Dear Men, The Womxn In Our Life Are Not Our Therapists
(Art by Ananya Paints)
It’s time we had a conversation. I know there’s a lot going on in our heads, especially right now and I recognise it’s quite a scary time. While I know it’s a lot to deal with, it’s important we talk about this right now and it’s something we collectively should have started talking about a very long time ago. It’s a crime that we haven’t and many womxn have suffered as a result both mentally and physically.
As scary as the pandemic is, it does allow us to wash away the old and start afresh. Something we as men really need to do, especially in terms of our mental wellbeing. However, I recognise that we can never really wash away the horrors that have resulted from our inaction. We should feel deeply apologetic about what our inaction has caused.
Know that the words that I am about to write come from a place of love and care and I am as imperfect as any of you reading this. So here goes…
Dear men, the womxn in our life are not our therapists. Yes, they may be our friends, intimate partners, mothers, colleagues and the like, all of which are roles which rely on a mutual level of care and support, but they are not our therapists. It’s not the role of womxn to provide us with emotional support by constantly listening to our problems and processing our emotions.
It’s about time that we stopped enforcing our emotional baggage onto the womxn in our lives because it’s severely detrimental to their mental wellbeing and ours. It’s wrong to expect so much from the womxn in our lives and there are so many important intersecting reasons for this.
1 - Dumping our emotional baggage onto womxn is toxic
We’ve all been there, including me, especially when I was growing up. Something has happened in our lives that we are struggling to process emotionally and because we have been unable to unpick it ourselves (due to the emotional intensity, or laziness in many cases), we actively look for the womxn in our lives to process this experience and/or trauma for us.
This is wrong, especially if it’s not consensual i.e. they didn’t offer to do this incredibly difficult labour with or for us. You know inside that this is wrong, and if you don’t know or recognise that this is wrong then I am here to tell you that it is. Womxn should not have to carry our emotional burden for us because we are unable to carry it ourselves.
This isn’t new information, it’s a message that’s been raised by womxn time and time again. Take for example the resounding message explored by the author of this piece who clearly states ‘there’s a fine line between being a caring and supportive partner and being someone he talks to when he has a problem.’
What’s the problem with dumping our emotional baggage onto womxn?
First and foremost, bringing up subjects that are emotionally intense without any form of a pre-warning can emotionally trigger the womxn we are dumping our emotional baggage on. Imagine, you know that the way you are feeling is challenging for you to process and hold. How do you think it would feel if someone dumped that on you without your permission?
Secondly, this approach robs us of our emotional autonomy because we are constantly reliant on others, especially womxn, to effectively function on a day to day basis.
How can we work on this?
We can start by building emotional awareness. A simple yet effective way to build emotional awareness is by journaling how we are feeling throughout the day. This form of emotional awareness will not only assist us but it will also help guide how we engage with others, especially womxn. For example, if we are feeling anxious, recognising the emotion will serve as a reminder for us to be more mindful and to look after ourselves through something like meditation or seeking professional help.
Similarly, this awareness will also help us to be more mindful about how we engage with womxn so that we are respectful of their boundaries and mental wellbeing. This is something men can do rather than simply dumping our emotional baggage onto them.
It’s not the job of womxn to do our emotional labour. While dumping our emotional baggage onto womxn is a big problem, there is another side to this issue.This side of the issue arises when we decide not to speak out or seek help at all. This is when things become damaging and dangerous.
2- Not speaking out or seeking help is dangerous
There have been countless times in my life where I have struggled to process my emotions, especially as a teenager. Instead of recognising and dealing with how I felt, I suppressed my emotions. Overtime, these suppressed emotions grew into constant simmering anger.
This experience is quite common for a lot of men and it can be traced back to learned toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is a set of behaviors and beliefs that encourage suppression of emotions and endorses anger as our state of response for most situations.
The suppression of emotions very often leads men to being silent about how they feel. It’s been reported that 28% of men in the UK had not sought medical help for the last mental health problem they experienced. In the same report it was explained that 35% of men waited more than 2 years or have never disclosed a mental health problem to a friend or family member. It is at this crossroad where men, especially young men develop dangerous patterns that grow from silence to anger and ultimately different forms of violence.
How is this dangerous to ourselves?
The suppression of emotions has been shown to be one of the leading causes in growing rates suicide amongst men. The intersection of not speaking out and suicide is regularly pointed out by womxn writers who can clearly see the connection between the two.
How is this dangerous towards womxn?
The journey from silence to anger is a consistent theme amongst men who enact domestic violence against womxn. For example, the WHO reports that men who have experienced trauma growing up are more likely to enact violence onto intimate partners in their adult relationships.
Similarly, it has also been reported that domestic violence has increased during the pandemic in the UK, a period in which 42% of men have reported a negative impact on their mental wellbeing as a result of the pandemic. Something that in my view is fuelled by our unwillingness to speak out. When you couple this data with the research around men not seeking help we begin to see clear links between not speaking out and enacting violence.
How can we continue to help ourselves?
Outside of simple practices such as journalling there are quite a few things we can do to help our situation by actively seeking out support. Provided below are a list of things I’ve been practicing in my life for a couple of years now - all of which have helped me a lot.
Find a therapist - You can find a therapist through a variety of ways. Here’s a good starting point. If you are South Asian and you would feel more comfortable speaking to someone from our own communities then I’d recommend checking southasiantherapist.com
Join a men’s mental health forum/group therapy - There are so many organisations out there that are doing amazing work for men’s mental health. One such organisation is Taraki,
you can check them out here.
Love & Light.
Someone Who Cares