It’s an interesting fact that you always see fewer men than women at Writing for Wellbeing workshops, as well as at things like yoga classes. I’ve asked the men who do come to my workshops why they think this is so – and the answer is usually that they think men are wary of the idea of being seen to seek emotional wellbeing. This is quite topical now, as it is #MensHealthWeek.
In respect to writing for health, Ollie Aplin, founder of Mind Journal, says: “I think that, sometimes, guys just don’t like the idea of looking after themselves. If you look at journalling as being a self-help thing, I think guys still feel that self-help – apart from exercise – is not a manly pursuit.”
An unfortunate idea – that taking care of one’s emotional & mental health is not manly. Somehow there is the fiction that, for men, mental resilience should be inborn, that they should be strong without any help (even from themselves). Is this ingrained from childhood when boys may be told ‘Big boys don’t cry’, ‘Stop acting like a baby’, or name-calling which tells boys they aren’t measuring up as a male (wuss, sissy, jessie, pansy – I’m sure there are many more in modern slang)? Words do have power – and if children are humiliated when expressing their emotions, they will learn to bottle it up as adults.
But words are also a way for men to regain their own power in accepting themselves and treating themselves well. The advantage of expressive writing (even beyond the use of journalling) is that no one else ever reads your writing. Your notebook is your friend, there for you all the time, and you retain control of what you want to write about. If you have someone to guide you in this process, whether in workshops or one-to-one, all the better.
One of my clients (who will remain anonymous) had been experiencing huge losses in his life – the death of a young child, the consequent break-up with his partner, the loss of his home, and finally – when it all became too much to bear – the loss of his job. He was focusing on how weak he felt, how powerless. But through doing some simple Writing for Wellbeing activities, he was better able to express his grief, to treat himself kindly, and to begin focusing on all that was good in himself. From where I was sitting, I saw a man who was incredibly strong and courageous – willing to work through his emotions in order to come to a place where he could start moving forward again. This is true courage.
During #MensHealthWeek, and every week, I encourage men to choose to look after themselves emotionally and mentally, as well as physically. Support and guidance of all sorts is out there for the asking.