As a therapist and coach who practises in the field of Positive Psychology, I spend much of my time working with both men and women on how to build good self-esteem, achieve fulfilling goals, feel empowered and develop healthy control.
It perhaps comes as no surprise to hear that more women than men contact me for help to overcome anxiety and depression, yet I know that the need is high across the genders. No man can be made to ask for help against his will, but with some positive social change, more men may feel more inclined to do so.
I recently heard Denice Williams’s 1984 hit Let’s Hear it for the Boy, which celebrates an imperfect guy who’s the love of her life, and it got me thinking (by contrast) how the ridicule of men seems to have become somewhat normalised and accepted in our society.
I’ve seen it, for example, in some advertising; men portrayed as foolish and incompetent, for comedic effect. The two active steps we can take in response to this social trend are to promote more positive messages out there and to promote more positive messages in here [pointing to head]. I’m using the royal “we” here as I’m female, but it matters to me.
I had a quick run through my mind and it didn’t take me long to strike up a list of phrases pertaining to men that are either negative or loaded with stereotypes that don’t take account of individuality: boys don’t cry, nice guys finish last, his wife wears the trousers, man flu, man up, boys will be boys, be a man about it, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, he’s a kept man, a man or a mouse, take it like a man, all guys are the same, the list goes on.
I often talk to my clients about how their own language (both their internal voice and their verbal language) plays an important part in their wellbeing. If the most confident person in the world called themselves “stupid” enough times, they would, eventually, start to believe it.
Valuing ourselves is vital for our overall wellbeing, so for those who are currently struggling with anxiety, depression and low self-esteem, their language (internal or external) about themselves is unlikely to be very complimentary. Collective efforts within society not to further perpetuate unhelpful messages would benefit all, since these messages can reinforce men’s existing negative thoughts and feelings that they may be holding about themselves and unfair expectations that they may already have of themselves, which does not help matters.
There will always be people who’ll use unhelpful language and put out unhelpful ideas, yet beyond trying to educate others on this subject and create a culture that is more positive in its representation of men, our direct (or primary) control does have its limits. This is where secondary control becomes very important – in other words, our response or reaction.
When negative representations of men or boys are heard, seen or read, it’s important to remember that it’s simply someone else’s perception which you are free to disregard and replace with something more positive. The concept of a boy/man is ultimately a subjective one (as shown by changes over time and the variations of opinion within the same time period). The truth is that life would be dull without individual differences, so being your authentic self, unapologetically, will simply mean that the people who’ll want to be around you will be the best people for you.
Finally, and really importantly, since you can’t control the thoughts held and subsequent language used by everyone else, instead you can actively start to counteract its potential effects on you by treating yourself the way you would treat a family member you love or a really good friend – with empowering, encouraging and compassionate thoughts, words and actions. When your self-esteem becomes higher, the views and opinions of other people become less and less significant, and your happiness increases.
A fantastic perspective piece from Laura. She speaks from a place of integrity, as she's also a therapist so we're grateful to her for sharing her professional insight. Do you agree? What do you think of what Laura talks about? Let us know in the comments below.
You can find out more about Laura and her her own blog via her website at www.anxietytherapyonline.co.uk. You can also keep up-to-date with her on Twitter, where she's @ThriveLaura, via her Facebook page or even on Google+ (yeah, that's still a thing!).
Laura has also, try kindly, given you lovely people a deal on therapy. If you contact her and quote 'MENTELL' either as an email subject header or via the phone, Laura will take 20% off her normal rate! You're feeling better already right?