“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise” – Victor Hugo
Following on from my previous post – Why Crying Like A Little Girl Is The Manliest Thing You Can Do – I want to talk a little more about how that relates to feminism.
I feel we need to be very careful about what we tell ALL children, including our young girls. To make sure the false narratives that have so visibly divided the sexes throughout history, doesn’t continue to be the narrative that writes our children’s future.
It’s a well worn discussion that bears repeating, and for that reason I’ll keep my thoughts and this post short. That said I do want to raise a point that’s maybe been missed in our attempts to rewrite the story for our future girls.
With regards to the feminist movement in particular, we need to be especially careful about how we manage its evolution.
When I think about the way in which mainstream media has started to reflect this changing narrative, I wonder if we are unwittingly going down a dangerous path.
Not because we are telling young girls to stand up for themselves more.
Not because we are telling women they’re every bit as capable as men.
Not because we are telling them to be their own heroines – not to expect that they will be saved by some bullshit knight in shining armour.
These are undeniably good things to teach our young girls in order to find greater equality going forward.
What I’m taking about is something more subtle.
The well worn narrative of what it means to be a man – macho and independent – to not need anybody’s help. Specifically that asking for help is a sign of weakness (Something I talked about at length in my previous post).
This is exactly the kind of narrative responsible for the statistic that men are 3 to 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women, despite being nearly half as likely to develop depression. For the undeniable fact that us ‘macho men’ are actually less emotionally resilient than women.
I think it’s this narrative that has put distance between many of today’s male leaders and their own hearts. It’s acting in the pretence of what society believes to be strong that is, in no small way, dividing nations and destroying our earth.
There’s nothing wrong with challenging the narrative women are less capable than men which, of course, is complete BS, but to teach our girls the same things we’ve been teaching our boys is not a smart move.
The way we teach girls to have greater emotional intelligence. To pick them up and hold them when they cry. To let them understand the importance of knowing their emotions intimately.
This is a great thing.
We need to teach and show our boys more of this. Not women less.
To teach them not to cry and be like a man, or grow a pair, so to speak, would be a disaster.
A world in which neither sex is able to properly process or access their own emotions – where girls are told ‘not to cry’ – is a world we cannot allow.
We must stop denying our children their true nature.
(As always I welcome ALL opinions and thoughts. I’m always keen for a dialogue and to be told where and in what ways I’m wrong so I may grow. Thank for taking the time to read.)
Why is it always said, he cried like a little girl?
We never say, she cried like a little boy, do we?
For that matter, we never say she cried like a little girl either.
Of course I’m forgetting that’s because it’s acceptable for girls to cry! Silly me. It’s just boys who don’t cry!
Except that’s not true, is it?
Last I checked, little boys cry too.
In fact I know it’s not true, because my two year old boy cries every single day.
And let me tell you something, he’s the happiest person I know.
The. Happiest. Person. I. Know.
It’s odd don’t you think?
How happy and peaceful children can be, yet we adults have such a hard time accessing those same emotions?
It got me thinking as to why that might be. I wondered, ‘it couldn’t be related… could it?’
Could crying, as one example of allowing ourselves to feel and process negative emotions, be exactly what we need to do in order to access positive emotions like peace and joy?
I decided to do a little research.
My first findings confirmed what I suspected – that crying from time to time, contrary to popular chauvinistic belief, is actually a pretty fucking good thing for you to do.
“Research has found that in addition to being self-soothing, shedding emotional tears releases oxytocin and endorphins. These chemicals make people feel good and may also ease both physical and emotional pain. In this way, crying can help reduce pain and promote a sense of well-being.”
In addition the article also noted that crying reduces stress, boosts your mood, aids sleep, fights bacteria and even improves your vision (remind me to tell some of my older pilot co-workers of this fact).
I figured it must help, but I had no idea it helped this much.
I wonder then, does this account for why we adults (and men in particular) have a much harder time accessing feelings of peace and happiness?
