Masculinity

Silent Screams – the Pressure of Masculinity

in The Life Slant by

*It is not good for man to be alone…we don’t do alone well. A few days ago, I saw a Facebook message from a friend who had thought about taking his life. He woke up the next morning to learn that an acquaintance had committed suicide several days ago.

I don’t know the details, nor did I have any knowledge of what this man was battling. I only knew this man in passing, but our interactions we’re always polite and respectful. Whenever we stopped and chatted, the conversation consisted mainly of superficial things, but he still was genuine nonetheless.

My heart goes out to his family and all of those who hold him dear to their hearts. The challenges we face as men are very real, and they’re heavy.

Most are not privy to these things because we internalize so much. We go into our caves to seek out solutions and if/when we cannot find them, sometimes we’re unable to get back out. We become confined to our caves…

Imprisoned.

80% of the suicides that occur in the United States are committed by men.
Suicide Distribution by Gender in America - Masculinity

While women are actually three to four times more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to die.  And men are three times more likely to commit suicide in the middle of their lives (40s & 50s) than any other time in their existence. To get to the middle on their lives and suddenly decide “I’m not going to get out of this maze” is a lonely and vacant feeling.

As men, we don’t always have it together.

We wear a mask to shield our pain, we pretend to be more sure of ourselves than we are, and we don’t want others to glimpse our doubting self within. Our egos and personalities are much more fragile than they appear.

Male looking out window - Masculinity

When I first learned of the acquaintance committing suicide, I couldn’t help but reflect upon what and who I “thought” he was. I thought he was a strong man, I thought he was a quiet man, and I thought he was a content person. If you asked me if I thought he would do something like this, I would’ve said no. But what I failed to consider in my thin-slicing, was that he may have been all of these things I mentioned and more!

So, even in what I believe to be complementary of him, I may have very well downplayed some of his attributes. What this proves is that no matter how decorated people may appear to be on the outside, that is not a true indication of what they may be dealing with on the inside.

Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have experienced some sort of mental illness or addiction – most often depression. But not everyone with mental illness kills themselves.

So what distinguishes those who do from those who don’t?

Our support system.

The perception is that real men don’t talk about their feelings for fear of showing weakness or giving a fatal opening for someone else to exploit. So, a many men die with their lips closed never having said a word.

There is evidence that men who adhere more strongly to masculine ideals see getting psychological help more negatively. That can result in our feelings building up without an escape valve – either a personal one, through talking with friends and family, or a professional one, through therapy or other mental health services, and can escalate to a crisis point. It’s not pressure that bursts pipes, it’s the accumulation of pressure that burst pipes. And as I self-reflect, I realize I have always waited until the pressure has amassed to a capacity that’s been hard to manage.

As a man who from time to time struggles to live up to my own personal aspirations, I can’t always avoid my dark thoughts. I have weak moments where they appear to consume me. Thankfully, I have a support circle that doesn’t judge, one that supports me and works with me on my problems as opposed to working on me.

That fear of being judged, of being ridiculed, of being ostracized is what creates apprehension in males.

I know that if I was constantly told to “be tough” or “man up,” I would just compartmentalize my problems. It’s better than being looked down upon, right? At least that’s what we believe. If we continue to believe that our sense of masculinity will be compromised if we disclose any vulnerabilities, and that it will make us look weak when fear, anxiety, depression, and addiction arise, we won’t ever do anything with it but keep it to ourselves thus continuing the cycle.

What we reveal we heal…but we can’t do it alone. It’s a collective responsibility.

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Carlton Mack is a dedicated father,
passionate student of life,
and author of
Attributes of Man and Redemption.

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