Please Note: The ideas contained in this FAQ are the opinions of the writer and are communicated without reference to supporting documentation in most cases. Other inspiration and influence for the writing came through consultation with other mental health professionals but the writer “Peter Quintano” is also fully qualified in DBT making him qualified to talk about the things discussed in this article. The writer also recognizes that BPD is a disorder that affects both males and females and uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias.
If you are a male who suffers from mental health issues, then chances are good that you are at higher risk of not getting the education and treatment you need to heal yourself. If you are a male who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), then your risk of not getting treated and succumbing to your pattern of illness is even higher, simply because BPD sometimes includes highly toxic and destructive patterns of thought and behaviour towards self, others, and relationships.
And why, you might ask, does “being male” have any bearing on the level of risk for loss of life due to mental illness? It has much to do with male stereotypes that can strongly influence decision-making and prevent males from receiving proper mental health assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.
Stereotypes are “widely held but fixed and oversimplified images or ideas of a particular type of person or thing” – https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/stereotype
We adopt stereotypes as we are going through our childhood development, through the types of media we consume (TV, books, magazines, movies), through the people we spend time with, and through the family and community culture that surrounds us. Some of these stereotypes relate to career types and income, some are about divisions of labour at home, some are about how to be male or female, some relate to parenting roles, some are about body image, and some are specifically about what to do with emotions.
Male stereotypes are fixed and oversimplified images or ideas about men (“what men are supposed to be like”) that get adopted at an early age and are hard to adjust/release as life goes on. For example, common male stereotypes may include notions like “boys don’t cry” or “the strong silent type” or “real men are the breadwinner” or “man up”. Clinging rigidly to these stereotypes can make it hard to be a naturally unique human, but perhaps more importantly, make it hard to make decisions that support mental health.
*Please note: I recognize that females may also adopt “male stereotypes” with regard to their emotional functioning and that doing so might result in consequences similar to those discussed herein.
This article will relate some of the male stereotypes that males (and females) may hold about emotions and emotional expression that, I believe, contribute to rampant mental health neglect. I will also briefly discuss how mental health neglect fueled by male stereotypes may contribute to long-term untreated Borderline Personality Disorder, with the end result being partial or total self-destruction, and sometimes even, death.
As a male growing up in Western culture, I adopted the common stereotypical notion that “boys are not to appear overly emotional in most life situations, nor talk at length about emotions”. I believed, as many males do, that the expression or discussion of non-angry emotions (outside of funerals or major injuries) implied a form of weakness and reduced the essence of my masculinity. I don’t recall being specifically taught to hide or suppress my non-angry emotions, but without a doubt, it was something that I increasingly believed was necessary as my development unfolded.
The opposition to genuine emotional expression and honesty is weaved so thoroughly into Western culture that people don’t even realize it is there. Perhaps it could be called “veiled opposition to emotion”, since it makes subtle appearances in conversation and parenting practices. For instance, there seems to be automatic opposition when emotions start to make an appearance but parents (or other associates) make immediate suggestions to “settle down” or “chill out” or “relax” without making any attempts to inquire about or validate the emotional experience. After many of these “veiled opposition to emotions” experiences occur, it makes sense that a developing human might start to believe that “too much emotion” means non-acceptance.
Many of the messages and much of the imagery we consume through music and television can strongly influence our attitudes about emotions as well. Much of what I recall being repeated in the media was portrayals of “staying strong in the face of adversity”, which often meant – to me – staying focused on conquering the task and ignoring parts of the self that could distract from conquering the task. Therefore, to take time for emotions might mean admitting defeat or becoming “too feminine” to conquer the task. The essence of the male stereotype here is that aggression and focus is good (strong), while awareness or expression of non-angry emotions is soft, unfocused, and out of control (weak).
To make a long story short: By the time childhood development is complete, many of us are thoroughly entrenched in notions of maleness and what it requires. Many of us become inhibited (blocked) in our emotional processes, and for some people, this also means consequences in the form of mental illness. Blocked emotional processing may contribute to any of the common anxiety and depression disorders, but is also associated with more complex and potentially lethal conditions such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
To have a chance at adjusting conditions like BPD (and others) into something less destructive, it is essential that the emotion-blocking, emotion-dismissing, emotion-inhibiting stereotypes are fully and purposefully discarded. In other words, when discarding stereotypes like these it is important to realize why they are being discarded, such as because they can make it impossible to be mentally healthy. When clinging to ideas that make it impossible to get mentally healthy, it then potentially becomes a very high-risk situation because unhealthy coping and destructive forms of relating may get used.
Learning how to genuinely work through emotions is true strength because it means that a person now has complete ability to live in a human body. Becoming emotionally masterful requires honouring both the presence of masculine and feminine energies in humans as they really are (yin and yang). Depending on stereotypes becomes a false form of strength and security because it is based on nothing but ideas that don’t acknowledge or respect human biology, how to effectively manage emotions, and how to live free from mental illness.
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