Do we not allow ourselves to cry enough?
Thinking about my own life it certainly makes sense.
Years of depression was a result of not allowing myself to feel exactly what I needed. After uncovering some hard truths and facing those demons head on, following months of therapy, I finally allowed myself to break down (or ‘break open’ as my therapist referred to it, which I much prefer).
It was such an enormous relief to finally let go of what I’d been fighting for so many years. Afterwards I’d felt an inner peace I’d not felt for years. I remember sleeping like a baby that night.
Now I understand the science behind why that was.
More importantly though the harmful narrative I’d clung onto for years finally began to shift. My life has been immeasurably better ever since.
Of course this wasn’t purely because I allowed myself to cry, but I do believe I’d never have been able to properly process and let go of those difficult emotions without doing so.
Recently I’ve been allowing myself to cry more often. I can tell you that’s not easy for a man who has been conditioned by society to keep him emotions under lock and key. Yet in doing so, my life is now filled with far more beauty and meaning.
I cried the other day when holding my son simply because I became aware of how precious it was while he hugged me during a quiet moment. I let myself cry in front of him. I wanted him to know that this is both a normal and healthy thing to do.
I wonder if any of you thinks this make me less of a man?
Did crying when my son was born make me less of a man? When I first held him in my arms?
Did crying on my wedding day make me less of a man? When I stood in front of all my friends and family as I read out my vows to my wife?
These were some of the happiest, most meaningful days and moments of my life.
If the answer is yes then I formally request to be a female because allowing yourself to cry, allowing yourself to feel your emotions, is what makes life beautiful. It’s what allows your difficult emotions to pass. It’s what allows you to find greater peace.
Luckily I don’t have to go through a sex change operation to allow myself to cry.
As it turns out – newsflash everyone – men can cry after all!
Not only can men cry, I found out that it doesn’t result in your life falling apart or your penis falling off.
Unbelievable news I know but completely true! I can confirm this, you see, because last I checked it’s still there.
In fact, I’ll double check now for you… Yep, still there.
Do you want to know why men cry?
Because it’s not a female thing to cry. Shock, horror… It’s actually a human thing to cry. It’s in our nature to cry.
I mean of course it is! Evolution wouldn’t have up with crying pointlessly. Think about it.
Why are we the only species on the planet to deny our nature?
This is exactly what makes us all a bunch of lunatics.
Anyway I’ve gotten away from the research that backs all these opinions up, so let me get back to it.
When I dug a little deeper for this post an extremely bizarre statistic stuck out for me like a sore thumb.
I assumed that men, being more prone to bottle up their emotions and ‘do it alone,’ would almost certainly have higher rates of depression.
Women have been found to have higher rates of depression by a factor of nearly two.
There are a number of reasons for this including gender inequality but studies suggest biological factors to be the major determinant.
At any rate, without getting sidetracked into another very important debate, that wasn’t the bit I found weird.
What I found particularly bizarre was the finding that men are three to four times more likely to take their own life than women.
Why would men be three to four times as likely to die from suicide if they are half as likely to become depressed in the first place?
Assuming my very rough maths is correct and assuming that those who commit suicide have first developed depression, then a man with depression is actually 6 to 8 times more likely to kill himself than a women who develops depression does.
Of course you have to take that with a huge amount of salt, but even so…
Talk about being a man hey? Or ‘manning the fuck up’ as some my friends might say.
Talk about the strong emotionally resilient men we have built as a society.
Clearly we’ve done a great job at giving men the tools they need to process their own emotions right?
Or maybe not.
Maybe, instead, we ought to rethink our narrative.
Maybe, just maybe, telling our boys not to cry isn’t such a smart move.
Maybe, just maybe, telling our young boys to ‘man up,’ or ‘grow a pair,’ or ‘stop being such a pussy,’ actually hurts both sexes, especially men.
Maybe, just maybe, we need to redefine what it means to be a man in the first instance.
