Take a look around you, how much longer can you live this way, trash on the floor from weeks before, just gets deeper by the day,
Can’t let go of that foolish pride, you keep it locked up inside,
time to face the pain, stand up and cry like a man.
(Song by Christy Moore)
As an Irish male, I can’t say I have had too many conversations with friends exploring inner pain or insecurities. These areas were never discussed when conversing on the sporting issues of the week, gym memberships and female troubles.
This changed for me when I decided to take a trip to what Ireland rugby head-coach Joe Schmidt calls the ‘Mind Gym’. I felt I was fairly content in my life, I had a job I liked, sporting pursuits and an active social life. I was content. I had no reason to believe otherwise but I had a nagging empty feeling inside me that just wouldn’t go away. Behind the short term euphoria of alcoholic beverages and winning sporting bets, I was left with a sense of exclusion from the world and a rhetorical question playing in my head “life, is this it?”. I was far from depressed but I just wasn’t happy and hugely unfulfilled.
I couldn’t put my finger on why I had these feelings but I took the decision to pursue a course of therapy. My first few sessions were intimidating as I was unaware how to approach the process of dissecting my life events with a stranger. This stranger has since become a very close confidant. I stated my fairly moderate achievements both professionally and socially in my opening session,unaware of a deep hurt which lay much deeper inside me.
I slowly began to realise a lot of the anger I had in my life was as a result of hurt and pain I had experienced in my youth. When it is not properly managed, hurt turns to anger. This anger can lead to anger management issues for some or in my case suppressed anger with an inability to fully express emotion. My hurt came from certain elements of what was in many ways a mundane childhood. Some of the hurt revolved around a serious illness suffered by a family member. The sickness was long term but thankfully not terminal. It was harrowing and led to one of my closest relatives defying the odds of doctors’ opinions on a regular basis throughout long hospital stays. It was difficult for the family unit to accept or understand why sickness had visited our doorstep. It was incredibly traumatic for everyone.
It was difficult for the sick person, it was difficult for my extended family and it took me a long time to realise it. . .but it was difficult for me too.
I was left not knowing if a cornerstone of the family would be taken away overnight. I had anxiety issues which I didn’t share with anyone as I didn’t want to cause additional stress for anyone close to me who had enough to deal with. I didn’t behave like most adolescent boys who often seek to break rules or physically express themselves as I feared it would cause more heartache to a strained family unit. I felt a huge sense of pressure not to cause any upheaval. I struggled with self-confidence and felt the ridiculous male social pressure to ‘toughen up’.
I found it difficult in later years to build and sustain friendships with males,and loving relationships with females. I couldn’t understand why I had this deep protective mechanism to stop myself getting close to others. I seemed to associate closeness with sickness, anxiety and hurt.
I am emotionally wounded but it is healing,I am still a ‘work-in-progress’ but I am a much happier ‘work-in-progress’ and it has certainly given me a more positive outlook on life and a ‘fuller’ experience of those I care about and love.
I write this as I feel most, if not all men have a similar hurt inside them from the different life scenarios and family situations they have encountered and through no fault of their own, carry these wounds. Developments in our youth can halt our growth and often give men a fear of bonding and commitment later in life. In a ridiculous alpha-male culture where the nonsensical ‘big boys don’t cry’ mantra reigns supreme, men have never understood their own hurt and the major shame is that they have never taken the time to examine this hurt either. It has led to major issues of immature behaviour, addiction and failed relationships.
I call all men to action and encourage close females and males to support other men in this attempt to locate the hurt which will take these painful shackles off and allow males to become more emotionally available to those close to them. The hurt is there in some way for all of us and we need to tend to it as if were a physical wound.
Sticks and stones may break your bones. . .but words will help to heal your inner wounds.
(Extract from poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling)
If you can keep your head when all about you,
are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
but make allowance for their doubting too,
if you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
and yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master,
if you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
if you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
and treat those two impostors just the same.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,and—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!