When Men Cry
Michael was a tough nut. He stood about 6’ 2” and was a hulk of a man. He worked in construction and spent most of his days dealing with equally able men. When he spoke about his family tears welled up in his eyes. He had so many regrets now that his wife had left. Why was he has been so inconsiderate, angry, and bad-humored all the time he. The tears flowed down his cheeks and he wiped them away with his sleeve, somewhat reluctant to use the tissues on the table beside him.
Sean had been at Christy Ring’s funeral. He walked into the kitchen at home, draped his jacket over the chair, and sat at the big wooden table. His wife brought over a cup of tea and placed it on the table in front of him and as she did she placed a hand on his shoulder. “How was it hon’?” she asked. The simple question was enough to trigger deep emotions in Sean. He began to cry. First gently but within a few moments a grief racked the great husk of his body as he sobbed. He cried and cried.
Contrary to popular opinion it is my experience that men cry as often as women. I would suggest that it is not that men cry less than women, but that men do not often get the opportunity to do so. I find in my work if the right question is asked, if someone shows a curiosity about the man’s interior life, if someone shows a deep interest in his dreams and his losses, then tears come almost inevitably.
There are many kinds of tears. The grief and sorrow expressed by men is of two kinds:
Sean, when he cried at the kitchen table, was not crying about Christy Ring. Though he did not quite understand where his grief came from, it emerged that it was for his unlived life. Christy Ring symbolized a man who gave himself passionately to something he loved. Christy Ring was a hero because of his artistry, his commitment, and how he lived for his childhood passion. When Sean cried it was because deep in his heart he knew he had left the heroic possibilities behind on the hurling fields when he was young when he chose to develop his career, get married, and settle down. The imagination and desire was gone from his life and it broke in a deep grief at the kitchen that day. Because Sean’s wife saw his grief, cared for it, and honored his sorrow he was able to inhabit it.
For many men there is a great fatigue and helplessness in their lives. The work they do often goes unrecognized. The sacrifices go unseen because they fulfill their role, which is what they should do. Why should men be thanked or acknowledged many might ask – men don’t need such recognition? But they do. In fact it lies beneath the surface of much hyper-masculinity we see around us. There is not a man alive who did not want his father to look down at him and say “Here is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased!”
Tears also come from emotional fatigue and helplessness. Many men identify with a feeling that in their lives they are doing the best that they can and it never seems to be enough. Many men feel that no matter how hard they try they are unable to make things better. If you are a man reading this I bet this is true: “Don’t you often feel weary and worn out trying to hold things together, trying to hold your world up above your head, trying not to fail. And are there not times when the whole things caves in on top of you, when you feel that all your efforts go unrecognized. And the truth is that you are doing the best that you can.” For many men when they cry it is when that sense of impotent helplessness is recognized and seen.
As I said above, men carry as many frozen tears as women. The tears that come are not weak, sentimental, or mawkish but rather tears that come from a deep muscular grief long since buried. The tears come not from the eyes but from the soul. Soulful tears often held and carried down from father to father. When Sean stood and cried in the silent movement of the funeral procession it was with an invisible loyalty and connection with his father and his grandfather. This earthy unspoken grief stands like on oak tree in the hearts of men down the generations.
If you are a woman wondering about your man, wonder about his losses, his unlived life, the loss associated with his commitments, the teenage boy in him that still, at 55, longs to feel the soft grass, the 'wristiness' of the hurley, the weight of the sliothar, the delight of cold rain on the skin, the smell of the open air, and all the simple joy and possibility that pumped through his veins on those long lazy summer evenings. Every man has a lost dream. It is the stuff of life.
To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day,
thou canst not then be false to any man. - Shakespeare
People who live life in accordance with particular virtues tend to be better adjusted and authentically happy. Modern research supports many old-fashioned beliefs. Today I will discuss the virtue of integrity. It can be defined in three ways: as behaving in a way that is consistent with your espoused values - that you practice what you preach; that you openly acknowledging your moral principles when those convictions are not popular; and that you treating others with care.