What do you think?
I’ll tell you why I decided to bring this subject up.
I overheard someone we had hired to babysit our son tell him not to cry. It was a women, by the way, it case you were thinking it must be a man. She clearly didn’t mean any harm but I had to say something.
I asked her if she’d have said the same thing to a girl, or whether she would, in fact, have picked her up and comforted her?
I let her know how damaging I believe telling children not to cry is.
I told her that I hope my son always allows himself to cry if he feels the need and that I will never allow him to be shamed for doing so in my household.
After going away and giving it some more thought, I realised something else.
A deeper problem that many of us might have with other people crying. And how this problem can likely be attributed to telling our boys not to cry.
I suspect many of our distraction techniques aren’t about helping the child so much as a strategy by adults to avoid issues they themselves have about how crying makes them feel.
I believe it’s the adult who often has the problem, whether they are conscious of it or not.
I know whenever my child cried, early on in the weeks shortly after he was born, it brought up intense feelings for me. I felt like a failure every time I was unable to settle him. I would say, “why doesn’t he like my breastmilk as much as my wife’s?”
Sorry, I couldn’t help myself with that joke.
Seriously though, on occasions he’d cry for long periods, without successfully calming him down, I would get very angry with him (not historically an emotion I’ve had a lot of trouble with). I would get so angry that I had to leave the room. Now I was never going to hurt him, but that anger was new to me.
It felt very intense.
What quickly followed, whenever I gave up by leaving him in another room, was intense feelings of remorse.
How could I treat him like that?
How could I just abandon him in his cot when he’s crying?
Why am I taking an infant crying so personally?
What the fuck is wrong with me?
Clearly I had some serious shit to work through. Yet in a typically male way, I didn’t seek any help, didn’t talk about it, nor did I let myself cry.
I just beat myself up.
(FYI – All of these can be explained as reasons why men have a harder time dealing with depression and why they are more likely to commit suicide – see this article for more details)
It wasn’t until one day when I got home from work that I saw my son playing on the living room floor. In that moment I felt nothing but an overwhelming repulsion to get away from him. I didn’t want to be with him. I didn’t want to father my son. My gorgeous boy.
This time the remorse that came flooding up was too much. I went to the bedroom closed the door and started to cry.
I cried like a little girl.
I cried like a man.
I let myself really cry. When I was finished I remember seeing with such clarity, there was no doubt about what it was I needed to do next. I reached for the phone and spoke to someone. I finally asked for the professional help I knew I’d needed for a long time.
Crying was the final straw that broke the camel’s back.
It gave me the clarity to see what I needed.
It gave me the courage to ask for help.
I can’t emphasise that last statement enough.
Crying gave me courage.
To all men who feel conflicted about their need to cry, it’s important to understand that crying doesn’t mean you’re not capable of dealing with your emotion. It means you are dealing with your emotions. Please understand it’s perfectly ok to do so.
Equally don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. There is no shame in this. There is nothing unmanly about asking for help or showing emotions. We all need help from time to time. That’s part of the human experience.
Don’t think you need to ‘man the fuck up,’ or stop ‘crying like a little girl.’
If it helps consider the phrase, ‘man the fuck up and cry.’
In doing so you might just shatter the bullshit stereotype of what it actually means to be a man.
In doing so you might just have a greater understanding of what it is to be human.
In doing so you might give this world something it needs more than another macho man incapable of accessing his own emotions.
(Thank you to all for taking the time to read. I’m very curious to know your thoughts and get a proper debate going. To challenge my views so I can grow. Please help me cry by leaving your comments below. I welcome ALL opinions.)
ADDITIONAL SOURCES/FURTHER READING
For those who might be dealing with depression and/or struggling with thoughts of suicide it goes without saying I hope you can find the strength to reach out and talk to someone. Coming back from the brink isn’t easy, but it’s never too late. Never. Below is a list of various hotlines and websites in which you can seek help.
