Brother Be Well Wellness for Boys and Men of Color

Invulnerability can lead to substance use

Denial of mental health problems, as well as familial and societal expectations for males to silence their pain, can fuel self-medication. Getting to the bottom of issues along with shoving stigma to the side are two keys to freedom.



When do boys learn that it is not okay to express certain emotions? From their earliest memories. As feelings are pushed down or silenced, there is a cost to boys and men. Substance use can be a way of numbing those feelings, and one that has been supported across generations and through popular media. For example, men may get together and drink to celebrate a life transition. For many men, this replaces other forms of expressing feelings. Choosing to live a life free of substances may require interrupting patterns and rituals, so support for these unpopular choices is often needed.

We also teach young boys that they are supposed to be strong and powerful like superheroes. “Be strong,” is a common phrase hurled at young males when they are hurt or saddened. Stuffed emotions can lead to problems in life, evident in poor relationships, health problems, and the perception that showing pain equals weakness.

The more these messages are reinforced, the harder it can be for men to recognize and talk about their struggles. Anger, which is considered acceptable, can become the go-to emotion. Understanding anger as a secondary emotion illuminates the limited emotional expression afforded to men. If a man loses his job, gets in an altercation, or is rejected by a romantic partner, anger is the accepted emotion. Or, for men who work hard to limit their anger because of its association with violence and unpredictability, their emotions may be denied. We do not generally teach men how to talk intimately about fear, jealousy, insecurity, or sadness. As a result, many men are carrying around unprocessed pain and resentment.

The County of Sacramento provides resources for all members of the community:

Live today as if you have the power to accomplish everything on your mind.

If men are not supported to talk to people about their innermost pain, it also sends the message that they’re supposed to take care of it themselves. This, coupled with expectations our society has for men to be decisive, self-reliant, and in control, make it much more challenging to ask for help. As a result, many of the toxic elements of masculinity are about power and control.

Acknowledging that substance use is out of control can be threatening because it challenges the very power and control we encourage men to exhibit. Similarly, men may also minimize the impact their behavior (including substance use and limited emotional expression) has on people in their lives. Part of supporting men toward healthier masculinity means pointing out the impact their behavior has on other people.

This opportunity to examine the impact of masculinity and make changes is one that men may or may not choose to take. However, substance use treatment that does not examine the impact of masculinity will likely be insufficient. When we imagine the long process it takes to teach boys and men such a narrow, stifling idea of manhood, it is clear there are layers of pain to work through. It also means there are alternative ideas about masculinity. To begin, we need to have clarity about unhealthy expectations of masculinity in our dominant culture. This gives us an opportunity to love boys and men in different ways, and support them toward a healthier life.

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