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MENtal Health: An interview with Ben Edwards about male behaviour, relationship advice and stress management

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Ben Edwards is a self-confidence expert and a life and relationship coach. He is a qualified NLP Practitioner and his work has been featured on This Morning, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan and many other publications.

Ben spoke to The National Student about the stigma surrounding male mental health and how the simple act of opening up can lead men to healthier lifestyles and better relationships.

Image credit: Ben Edwards

Opening up

Ben firstly proposes the need for ongoing and open conversations. The first step is to get men to talk and for them to admit when things are tough.

“When I work with men, I try to humour things and make them relax a bit. The main problem is trying to get them to understand that everyone has problems on a range of spectrums. Somebody else obviously has it worse than you, [but] it doesn't make your problem less of a problem.”

Ben elaborates on the dangers of men ‘not opening up’ — something which has been normalised into our culture.

Unhealthy coping mechanisms

“I see men trying to figure things out on their own. I encounter things like men in the household saying that they could do something when they can't — because it’s a male thing to say," says Ben. "They compartmentalise, pretend issues aren’t there and fix it through self-medication with alcohol, drugs, gambling and all sorts of different ways people channel things.

"It has to come out in some way and the vast majority of people, unfortunately, don’t channel it into great things.” 

Aside from substance abuse and unhealthy habits, Ben finds that compartmentalising emotions can also be hugely damaging.

“[So many men] have problems that have nothing to do with the relationships but with their mental health. It can make them have social anxiety — they hate confrontation, and they hate the feeling of being left," says Ben.

“For young men — [the danger of not talking] is not understanding why they do the things that they do. They could [later on] end up taking it out on the people closest to them — their children, as well as other women.”

The gender communication gap

We then started to delve deeper into the issue of the communication gap that exists between men and women. 

Often times we hear complaints from people about the opposite gender where there seems to be a lack of understanding from both sides.

Ben believes that there are two main reasons behind this: differences in ‘love languages’, and feelings of emasculation.

Love languages can be defined as ways in which people show their affection. There are five: words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time and physical touch. 

Most people would have two primary ones, and if there is a disconnection in this, chances are there will be a disconnection in the relationship itself. 

“People show love in the way that they want to get it. If men don’t feel loved and connected to you, they’ll need certainty to make themselves feel like a man," says Ben. "There are other ways that men [may] make themselves feel significant; that could be things like gambling or buying fast cars.”

Societal pressures on men

Ben also touches on societal pressures that lead men to act a certain way. 

“Men have to take into consideration certain social stereotypes like, ‘You have to earn this,’ and ‘You have to buy that.’ A lot of career-driven women I work with tend to be very motivated, and if you’re not careful, you can put a lot of masculine energy into the relationship, so as people say they wear the ‘trousers’. Some of the times, men can feel emasculated.”

Feelings of emasculation might then trigger hostility and withdrawal, something which is widely observed in a lot of relationships. 

It is the understanding behind male behavioural patterns that Ben believe could be the solution to a lot of relationship issues.

“You can have the best communication and the best passion in a relationship with just a few little tweaks. You just have to have the awareness and the braveness to come forward and say, ‘Let’s get some help.’”

Ben traces back the roots of a lot of male mental health issues and toxic masculine behaviours to traditional societal dialogues that have been reinforced since childhood. These damaging narratives of traditional masculinity — reinforcing the need to always be strong — has the ability to cause clinical side effects in men.

How to approach the topic of male mental health

Ben believes that while it’s great that mental health movements are gaining attraction, we should be careful about the approach that we give to inspire change. 

We spoke a bit about the strong, almost forceful name-calling narrative that is popular on social media nowadays, and how that could be detrimental as opposed to encouraging.

“No one likes to be abused. The more you tell someone what to do, the more they switch off. In the UK, our culture is much more cynical, reserved and under-spoken. When you have this bullish approach, people are not used to it and they don't like it.” 

Ben compares this to the body confidence issue. Social media movements surrounding it are great — but until companies stop photoshopping their cover models, young girls will not stop thinking they're not good enough.

Similarly, that aggressive approach in an effort to get men to ‘change’ is only going to tackle a really huge problem in a really small way. Until men are truly being listened to, there is no chance of significant growth.

Offering support

Ben suggests a softer, more empathetic approach, where women could try to create a safe space in which men would feel comforted, protected, encouraged and supported.

One way to achieve this is to establish trust and connection, and the way to do that is through a term called ‘mirroring’.

“You have to mimic their style, personality types and how they like to be treated. If people swear a lot, try to use that — because that is the language they want to hear and that is what they understand. As backwards as it sounds, shout back at them. The more passive you stay, the less they hear you.”

Ben proposes that the best thing for us to do is, not to push change, but to provide ongoing support and presence, and try to relate.

“If you want to try to be closer to a male friend, try to get them to see that showing vulnerability is not a sign of weakness: it’s strength. A lot of people try to tell others what they should do, what they need. Instead, listen. Try to make them see that they’re not the only person in the world who feels this way. Try to drive them towards the conclusion on their own.”

We wrapped up our chat with some pointers on how to best deal with stress, in light of the exam season that is approaching soon. 

Ben says that while there are quick fixes such as gym, diet and talking to people, but the truth is that people need to look at the core causes of what’s causing them ongoing stress. The best way is to work on strategies that work right now, today and the week to come — and delve into longer-term strategies of self-management that would prevent future issues.

To find out more about Ben Edwards, visit his website here.

This article is part of The National Student’s MENtal Health content series which is led by Laura Brown. You can see more from the series here.

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