That’s Men: The process of healing begins with breaking the silence


Silence kills. It kills happiness and relationships, and sometimes it kills people. We need to remember that as we emerge (we hope) out of recession and financial disaster, and into some sort of better (we hope) future. Men especially need to remember it, because men are traditionally less given to talking about their troubles than women.

If you’ve lost your money, your job, your home, your family, your status – take your pick – you have an emotional burden to carry that’s too heavy to carry on your own. Commentators can say we all went mad and that we need to get over it, but if you are the one who made the investment you’ll never pay off, it isn’t that easy. If you are the one who lost your job of years or decades to the recession, it isn’t easy either, as you listen to politicians and others suggesting that what’s really wrong is that you don’t want to work and that what you really need is a good kicking with their hand-tooled leather shoes.

I sometimes think of Northern Ireland when I hear of our presumed emergence from the recession. (I am using the word “recession” in a general, rather than statistical, sense.) There, the Troubles are over but large numbers of people and their families suffer silently with trauma and depression arising from those Troubles. Yet we hear little about those for whom the suffering is here and now, not done and dusted.

We don’t know how many men have taken or will take their own lives as a result of the damage inflicted by the recession. But when losses lead to deaths like these, I suspect that behind them is the sense of shame.

Shame is about hiding, about not wanting to be exposed. Actually it’s even worse than “not wanting”. It’s about cringing at the very possibility of being seen by others. Shame in the situation I’m talking about can arise from a myriad of causes: a mistake you think you shouldn’t have made, the stigma of unemployment, being unable to give your children the opportunities you had always assumed would be theirs, not being able to afford to take part in social events, and so on.

While shame is something you seek to hide from other people, the problem is that you can’t hide it from yourself. Each of us has an audience in our own head, our own mini-society, which passes judgment. If you’ve ever felt ashamed of something nobody else knew you had done, you’ll have had a taste of the power of that mini-society.

It would not surprise me in the least to learn that on every street in the country are men who are hiding a sense of shame arising from the recession. They don’t know that other men on the same street are also hiding a sense of shame.

The pity of it is that the antidote to shame is to talk to other people in the same position and, ultimately, to other understanding people who are not in the same position.That breaks the bubble of the fear of exposure and begins the process of healing.

What if somebody comes to you and begins to share the story of their loss of status, income, maybe even of relationships? All you need to do is listen. That’s far more important than thinking up solutions. We underestimate the power of listening, yet listening is the whole basis of psychotherapy which really should be called “listening therapy” rather than “talk therapy”.

Women cope better with their troubles because they share them with other women. Of course women also suffer emotional turmoil with long-term consequences but, in my view, they have a better chance of coming through in good shape because they talk about what is going on for them. So if you want to make a major contribution to your mental health, begin to share more about yourself. And remember, silence kills. Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, and is the author of Mindfulness on the Go: Peace in your Pocket. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email.

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