- Men must remember no one will advocate for you. You must do the work to first validate yourself then communicate your needs, desires and boundaries.
By Diana Elinam and Leila Ikusura
I was talking to my best friend who got married 2 years ago, congratulating him on his wedding and catching up and all of a sudden, he said he wanted out. I was in shock, remained calm and I asked him, why would he want to end a marriage so prematurely but before he got to answer this question his wife arrived.
The three of us ordered our meal and to be polite, I did not bring the matter up. By observation everything was okay, his wife always a ball of joy, was talking and sharing and we were all laughing.
His food arrived way earlier than ours and his wife went at it and they were all smiles. One thing I did notice though my best friend was actually communicating but in a calmer manner.
They were moments of awkwardness; ones I wouldn’t have observed had he not dropped the bomb. I would see many times his wife would finish his sentences abruptly and often shut him down when he spoke his opinions on any subject at the table.
Although my best friend did not verbally defend his points, I couldn’t help noticing the facial expressions he displayed and I kept wondering if his wife saw them as well but she was either oblivious or blatantly ignored his non-verbal communication.
Upon returning home, I started assessing the men around me. My first subjects were my brothers and cousin.
The male members of my family are quiet by nature and talk mostly when it’s one on one conversation or when it is on family matters.
Guiltily, I started reminiscing on my sibling battles with my younger brother and I started seeing how many times he would silently walk out of our arguments. I often thought I had won the battle but unfortunately, I started seeing I lost so many times because situations tend to be repeated and we would often argue about the same thing.
Infuriating to me, I would observe that most of the time when my mother would speak to him, which is usually when they are doing something alone, it will be in a quiet manner and sometimes accompanied with laughter and my brother would listen and adhere.
It’s natural that even the most overworked donkey dies early. We might say men lead in everything and so have a say in anything but this could be the source of the problem.
If women heal and feel a relief when they share and cry, how do men heal when they are not allowed to share and cry? Where does the stress and burden go to if they do not speak them out?
A study from Harvard Review shows that many times men are penalized for seeking for assistance, expressing emotions and behaving in modesty. These positive attributes are grouped as indicators for weaknesses.
The most important human need I have come to discover is validation. To be accepted which include being heard, seen and understood without shame, guilt or judgment.
For many people this is something that lacks and the reason being validation is very much a personal internal experience as much as many believe it’s an external experience.
To be validated means you belong and that you matter this is a need all humans have since we are all social beings and are designed to live and thrive as part of a society.
One of the issues that the current society is learning to understand and manage is mental health. Why it is a crucial part of life and how to manage it in ways that are sustainable and practical for our individuals and communities.
Part of the mental health management mechanism is the need to be heard and validated. There seems to be a lot of ambiguity when it comes to this subject, why? Because for the different members in the community it is believed we have different needs.
So today we tackle the question: Are men being listened to? Do they feel heard or are the expectations and boundaries set for them in our society make it hard for us to hear them? If so, what are the consequences of this? And how do we correct this?
Firstly, when we ask if men are being heard, what exactly are we talking about? It would seem like an un reasonable and unnecessary question to ask considering the fact that we live in a patriarchal culture where men are seen as the decision makers and they run the families and community at large.
So, then their word is what makes things happen, therefore why do we need to listen to them?
What we are addressing in this article is the individual voice which entails their concerns, fears, thoughts, desires and feelings.
Many men do not talk about their feelings and may even refuse to acknowledge their emotions because our society has deemed this type of expression a female habit and that men do not possess this trait.
Is this true? Do men not have feelings and cannot express them? According to science all humans (men and women) experience a wide range emotion and are able to express these. So why do men find it difficult to do so? This is because most men have been conditioned from their childhood to believe that expressing emotions is a weakness and men cannot be weak and as such men refute and suppress their emotional experiences.
The dynamics of life require that one knows what, how and when to express the mind and heart and this is done via emotions and thoughts. When a man is unaware of his emotional state and bottles things up, the likelihood of a breakdown is large.
Many men suffer from mental health issues such as stress, depression (many are functional depressants), anxiety and many more mental illnesses. This has led to untimely deaths due to heart problems, strokes and even suicide.
In relationships communication and comprehension allow for a peaceful and harmonious environment. The parties involved need to be able to both articulate their inner most desires, needs and boundaries in a healthy manner while also being able to hold space for one another with open minds and hearts with the goal to seek understanding and offer due support where needed or wanted.
