Connection is extremely important for young men as they move from depending on others to meet their needs, to confidently meeting their own needs. Connection is much more than getting along with others, it’s having the courage to be open about sensitive thoughts, feelings and emotions. Most young men who struggle to establish independence struggle because they lack confidence; they’re afraid to ask for help because they want to appear strong and capable.
For many young men at this age, asking for help or sharing their emotions openly is seen as a sign of weakness, especially by their peers. The result is young men who hide their feelings and put up a front; they either pretend that nothing is wrong or give up, believing that something out of their control (you, me, their diagnosis) is responsible for their inability to make it on their own. After all, it’s much easier for them to believe that they can do nothing about their situation or their feelings of depression, anxiety, fear or inadequacy, than it is to openly acknowledge and admit deep-seated negative feelings associated with not being able to make it on their own.
These same young men believe that, if they let someone see who they really are (their real thoughts and emotions) they could be left exposed and vulnerable, possible hurt or shunned if others make fun of them or tell them to “Just get over it.” The result is that these young men become disconnected from the people around them; because they feel that they have to pretend to be someone they’re not, they can’t be authentic, they can’t be open and therefore they can’t connect. They hide their insecurities and lack of competence to protect themselves and find themselves isolated from the very people who love them and can help them. They also feel isolated from their peers. All of this isolation leads to depression and ultimately unhappiness. They often try to escape their loneliness by turning to other things such as drugs, video-games or pornography.
The research in the area of acceptance leads to the conclusion that men need to be accepted in order to feel good about themselves. Acceptance is in some ways synonymous with respect and gaining respect or acceptance is even more important to young men because they feel they have to earn respect to prove that they are worthy of respect. Research is also showing that young men are more likely to feel confident and respected when they have friends who they can be themselves with and who respect them and their unique abilities.
When young men come out of isolation into an environment where they are around other young men who are struggling with the same things, they feel more comfortable acknowledging their own struggles because and feel less likely of being rejected or hurt. This forms a basis for more openness and connection. When they discover that mature men accept them as they are instead of rejecting or shaming them for not being “strong” or because they are unsure and often struggle, they feel as though they finally have permission to be themselves, to acknowledge their weaknesses and to make mistakes. When they are no longer afraid of trying and failing, they can begin to gain the skills that they need to be successful because they are more comfortable taking bigger risks around those they trust. While not all young men choose to connect, they are far less likely to connect in an environment that is negative, guarded and emotionally unsafe.