Men are being encouraged more and more to open up emotionally and mentally. There are organisations and health professionals, myself included, that are championing a masculinity which is praised for its expression rather than its silence and, where strength is not linked to coping alone, but to asking for help.
Recently, I came to the realisation that it’s all very well promoting a new culture of openness, but that if someone has never done it before, it’s not as straightforward as telling them to just speak up. For a lot of my very logical and matter of fact clients, who are nothing if not process driven, opening up is just a set of words. Without some form of how to or a guide being attached, what they have is a new piece of machinery with no instructions or, a suggested journey with no clear route.
If you, like many other men, are considering opening up for the first time and sharing the problems or challenges you’re facing, then the below will help you do just that.
Have some clarity
To open up, you need to be clear on the general issue or issues facing you. This can be as simple as writing a list of the top five things currently making your life difficult. The next step can be to prioritise that list. Which, when resolved first, will have the most significant impact on your health or state of mind? You don’t need to have worked out the cause of your problems in fine detail, but have an idea at least of the effects they’re having on you.
Understand the benefits
Often, opening up is described as though it’s a final act in itself, when in fact it’s the very beginnings of a journey. For this reason, and for a better chance of following through with your plans to speak to someone, you need to really understand how it can be positive for you. Be sure to ask yourself why discussing your problems is a good thing. How could it change your life for the better?
Know the risk of opening up
It’s always advisable to go into situations with your eyes wide open. Jumping in head first without an awareness of all the various consequences can sometimes do more harm than good. Make sure you know what would be a negative outcome for you and then think about what your options could be to manage it in a healthy way. Should the worst happen, whatever you imagine that to be, you must have safe and workable options to cope with it.
Set your outcome
This is different to understanding the benefits that can come from you opening up, this is about you knowing exactly the outcome you want to achieve in an ideal world. A benefit may be that you no longer feel alone. An outcome may be that your family helps you to research something or attends therapy sessions with you for support. When expressing yourself to a family member, partner or professional, you’re not required to have all the answers, but one thing you should know is the result you’re looking for. Do you just need to be heard, do you need someone to change their behaviour, do you need a solution?
Know the risk of not opening up
Knowing what could happen to you, your relationship or your career if you don’t open up can be motivation enough to start talking. Are the risks of not opening up less, equal to or do they far outweigh those of speaking up? It’s a serious question to ask yourself and will help you to come to a decision.
Recognise your resources
Keeping issues to yourself can be isolating and leave you feeling very lonely. It can also magnify problems that are bottled up inside, making them more dramatic than they really need to be. Take a very close look at the resources you already have available, the help of partners, family, or friends. Then get yourself clear on new resources that may be at hand, before and after you have opened up.
Once you’ve been through this process and have all your information, you must consciously make the decision to act. Take it slowly and you will eventually get where you need to be.