One of the most important aspects to building safe mental health conversations for the men in your life is how you show up for him in his time of struggle. How you show up for him actually says more about you than it does about the struggle he is facing that might be causing you to squirm and run away from the opportunity to create safe, vulnerable spaces where authentic conversation flourishes.
In the last twenty four hours I have received two very different written messages from two men who I have never had the opportunity to meet in person, yet who have brought profound depth to my mission of creating safe spaces within people through authenticity and sharing my lived experiences. Without sharing their names, or confidential exchanges let me give you a view into the messages received through their courage to share and seek understanding of where they are in their life journey and how they got to a point of sharing the depth of their journey.
"I cannot believe that I told you all of this"
When this came through my messaging it caught my full attention. Our intuition and instincts know when we are safe and when we are not. Trust and listen to your instincts when building spaces to have and welcome conversations. I could feel his emotions, fear and shame tied to the struggles he was facing and at the same time I accepted that I've walked in his shoes before and just sat letting his truths come out. Eventually, when asked, I answered honestly about some options moving forward. I can offer insight and sit within his truths, but I cannot do the work for him, nor will I sugar coat the reality of his work ahead should he choose to walk forward to find a healthy self loving life.
When we show up for men without conviction of self, our words and actions are coming from our own insecurities and fears and he will recognize this and withhold.
Imagine talking to your son and wanting full disclosure of his youthful actions and outcomes but judging and shaming him for the very slips you experienced in your youth? How are you both going to be feeling during this conversation, if it even takes place? You might be feeling two-faced and confused on what to do, while your child is sensing your hesitation and may already know your past thus internally building a dialogue of you are not trustworthy to him.
We can create conversations with our children from the eyes of understanding, using the lens of our childhood without ever having to disclose full details of our own misguided experiences. Showing understanding and compassion while being authentic creates room for healthy love and growth through situations together.
The second message was a pure testimony to how I support him and the blessing for me was, that it was just in being my natural self that brought acceptance to him.
"Nita, you always hold up a mirror for me to see who I am. Not who I thought I was. You take away that loneliness by showing me the same experiences."
When I received this testimonial I was shocked, yet did not disagree with how comfortable I am with sitting in other peoples pain just bearing witness to their turmoil and heaviness and sharing different perspectives when invited to.
When we share different perspectives to people walking the same path we have been on we open a portal to healing like few other things can. When we evidence that we too have stood on that ledge and overlooked the abyss of cold blackness there is a humanness within that admission that is like seeing a campfire after being lost in the dark knowing now that you are close to home, close to safety again.
Both of these conversations a foundation of safety, trust, honesty and integrity already existed within authentic and ethical bounds so I was honored to listen and offer a different perspective to them both. In a new space I might have just sat with the pain for quite sometime before offering much perspective. There is something so powerful in the knowledge that you are not alone in your darkness and pain.
How we accept and show up as our authentic self to others, especially men matters. Bringing a grounded with a self aware character to the table provides a stability that will shine like a beacon of safety for those who you value.