Integrity goes beyond speaking the truth. It includes taking responsibility for how you think and feel and what you do. It includes being sincere, being consistent with yourself, and also motivating others. Integrity also means having the courage to admit to one’s own weakness – one’s inclination to want to present oneself as better or more competent than one really is.
The opposites of integrity are clearly negative: deceitfulness and insincerity. In everyday life we all encounter people that we would classify as ‘posers’ or ‘phonies’ – people who try to assume a status they have not earned, who think they know-it-all and look down upon those they think are lesser, who are caught up in their own sense of pseudo-importance. Of all the human traits that I find most difficult to be around it is arrogance which is void of human integraity.
Benefits of Integrity
The "knowing thyself" component of integrity is essential to good living because it allows you to change your behaviour so that you are more effective in your life. When you are living with integrity you are not trying to be someone you are not, you are comfortable in your human inadequacy while striving for a moral and compassionate life.
Acting with integrity has social benefits. Research suggests that authentic people are well-liked, they benefit from social support, and enjoy close relationships with others. Research has shown that people who give balanced self-descriptions, acknowledging both strengths and weaknesses, tend to be perceived by others as being authentic.
Not surprisingly, acting with integrity can make leaders more effective. Political leaders work hard at trying to portray integrity and we often evaluate politicians on this trait alone. In the business world, workplace relationships are more effective when managers are comfortable "being who they are" rather than just filling a role. Acting with integrity can also help you attract and keep your romantic partner. When individuals are asked to list desired qualities in a romantic partner, honesty almost always is at the top of the list. We can forgive many things but it is particularly difficult to forgive someone for misrepresenting who they are.
Parents have one of the earliest opportunities to encourage integrity in their children. Children learn early on the importance of "telling the truth." A common parenting practice is to teach children that they will be in more trouble for lying about misbehaving than for the act itself. Of course parents may also unintentionally teach their children that inauthentic behaviour can sometimes make life easier. For example, parents who try to present themselves as ethically perfect are easily dethroned by the observing eyes of their children.
As I have mentioned in previous articles, it is a great shame that moral development courses are not taught at primary and secondary school. However, formal lessons about integrity should not end in adolescence. Ethics courses are taught in medical schools, law schools, business schools, clinical psychology schools, and other professional programs. Often these programs focus on what not to do. Many of these programs would be more likely to reach their stated goals if they placed a greater focus on what one should do to become an ethical practitioner rather than on what one should not do to avoid being unethical.
How can you encourage your sense of integrity?
The case of the helpful motorist:
Hers is an interesting piece of research I came across recently, which shows that kindness and observing others engaged in helping learns helpfulness. Those of you with children will be aware that small children who might help carry groceries from the car might also want to help in putting them away. This piece of research shows that setting an example has a strong effect on people’s helpfulness. This is called the modelling effect – that is the effect of watching someone else modelling what should be done. The surprising thing is that is as applicable to adults as it is to children.
A researcher called Bryan, from Ontario, investigated whether motorists were more likely to help a woman change a car tyre if they had earlier seen someone else doing a similar act. He set up two situations where he would test motorists without them being aware that they were being tested:
In one situation motorists first passed a woman whose car had a flat tyre; another car was pulled to the side of the road and the male driver was pretending to help her change the tyre. This situation provided a helping example for those motorists who, two miles later, came upon another car with a flat tyre. This time the woman was alone and needed assistance.
In the second situation, only the second car and driver were present; there was no illustration or pretend model.
The results were clear. The motorists who were exposed to the situation of the man helping the woman were twice as likely to help when compared with the other motorists.
What this illustrates is simple, no matter what age you are you are still stimulated to help others by seeing other people being helpful. Or to put it another way, by you being helpful to others you automatically make it easier for others to be helpful. This is a simple but quite profound fact.
