The Richard Nicholls Podcast

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Episode 151: The Dangers Of Manning Up.

When someone says Be a man, what do you think of?
Act tough?
Don’t cry?
Or do you think manning up means to take responsibility for your emotions or accept mistakes and move on?

The idea of “Manning Up” seems to mean something different to everyone. YouTube channel Cut created some word association videos once and one of the phrases they asked a group of men to respond to was Be A Man, and it was really quite interesting to see the variances. They edited it together so that the youngest were at the beginning of the video and the eldest at the end, starting with 5 year olds and ended at aged 50.

The reason this was so interesting to me is because the younger someone was the more similar their responses were. Most of the under 30’s associated being a man with being tough and strong, especially the youngsters.
It wasn’t until they were in their 30’s that they seemed to find their own voice and the closer they got to 50 the more they saw Be A Man as a cliche that shouldn't have any relevance and instead associated manliness with honesty, embracing emotions or trusting themselves and walking their own path.

It reminded me of something that Piers Morgan said during mental health awareness week. It was in response to an article that said that 2 thirds of British adults have experienced mental health problems, which is true but that doesn’t mean that 34 million people are suffering with mental illness all at the same time which the headlines often exaggerate it to, so as to get your attention. But the thing is, rather than acknowledge it as click bait and start a sensible discussion, Piers Morgan made the mistake of saying “What utter nonsense, Man Up Britain” and it started a flurry of almost 2000 replies that gave quite an insight into what people think about mental health.

One man replied with “I did 'man up' and asked for help. It saved my life. If only more men would.” To which someone else replied “My husband 'manned up' and asked for help. He didn't get it. He killed himself. Glad you are still with us.”

With suicide being the leading cause of death for everyone under 35, men and women we can’t ignore it. “Man Up To Mental Health” might sound like a good strap line but if manning up means something different to everyone then instead of it having the same effect as Nikes “Just Do It” or Trumps “Make America Great Again”, which are great influences because they both mean something different to everyone and in a positive way. Manning up might not be.

Manning up to one guy might mean that he’s not supposed to need help and rather than making him tougher it makes him feel more desperate. Being a man to an impressionable 6 year old boy might mean that he thinks it’s wrong to enjoy reading books, because it’s not drenched in testosterone. Or to grow up emotionally illiterate when they can’t differentiate the difference between guilt and anger because they’ve never felt right exploring emotions.

To grow up thinking that men have to be strong and powerful is a dangerous thing, especially if they end up having some level of authority or influence when they’re older, I’m looking at you Harvey Weinstein. So I think it’s worth challenging this idea of manning up. We shouldn’t have to wait until we’re older to begin to see this myth of masculinity, if we can learn earlier in life that discussing our problems is a good thing then it becomes part of our personality, our foundation. That way men don’t have to drink 10 pints just to tell their mates that they love them.

What’s annoying is that we grow being told that being competitive is best, being strong, being a winner. Boys are growing up thinking that men are supposed to handle physical pain without emotion with emotional pain being hidden. But then as adults we are told that women want a sensitive guy who’s more open. And these men don’t know how to be. They weren’t brought up putting any value on needing to be understanding or having empathy.

When it comes to mental health, a lot of people think men shouldn't need to talk about how they feel because it shows weakness. When, to be honest, it’s the exact opposite. Going against the grain and opening up is probably one of the most difficult things that they can do.

So how do we fix this? How can we get it so that guys can be happy with who they are without needing to “Be A Man”? I think having these sorts of conversations is the key. Whether it’s with your kids, your brother, your sister, your mate over a pint or a frothy coffee, bring this up in conversation.

I’m in a better position to have these conversations because my clients know that I’m not there to judge in any way at all, so they can be honest. But if you ask a male friend “What do you hide from the outside world? What don’t you let people see?” They’re probably not going to tell you because by it’s very design, it’s stuff that they hide and don’t let people see.

So maybe we have to ask ourselves “What do I hide from the outside world? What don’t I let people see?”
You might be surprised what comes up.