If you search for tips on mental toughness, you will most assuredly find information regarding winning, managing grief, military experiences, business doctrines, and parenting tips.
These are all concepts commonly associated with mental toughness and resilience, but is there an actual definition of this term, and if so, why does it become so contorted and misconstrued at times, specifically by men?
The reality is that mental toughness should probably be renamed mental equilibrium or balance, and reference to toughness only serves to misguide most people, specifically many of the male clients that I have worked with in my career.
Being mentally tough does not require us to “take the pain” and suppress our feelings.
Quite the contrary, actual mental toughness does require the highest level of emotional awareness and deepest levels of vulnerability.
The best analogy I can think of when describing mental toughness is when a person faces a challenge or problem; if they roll over, lay down, give up, and don’t confront the issue, is that tough? Most people would say no, but that’s exactly what people do when they do not recognize and confront their mental health issues.
To better understand why mental toughness is truly an issue, let’s first explore 3 of the commonly associated aspects of mental toughness and try to determine why so many men struggle to associate mental toughness with its’ true definition and become emotionally shut down and resistant to therapeutic processes.
3 Common Misconceptions of What Mental Toughness Is:
- Young males have historically been socially conditioned to suppress emotions and stuff them deep down where they don’t have to face the pain. Men are often told to not show their emotion, to not cry, to not express what they are experiencing.
One example would be when dealing with a relationship break up, men often feel weak if they start to cry or show that the relationship truly mattered to them so instead they suppress the emotions and give off the “It doesn’t phase me” vibe. This doesn’t do anything but give their inner emotions nowhere to go and the inability to process them.
- Another common historical theme taught to adolescent males is the virtue of independence and the reliance on the person you can trust most…YOU and you alone! As if you have to take on all of the world’s issues and deal with it internally. That no one else can be trusted with your raw inner emotions except for yourself.
Many men feel as if they cannot share their vulnerable emotions with others without being judged negatively for feeling a certain way.
- Finally, the perceived stigmas associated with mental health as being disordered or diseased lead us to conclude that addressing these issues represents an acknowledgment of weakness.
Many men feel as if they need to figure things out on their own otherwise they aren’t as tough as other men. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
So how does one increase their mental toughness and get away from the negative stigmas attached to it?
One of the first steps in increasing our mental toughness is to increase our emotional awareness.
About 1/3 of all people in therapy are males, yet more than 14% of all Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental illness.
The most telling statistic in the disparity between males and females seeking treatment is around depression, where men are more than 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide; however, less than 12 % of females separate the difference in diagnosable depression from males.
The numbers don’t lie; men are more resistant and unaware of seeking therapy, propagated by the concept of mental toughness.
Let’s dig in deeper and identify the components of that term. What is mental toughness and how do we become mentally tough?
That is what I’m here to help you learn!
Mental toughness is a combination of 2 things: 1.) inner strength and 2.) outer orientation.
In other words, how you manage your inner emotions and then relate and connect those to the world around you. Any imbalance in either of those areas will likely result in diminished mental toughness.
1) The inner strength component of mental toughness includes control and confidence: The control that we seek over our emotions and aspects of our life while the confidence we can build is in our abilities and relationships.
Low interpersonal confidence can look and feel like social anxiety, while diminished confidence in our abilities may present as self-doubt and low self-esteem.
Deficiencies in life control may include poor self-efficacy and resilience to life’s difficulties, while decreased emotional control includes a broad spectrum of mental health issues, including grief, depression, anxiety, and repressed emotions.
All of the elements of confidence and control can be supported and improved through the therapeutic process. When we make improvements and build awareness in these areas, we find that our inner strength grows and develops. In other words, getting in touch and confronting your thoughts and feelings actually allows a person to present a stronger, more capable version of yourself.
2) Outer orientation can be divided into commitment and challenge.
Commitment includes your goals and your achievements. These aspects of mental toughness require a high degree of positivity and the ability to identify and pursue opportunities as they present themselves or are created.
Poor levels of commitment may be represented in a person feeling “stuck,” indecisiveness, and a negative bias (or pessimistic thinking).
The challenge in the mental toughness model includes risk orientation and learning orientation. Decreased comfort or aversion to challenge will result in a person experiencing resistance to changes, compulsive behaviors, and addiction.
Outer orientation includes a wide array of social dysfunction, which for many men creates difficulties in relationships, reduced social activities, introversion, and strained family relationships.
This may sound very familiar to many of my male and female readers. The great news is that mental toughness is constructed of treatable and improvable aspects of an individual’s life. You don’t have to go at this alone and you don’t have to live like this forever!
If you know someone struggling with inner strength and/or outer orientation issues and experiencing any of the conditions described above, please encourage them to seek help. Be a cheerleader for yourself or the person in your life who is “too tough to be mentally tough”.
If you continue to find yourself struggling with how to be mentally tough, you don’t have to do it alone! Solid Foundations Therapy is here to help! Visit our website at www.solidfoundationstherapy.com or give us a call at 630-633-8532 today!