For many this is where the problem is. Most people grow up not knowing effective communication styles and battle this in their relational spaces.
Learning individual communication styles is the first step to learning effective communication. This is done by being honest with ourselves about our needs, desires and boundaries.
This can only happen if we take the time to know who we are. Self-awareness bridges the gap between us and others.
Many people lack self-awareness. They assume that others will fulfill their needs because that is what we have all been taught. This miseducation has created an array of issues in all of us.
Make no mistake, in life what happens to us may not be our fault or our doing but it is each individual’s personal responsibility to learn ways to manage our own lives. Your healing is your own work!
Men must remember no one will advocate for you but you. You must do your work to first validate yourself, communicate your needs, desires and boundaries and be accountable for your actions in all your endeavors.
The rest of us in the society need to learn to hold space for others (men included). Listen to understand and refrain from judging or shaming men when they express their concerns.
For those raising boys, it is imperative to teach them that emotions make them human and expressing is part of the package of being human.
Mental health is as important as physical health. There are tools and systems put in place to help and support those who suffer with mental illnesses yet all of us need to learn and adopt mechanisms that help us regulate and manage life’s stresses in healthy ways. A healthy mind equates a healthy life.
Conclusively I think men and women need to have more open dialogues about issues pertaining to our mental health.
We all need to use the tools available to us to address, cope and manage the challenges we face. Men and women must learn how to effectively communicate as well comprehend one another. We all make our society so it is not another person’s job to correct what is wrong, it is our job together.
I invite both men and women to refuse to be complacent in this, instead actively pursue your personal healing, be accountable for your part and become responsible for your needs and desires.
Lincoln Mbowe in Moshi Town:
Lincoln says most men in committed relationships remain silent and do not express their views, opinions and concerns due to the fact that the women do not listen to understand and will always shut a man down if what is being said makes the woman feel any discomfort.
He says that there’s an invisible line between communication and chaos. From his personal experience he sees that many women enter relationships with a lot of baggage from all the things they endure since childhood and the way women have been treated in our society as second class citizens.
So these experiences are a defense mechanism that build up and do affect all areas of their lives.
Hence this baggage hinders women from seeing their men accurately and even hearing them when they speak. Thus, when dialogue is opened it’s like flying daggers and men are afraid of that and tend to run.
Lincoln also thinks that parents do not equip boys with the right tools and skills of how to be fathers and husbands nor how to communicate effectively.
Cuthbert Mbowe in Dar es Salaam:
Cuthbert says he sincerely thinks that men are heard but are ignored in the sense that they are present when needed then afterwards are treated like a vase in a room.
He says men want to speak about finances, relationships and expectations but not open up emotionally. Men struggle emotionally to express themselves.
When living without being heard or feeling like they are not being listened, to some men lash out in bursts of anger and frustration. Some make immature decisions and others shut down completely.
Most men binge on alcohol as a coping mechanism while others binge on porn and some have a lot sexual encounters with different women as a means to numb their pain and frustrations.
Michael Baruti: A mental health advocate and host of Men. Men. Men - The Podcast
Michael Baruti says, “I don’t think men are unheard, I just think men need to be better communicators and that comes with a better understanding of emotional intelligence as well as understanding why it is important to be a good communicator. Most of us do not possess the emotional intelligence nor the skills of being a good communicator and that’s where most of our challenges begin”
“I think that for most part, men feel like they are misunderstood and are not given a safe space for them to express themselves freely without being judged by the society or the community they reside in. I think the society should provide a safe space or should be a safe space whereby men can simply express themselves without being worried about being judged or without risking being seen as less of men” he adds.
The impact of men not speaking out, results into things like toxic masculinity, which rears men who do not see the importance of having a good emotional intelligence.
The bigger impact is things like gender-based violence, intimate partner violence and even domestic violence.
Educational Psychologist Modesta Kimonga, agrees that men do need a listening ear. “Since they were naturally created superior and strong, they tend to show the following signs: silence, overreacting, going MIA (Missing in action) or leaving the environment they feel unheard in. They do believe that being out of the crowd can help” she explains.
Modesta advises that, the proper way to go about this situation is by getting to know them well and mostly the application of attentive listening and adhering to their wishes will be very helpful.