In studies of the effects of viewing what is termed pro-social behaviour (rather than antisocial behaviour) on television, the conclusion from research is that children’s attitudes toward positive behaviour are improved. Learning pro-social behaviours has a positive effect all-round on a child: Research shows that when children are exposed to pro-social behaviour they are more likely to delay their own gratification – e.g. in sharing their sweets, in waiting for a slow child, in re-starting a game for someone who misunderstood the rules, etc. Furthermore research also shows that that children who exhibit such behaviour are more popular with their peers.
Other research on happiness has shown that one’s happiness in life increases as a consequence of engaging in pro-social behaviour. For example, if each week, you made a point of meeting with someone who is important to you in your life and used that meeting to convey your genuine gratitude to them for what they have meant to you, your general contentment and happiness would improve.
The meaning of this for us as parents to be sure that, no-matter what they are like, we should engage children positively in helping behaviours toward family, friends, neighbours. This is more than just telling them to be nice or mannerly. It would be more beneficial to get your child to help you in a positive way with a particular helpful behaviour: to help an elderly neighbour mow her lawn, to write and deliver a letter to a person in need, to conduct one random act of kindness a week for anyone. Again, the research is simple in its conclusions: either witnessing or participating in helpful and kindly behaviour generates more of the same in the heart of the helper, and in those affected. So if you are feeling down today, for whatever reason, consider that you might find relief by helping someone else rather than yourself.
Your Compassion Footprint
You grow up thinking there is something wrong with you. As years go by you develop the endless habit of reminding yourself of your inadequacy. At school and at home you begin to believe that there is something defective in you. The big secret however is that you are not inadequate and there is nothing wrong with you.
The process of socialization teaches us:
Socialization and growing up does not tend to teach us:
So by the time socialization is complete, most of us hold an UNSHAKABLE BELIEF that out only hope of being good and effective in life is to punish ourselves when we are bad. This is what Freud called our superego - our inner mental Judge that punishes us continually for our misdemeanors. We come to believe that without punishment our badness would win out over our goodness. Without constantly criticizing ourselves for our failures we would become slothful, lazy, and deteriorate into the mud of mediocrity.
The thing is: None of this is true! If we were to move from self-punishment and self-rejection to self-encouragement and self-acceptance we would thrive.
To be encouraging and accepting of ourselves we must learn to befriend our glorious imperfection. To realise and accept that in our ordinariness we are most truly human. To be utterly compassionate toward our self, to be tolerant of our inadequacies, and to allow ourselves to be the same as everyone else we take a first giant step towards selflessness. We get a glimpse of what it is like to be free of self-judgement and we begin to flow.
The battering cycle of Domestic Self-Violence, for want of a term, starts with the pressure we place on ourselves to be perfect. This leads to stress which results in coping behaviours such as competing with others, giving ourselves a hard time, trying to motivate ourselves, drinking or overeating, etc. All of this allows us to feel better for a very short time followed by feeling a whole lot worse. This results in our punishing ourselves again for being inadequate, imperfect, or for failing. So what do we do? We decide to be perfect again, to set new standards and start with a clean slate and new goals. And the pressure and stress to be perfect kicks in again. This is a cycle of battering in which we abuse our selves.
Personal development does not begin until these beatings stop. In counseling what people tend to find most helpful is having a time during which you stop battering your self.
To stop battering and punishing yourself takes is as much a spiritual task as it is a psychological one. To become a person who is compassionate toward oneself takes a meditative almost prayerful disposition. In psychology we call it mindfulness. In Buddhism they might call it meditation. In Christianity it is encountering the sacred within.
The only way out of a life of daily irritation with oneself is through the doorway of compassion. The skills and discipline needed to counteract the automatic irritation you feel about your imperfection must be practiced with an open-heart and a determined will. Forget about your Carbon Footprint - What is your Compassion Footprint?
Dr. Colm O'Connor is a Cork Psychologist. He has written hundreds of articles on family psychology - some posted here.