Men struggle. That’s right. We struggle with stress at work, with our relationships, with our self-confidence and self-esteem.
Every single day, men everywhere are putting on a mask and pretending they’re okay; laughing, joking, being strong and dependable, while inside they are hurting, perhaps even despairing, and struggling to cope.
Too often, we will force down our feelings, carry on as normal, get on with it, ‘be a man’.
We can’t be weak.
And we run and hide from our painful feelings, doing anything we can to distract ourselves from them, ignore them, avoid the shame of feeling them.
Afraid that our struggles, our pain, our feelings and emotions, make us less of a man.
But real men feel.
Because it takes strength and courage to face our suffering and our fears head on. To tackle them. To fight them and to win.
That’s how we turn our struggle into our strength.
It isn’t easy. In fact, far from being a sign of weakness, allowing ourself to really feel takes an enormous amount of strength and courage.
We have feelings and emotions for a reason – they help to guide us through life, to teach us what is working for us and what isn’t, what is for our greater good and what needs to change. And we all have them.
Yes, even men.
And if we won’t feel it, we can’t heal it.
Here are seven ways of turning your struggle into your strength.
1. Recognise where you hide
Men are often taught from an early age to hide our emotions and feelings away. And so, when we struggle, we find ways to bury our feelings and hide. We may hide in a bottle, in a line, or in strangers’ beds. Drink, drugs, sex, and… bad times.
Recognise where you hide, and how you distract and medicate yourself against your struggles. Th first step to changing anything is to recognise it.
2. Talk the talk
Apparently, men don’t like to talk about our feelings… No! For too long, too many of us have been conditioned to feel that we can’t, and we don’t know how to – there’s a big difference.
We fear being judged and thought of as less of a man for our feelings, our doubts, our fears, and our struggles. But… nobody WANTS to carry a burden alone. I know from my work, especially in boxing, that, given the right conditions, even the biggest and toughest among us will reveal their vulnerabilities. Now that is strength.
Talking can help us – individually and collectively – so much. As with any fear, when we break through it, we can open ourselves to benefits we would never have otherwise known.
Far from being alone, once you talk to someone, you will often find yourself hearing, ‘I know what you mean…’, and having previously unsuspected struggles of friends and family revealed to you. You’re not alone.
3. Don’t be too proud to admit that you may need to seek professional help
Hiding, burying and keeping our struggles locked inside can take a serious toll, and can even lead to depression. Depression isn’t what you think. It consumes you, and you can’t ‘happy think’ your way out of its claws, any more than you can stop the room from spinning when you’re shit-faced drunk.
If your struggles are consuming your thoughts, affecting your eating and sleeping, affecting your relationships and your ability to work and function, you may be experiencing depression and need to reach out for professional help. Don’t let male pride stop you. When you’re in the pit of depression, it’s incredibly difficult to climb out on your own.
And remember – you’re not the only one, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Even Tony Soprano had counselling!
4. Look after yourself, or it could be you
If you eat crap, drink like a fish, and sit on your backside all day, you’re not going to be surprised if a heart attack pays you a visit. Yet most of us don’t think we could ever suffer with a mental illness. Until we do.
Our brain is an organ like any other, and if we don’t look after our mental wellbeing, guess what? Yep, we can suffer mental health problems. Even you. You’re not Superman, and nor do you have to be.
The Five Ways to Wellbeing offers simple ways that you can look after yourself – connect, be active, take notice, keep learning, and give.
5. Take the time to get to know the most important person in your life
Self-knowledge is the most important knowledge there is. When you know, accept, and love who you are, you are free from the judgement and expectations of others. Free from the constant comparison and putting yourself down.
You are more confident in your ability to make difficult decisions, and to do what is right and best for you without giving a rat’s arse what anybody else might think.
Just imagine how good that would feel?!?!
6. Take control of the pen
Your life is your story, and every day a new page is written. But who is writing it? Who is holding the pen?
Do you feel trapped in a situation you don’t feel you can get out of? A relationship, or a job? Are you living to meet the needs of others at the expense of your own hopes and dreams?
A sense of agency and control over our lives is an important pillar of wellbeing, and of happiness and contentment. What steps can you take today to take greater control of the pen, and how can you write your best chapters yet?
7. Got any ID?
This is linked to point 5, but it goes deeper. It goes right to your very core.
Who are you? What are you about deep in the core of yourself? This is one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves, because how we identify is perhaps the strongest narrative we hold about ourselves and our lives, and it has the potential to be both a huge cause of stress and struggle, or a foundation of your joy and happiness.
We all hear about sport stars struggling when they retire. A big part of this is tied to identity – what is a fighter supposed to do when he can’t fight anymore? It’s not just what they do, it’s who they are.
Who are you, and does the life you’re living reflect your identity? Do you feel you need to hide aspects of yourself that are important to your identity in order to fit in and/or meet others’ expectations of you? Does the job you do or the relationship you’re in support and confirm your sense of identity, or does it compromise it?
Does something have to change, and what action do you need to take?
Matthew Williams has a three video series, Real Men Feel, for any man that is struggling. You are not weak, you can get through this, and you can change your life for the better.
Real Men Feel will help you turn your struggle into your strength.
This Movember, watch out for your mates. You can never underestimate how much someone might need to talk.