“Every child has a god in him. Our attempts to mould the child will turn the god into a devil“ – A. S. Neill
I’ve been thinking today about the nature of my child. What I see is a boundless love and tenderness. Such a pure gentleness.
This is his nature.
I mean to imprint that in my mind.
A gorgeous boy full of smiles and laughter. But also not afraid to cry and express himself. He might not have full control of how he responds to his emotions yet, but there is no doubt about how in touch he is with them. He’s not one bit consumed by them either. He lets them go as soon as they’ve passed.
There is a lot we adults can learn from that.
I think in our efforts to make something of our children, we often do a disservice to that which is already there. I don’t need to make him into anything. I simply need to encourage what already is, for him to flourish and realise his full potential…
Now is the time.
Now is the time to pause and slow down. To revaluate your priorities. To consider what is working and what hasn’t been.
Now is time to practise gratitude for everything you have, such a roof over your head, access to food and clean running water, for living in a remarkable age technologically speaking, that helps keep us entertained, informed and, crucially, connected to all those we love despite our physical isolation. If nothing else to be grateful for life itself, despite all its hardships and heartache.
Now is the time to practise compassion for each other and ourselves. To be kind. To send that energy inwards and from there, outwards to the wider universe of which we are all part.
Now is the time to heal. To use our shared pain as a gateway to shared compassion.
Now is the time to contemplate time. Time is an illusion isn’t it? A trap that makes us think we have to keep on-top of things. To always do things. To strive for some perfect version of ourselves. A compete fantasy. Look at our reality now. Completely turned on its head. No time but to sit. Nothing to do but look inward, if we dare.
I strongly encourage you to do so. Sit with those emotions. Let them surface. The fear, the anxiety, the depression. Accept them as they are. Allow them into your heart. If you do you might learn something that will fundamentally change you. Something that no amount of striving, or trying to get, will ever be able to take away from you. Genuine peace. Peace with yourself and with the world as it is, at this moment.
Now is the time to practise acceptance. Learning to accept – to be at peace with yourself, gives you the clarity of mind to know how you should act – from the heart. Acceptance isn’t resignation. Acceptance is life’s biggest lesson.
Now is the time to practise awareness. To observe quietly. Meditation isn’t an act of doing nothing. It’s an act of curiosity. It’s a profoundly beautiful act of self compassion. Of being aware. Awakened. It is perhaps the most underrated act one can undertake. The act of being. Of dropping our attachment to our thinking minds. Of letting go.
Now is the time to create. It’s often from constraint that creativity springs. Some of histories greatest minds understood and achieved true freedom in isolation. Others created some of their best work. Nelson Mandela and William Shakespeare readily spring to mind.
Now is the time to play. Now is the time to laugh. Now is the time to grieve. Now is the time to feel. To drop your guard. Now is the time to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to be courageous.
Now is the time to look those who you love in the eye and tell them so. Death is never far away. Death is life. Death is a continuation. Part of the journey. That journey continues. It continues in your children and your grandchildren. In all the people you have touched. In all things. Death is beautiful. Death is necessary. It gives way.
Now is the time to meet your shadows in the darkness and understand they were made from light.
Now, is the time. The time to be. If you do, you might just realise that what you‘ve been looking for, has been with you the entire time.
Now, is always the time.
The only question to ask is,
What will you do with yours?
“Mindfulness isn’t about goals or ticking a box – mindfulness is a way of life – something to cultivate over time.”
Below I’ve written out 5 Mindfulness Hacks that I like to use informally throughout the day to help bring me back to and fully engage with the present moment.
