I could start this post telling you about male suicide statistics, which are higher than ever, and rising. I could talk about mental health awareness week, and how men struggle to express their feelings. Those are facts – and we have all heard those before. We hear them, we move on. Just shoving statistics in people’s faces does not help.
I thought instead I would tell you where I am coming from, and why I think this is an important topic.
I’m 56 and often feel that my generation of men didn’t stand much of a chance. Brought up by post war fathers, the attitude was always “you just get on with it”. The typical associations with the word “man” for men of that era are in no particular order – strong, resilient, reliable, dependable. And the others that may have more negative connotations but seemingly ones that males can live with – angry, stressed, fed up.
So how do we allow the other words into the vocabulary, the ones that are classed as less “manly”, like scared, upset, worried, sensitive, anxious or even ashamed?
How can we own those emotions, and even recognise them in ourselves when they come up – without judging ourselves too harshly, and trying to push them aside?
Sadly, I don’t think we can undo the damage that is already done, but we can certainly change things going forward.
Personally, I was fortunate. My wife dragged me into this self discovery process, kicking and screaming. I realise that not everyone is lucky enough to have a supportive partner (this helps). I’m still a work in progress and will be until the day I’m gone from this earth, but I’m feeling a lot more at peace than I ever did. There are some specific things I needed to learn about myself, to be able to move forward with my own personal growth.
In no particular order they are –
- I am a conflict avoider. Conflict scares me and I don’t like it. So I immediately get defensive when I see it coming. It’s not a good strategy. Neither is avoidance.
- My wife actually wants the real ME, even if that means disagreeing with her. In fact she prefers it.
- Vulnerability is strength ( I still struggle with that one )
- I don’t always have pretend that I have my shit together, and it’s ok to talk about it ( or sometimes not).
- It’s ok for me NOT to have all the answers.
- You can’t change anyone, only yourself.
- Blaming people, things or circumstances is a good excuse for inaction and not much else.
So where do Men’s groups come in?
My father passed away earlier this year. That makes me sad – sad that I will never get a chance to have a proper relationship with him. Sad because I know that even had I tried, this stuff would be lost on him. I have been estranged from my son & my brother for some years. I’m scared that next time we meet it will be at someone’s funeral.
And many men are in a similar position. So many men grow up without learning how to authentically express themselves. Instead they grow up with a stereotypical example of what a man should be, and then pass this on through generations. It’s no one’s fault…it’s just how it has been. But the world is changing, and with depression, divorces, stress & suicide all being on the rise, it’s difficult to deny we need to make an effort to change something. For us, and for future generations.
So how do we do it?
We just need to start.
I needed to start. I realised that I would really like some real male friends in my life, ones that I can actually talk to.
I did some research on Men’s groups as we felt this might be a good fit for Next 40 project – after all we are all about health, connection & wellbeing.
The research led me to mainly U.S. “movements”. I found groups which helped other men to explore their feelings, get more grounded and improve their relationships. While the concept was in line with what I was looking for, the language used was out of my comfort zone. Way to spiritual, way to touchy feely.
Frankly, not British enough for me – I have a dry sense of humour, I can be a bit sarcastic, I don’t take myself too seriously. Sitting there getting in tune as part of a mass meditation is not my thing, and frankly it would put off most men that I know.
For the record, I don’t think there is anything wrong with being spiritual, mass meditating, or anything of that sort. It’s just not me. So I assumed there are more men like me, and I wasn’t wrong.
The Mantor Project was born.
We are just a bunch of blokes trying to figure out how to be better. How to navigate life, and relationships, and not compromise ourselves in the process. How to be ourselves, but not hurt others while doing it. How to be more self aware and recognise things for what they are when they bubble up, and not to run from them, but face them head on.
It is proven fact that it is beneficial for men to spend time in the company of other men. Genuine men, grounded men, or at least ones that are willing to learn that way. We simply have conversations about things that matter, and if someone is anxious or worried, they can share this without fear of being laughed at, or the rise being taken out of them.
I decided to involve a friend in this project, as really I felt a little out of my depth. Jason is 46, a Psychotherapist, and together we provide a good balance of skills. We are not ‘gurus’, nor we are not claiming to have all the answers. We are there to facilitate conversations, keep things on track, and make sure that the whole thing doesn’t turn into testosterone fuelled banter. But we still have a laugh. It’s not a therapy group by any means. Both Jason and I have had training through the Mens’ Activity Network.
MAN is a local incentive run by Hampshire County Council with the aim of improving mens mental health and addressing the ever growing suicide rates amongst men. This was a perfect organisation for us to associate with to both advertise our meetups, and also liaise with from a training and support perspective.
If you want to know what to expect from a meeting check out the MANTOR page. All ages are welcome.
The feedback from the groups so far has been very positive. All of the men have said that although initially they were nervous and apprehensive, they were pleasantly surprised at how comfortable they felt. Many men share the same concerns, without actually realising this, and this is always the main feedback – it’s comforting to realise that we are not alone with our worries.
We don’t know where this group is going yet, but it’s going somewhere. As the Mantor Project grows, we are planning some wilderness trips, guest speakers and other events. I hope you join us, virtually or in person ( well just virtually for now!).
It would be great to see you.
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Wayne is a Nutrition coach & Personal Trainer specialising in the over 40's age group. Wayne also runs The Next 40-Mantor Project, an all male group helping men to alleviate stress and take control of their masculinity. www.thenext40.co.uk
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