This week, on BBC Radio Manchester, Mike Sweeney tackled the really sensitive subject of men ‘bottling up’ their feelings. Mike spoke with his usual refreshing honesty about his own experiences and encouraged his listeners to share theirs too.
I was impressed with how open people were prepared to be, and it proved, without doubt, how important it is that we, as humans make time to interact vocally.
It got me thinking though; is this really predominantly a male problem? In this day of text-speak and emoji’s maybe we are all losing the ability to express ourselves with words. With the growth of social media, public settings have become less chatty overall. It is not unusual to see rows of people, eyes fixed on their screens, with none or very little actual ‘human-to-human’ interaction.
I love to talk. I know that might (not) come as a surprise to those that know me, but I do. I am a ‘chatterer’ and I love to talk things through with people. By things – I mean everything! My happy news is that – apparently it’s good for me!
The English writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley once explained the worth of words as;
‘Language gives definition to our memories and, by translating experiences into symbols, converts the immediacy of craving or abhorrence, or hatred or love, into fixed principles of feeling and conduct’.
In other words, language is vital to how we process information and how we think.
Verbal communication is essential, even ‘small talk’ that I hear so many of my friends and colleagues moaning about.
We don’t give ‘small talk’ enough respect but it’s more important than we might think. Without even realising what we are doing, our attempts at small talk, whether greeting a colleague in the morning or chatting to a sales assistant, are creating the beginnings of a good atmosphere. A brief interaction, that means little to us, could maybe; elevate someone else’s spirits to a slightly higher level for the rest of the day.
In addition, small talk is the first stage of conversation, possibly leading to something else. Without it, we could miss out on forming a new friendship. Or someone we care for could find it hard to start to talk about something that’s bothering them.
Talking keeps us all healthy. It helps stop problems from getting too big to bear and often, sharing a story about something that has happened can stop us from ‘overthinking’.
I think it’s always worth making the effort to go and chat to a friend or pick up the phone and talk – not text. When problems are out in the air, it’s easier to sort through them and clarify their importance. When thoughts remain internal it’s difficult to think them through and organise them. Somehow, and I don’t know why, but ‘stuffs’ just easier to tackle when we’ve let it out.
Talking puts things into size proportion too. If we keep issues internal they start to feel bigger and heavier and it can feel like our bodies have become a pressure cooker with the weight of the growing burden.
I don’t think it’s just problems we should be talking about either; ideas, dreams, general day to day stuff – everything is easier to consider when it’s out. Sharing thoughts with friends might result in us being offered other points of view or options that we hadn’t deliberated before.
But returning to my original thought; is it still predominantly men that struggle to talk? I’m not sure it is any more. I listen to my teenage boys chat with their friends and many of them seem able to talk about their feelings. I wonder if it’s possibly a little generational?
My father isn’t much of a chatterer but to his credit, he’s a great listener. You’d think that the two would go hand in hand but it appears not.
My husband is neither a chatterer nor a listener. He keeps his thoughts to himself and is easily distracted and bored by ‘small talk’. In addition, like many men his age, he becomes visibly uncomfortable when people start to chat about personal feelings. If it’s something he can’t ‘fix’ then he struggles to listen and contribute to the conversation.
I worry for him and thousands others like him. But I worry for the people who are close to the ‘quiet’ types too. It’s hard to be ‘close’ to a ‘non-talker’ and if someone appears disinterested in your conversation, it can leave you with feelings of low self-worth. How must it feel to be a child of parents who don’t make small talk and / or struggle to ‘open up’? How can a child learn the art of conversation if they aren’t being led by example?
I wonder if there’s room within our education system to teach children the importance of verbal communication, both talking and listening? This would ensure that the next generation grow up with a better understanding of their mental health. In this age, where we are in danger of losing ourselves to technology more and more, surely this in an important lesson to learn?
If you are struggling to talk about something that’s bothering you and feel unable to talk it through with a friend or family member, please consider a counsellor/ psychologist/ psychiatrist. Here are some helplines too:
Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
The Silver Line is the only national confidential and free helpline for older people open every day and night of the year.
- No question too big
- No problem too small
- No need to be alone
Our Helpline – 0800 4 70 80 90
Phone: 0300 100 1234 (for information on their services)
CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15-35.
Charity providing support if you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.
Phone: 08444 775 774 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5.30pm)