1. WHEN YOU NOTICE YOUR MIND WANDERING – SMILE.
“A tiny bud of a smile on your lips nourishes awareness and calms you miraculously … your smile will bring happiness to you and to those around you.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
“The power of a smile to open and relax us is confirmed by modern science. The muscles used to make a smile actually send a biochemical message to our nervous system that it is safe to relax the flight, fight or freeze response.” – Tara Brach
Smile to yourself as you gently redirect your attention and return to the task at hand – whatever that may be. Smile as a way of congratulating yourself. You’ve just experienced a moment of mindfulness and that’s a great thing. This is not a moment to beat yourself up for having drifted off or getting caught up in your thoughts. That’s like beating yourself up for having flatulence. It’s a perfectly normal thing for the mind to do (and the body in the case of farting). Its important you remain kind to yourself. (PS – I hope that made you smile 😃!)
2. USE S.T.O.P. AS A WAY TO PRACTICE PAUSING INFORMALLY THROUGHOUT THE DAY.
“The sacred pause helps us reconnect with the present moment. Especially when we are caught up in striving and obsessing and leaning into the future, pausing enables us to reenter the mystery and vitality only found here and now.” – Tara Brach
STOP is an easy to remember acronym you can use at any time to help bring you back to the present moment. Its stands for:
S.top to pause for a moment – discontinuing what you are doing. Make yourself comfortable and close your eyes if it helps.
T.ake a breath. – Next take a few deep breaths. Let go as you exhale. Let go of any worries or thoughts, of any tightness in the body.
O.bserve – Now pay attention to what you are feeling as you fully inhabit the moment. What do you feel? Do you feel anxious – some resistance to stopping whatever it is you told yourself you have to do? Do you accept this moment exactly as it is?
P.roceed with whatever it is you were doing mindfully, taking that awareness with you
(There are plenty of other mantras or acronyms you could use. The important thing is to find one that you like and works for you – to help bring you back to the present moment. As another example, I also like to use the mantra, ’Smile, Breathe… Focus, Believe…’ whenever I catch myself getting caught up with my emotions or a negative train of thought.)
3. TALKING TO YOURSELF IN THE THIRD PERSON AS A WAY TO UNIDENTIFY WITH THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS.
David is feeling stressed. David is thinking lots. David is looking at his phone. Talking in this manner is a great way to help unidentify with your thoughts, feelings and emotions. To really become the observer. To see your thoughts and feelings for what they are -just thoughts and feelings – without falling into the trap of thinking you are your thoughts or feelings.
I am depressed is very different to saying I am feeling depressed or having feelings of depression. Replacing ‘I’ with your name takes this a step further. eg. David is having feelings of depression. Its a subtle but powerful shift in terminology that fundamentally changes how you relate to your feelings and thoughts.
Mark Reinecke, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine says, “When we put something in first person there’s a heavier [emotional] load that makes it more difficult to reason about a problem clearly. If you put the problem into the third person, it allows you to keep perspective on it and have a calmer response.”
4. Practise the engagement of flow
Give 100% attention to whatever you are doing, whenever you remember.
How do you do that?
To give you an example: Try for a few seconds, closing your eyes and imagine you have been blind your whole life – that you’ve never seen a single object in its flesh – don’t know what colour is, etc. Once you’ve spent a minute of two imaging this, open your eyes again and really look as if you’re seeing everything for the very first time.
Did you have any thoughts or was everything you looked at, if only for a second or two, completely and utterly amazing? Thats what I imagine, at least, how an enlightened person sees the world. Bringing that level of attention and awareness to absolutely everything, as if for the very first.
5. Use R.A.I.N. to deal with difficult emotions.
The acronym RAIN is an easy-to-remember tool for practicing mindfulness and compassion during difficult moments using the following four steps:
R.ecognise what is happening and label it.
A.ccept the emotion or feeling to be there as it is.
I.nvestigate it – become curious and really observe it. Ask yourself why/what triggered it? Be compassionate as you do so.
N.urture with self compassion – Remember you are not your thoughts, you are not your feelings. They are simply things you are experiencing. They will pass! Remember too that every person in the world suffers. That is part of the living experience. You are not alone.
“The business of a wise man is to be happy in whatever condition life happens to offer”