blind Spots by Eddie Capparucci

    1. Thank you so much Michael. Praise God for Pastors and Counselors combined. Jesus wept many times and was angry (in the temple), and frustrated (why can’t you stay awake). He modeled suffering and the emotional turmoil that accompanies it. Where are you located in case anyone I come across and needs your services is in the area?
      Thank you so much for your work and for commenting and I will add your book to my resource list.
      God Bless You,
      Pamela

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