Thursday, 1 December 2011

Why do men bottle things up?

The football world is reeling from the news that Gary Speed has taken his own life. His death has been a shock as the many tributes suggest he was on top form, with no inkling that anything was wrong. Gary Macallister was with him only the day before and said to the Sun newspaper "Why didn't he say something? Why didn't he ask any of his mates for help?"

We've talked before about 'The Great British Reserve' that prevents us from admitting anything is wrong. Fear of failure and being ridiculed is a great driver for us all to maintain that singularly British attribute - 'the stiff upper lip.' And let's face it, it can serve us well - it gets us through tough times.

One of the positive things to come out of Gary's death is the increased publicity about other sports celebrities who have admitted their own need for help, which many have found at The Sporting Chance Clinic run by former England captain, Tony Adams.  'Coming out' and talking about the troubles that come from learning to cope with celebrity status, or later learning to accept that status and wealth have faded with age, or simply coping with life, is a positive step forward.   

Why are men so vulnerable?
In fact men are brought up from an early age to hide their vulnerability. Gary Macallister finishes his tribute with ".....Laughing, joking, winding each other up. It's how I'll always remember my time with Gary Speed" And isn't that just how it is. While women empathise with each other's problems, men are much more likely to make fun of them. Laughing off the 'difficult stuff', focusing on what can be done, not what it means, is the norm for many men.

The 'Big Conversation on this morning's breakfast show on BBC Radio Solent asked listeners 'Do you Think Men Still Hold Back?'  "Absolutely!" says Nigel. You can listen to his full interview with Julian Clegg, by watching the video above, when he explains what it is that makes men vulnerable.

Do men need to show their emotions more?
Well yes - and no. Part of the reason men are taught to keep their emotions under control is that male hormones like testosterone make them more prone to anger and aggression. Learning to channel these strong emotions is a necessary part of growing up in a civilised society. For example, if you are faced with a 'threat', anger can provide the necessary impetus to take appropriate action - as long as you are not so angry the response is way too strong. Unfortunately it sometimes seems that turning down the intensity on anger and aggression means the 'volume' of other emotions is barely audible.

Can women help their partners?
Women are more in tune with their emotions. Their brains are configured in a way which means the connection between emotions and memories are stronger and more accessible to them. This means that women are in a much better position to help their partners talk about their feelings. Of course this needs to be done carefully and with patience. Repeating: 'Are you okay?'or 'What's up?' is probably not going to get the right response, although it is a good thing that you've noticed! If you've had to ask the question, you probably know he's not okay or something is up. A better start might be to name what you think you see:
'You seem upset. Is that right?'

Extra note from Jenny: we too need to avoid coming in with solutions - we aren't immune to that just because we're women! 

If he does want to talk, follow up with 'Is there anything else?' until he's got it all out. You can give him no greater gift than listening. Make sure you allow plenty of time for him to respond - don't fill in the gaps with your words, just wait.

But if, typically, your partner doesn't want to talk about the things that upset him, there's an even better way to teach him to be in touch with his emotions. Wait till you are next aware of something really positive: a relaxing day in the countryside, an exciting day out at a theme park; a proud moment when your child achieves something special perhaps?  Then talk about how that makes you feel: I get gooesebumps at the back of my neck, a lump in my throat, a fluttering in my tummy....  And ask him what he notices. Is it the same of different? Is there anything else?

And suddenly you're off, talking about your feelings.

Let us know how you learnt to share your feelings.

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