Men don’t talk. We don’t “open up”. We find it difficult to show our feelings. We won’t ask for directions – and with satnavs and smartphones, these days we don’t have to. These may be clichés, but clichés are rooted in fact.
When I used go to collect our kids from primary school, I noticed that the women would stand around in sociable groups, chatting and laughing, while the men would be on their own, isolated, eyes fixed on the classroom door. Sometimes we might exchange a nod or raise a chin in acknowledgement, but actual conversation? Something to do with hens’ teeth and rocking horse droppings springs to mind.
I’m not going to suggest why this might be, or what this apparent reluctance or inability to communicate signifies. And I’m not going to offer any solutions. But I am going to suggest how you or the man in your life might be able to reap the benefits of self-expression in a way that’s comfortable. I know it can work, because it’s worked for me.
Write it down.
…expressive writing could improve health … through the reduction of long-term stress. If writing helped people resolve major conflicts, their sleep would likely improve, their stress levels would return to more normal levels, and their immune systems could start working more efficiently.
— from “Opening Up by Writing It Down…” by James W. Pennebaker, Joshua M. Smyth)
You can write anything you feel, or want, or need to say, but don’t for whatever reason. You can write anything – anything. Not sure where to begin? You could start by asking a question: why is x the way it is? What am I going to do about y? Or you could make a statement: I wish xyz would happen. Then ask can that happen? How can I do to make that happen? You could even write to a person with no intention or possibility of sending this note. I sometimes write to my dad, who died a couple of years ago. Not great reams, just the odd sentence. Addressing a particular person can open channels that enable you to get to the heart of the matter. Key to this is not thinking too hard. You just follow the writing, and allow the words to appear on the page in front of you.
How does this work? By writing things down we have to translate our abstract and complex thoughts into language we understand, and can then process more easily. It can put things into order, offer a perspective. And sometimes, when you allow yourself to be really truthful with the page – and with yourself – answers can emerge from between the lines.
It can take time to shed your internal censor and really open up, but when you do, writing in this way can give you the opportunity to express yourself in a way you otherwise couldn’t, identify potential change points, and perhaps discover what’s really important to you. And as well as helping us process our thoughts and feelings, writing things down in this way can also have wider health benefits.
Remember, no one else is going to see this writing. You can write in your own voice, and use whatever language you want. If you really need to get something off your chest, use all the expletives you can think of! Express your fantasies. Make your dreams real on the page. Plan a route to your desired destination.
Now pick up that pen and paper, and explore.
Writing about negative or traumatic events or circumstances can have a downward effect on your mood. Studies show that this is usually relatively short-lived, and that in the longer term such writing is beneficial, but if you’re drawn towards writing that make you uncomfortable, or things you really don’t want to address consult a medical professional.