What (Not) to Say When Someone Needs Help—Addressing Toxic Masculinity/Positivity

Right now we’re going to investigate issues we are saying to ourselves and one another that fall beneath the class of poisonous masculinity and its gender-neutral corollary, poisonous positivity. Primarily, we’re going to unpack problematic language and phrases and supply more healthy extra significant choices to make use of sooner or later. The objective is to make our responses to our family members extra significant and intentional, so we will finest assist these we care about, together with ourselves. Poisonous masculinity and poisonous positivity go hand in hand on this journey as a result of the Venn diagram overlap of unhelpful and unhealthy responses posed by every is huge.

What Makes a Assertion Poisonous

First, let’s discuss what makes any idea or assertion “poisonous” for the needs of this dialogue. Toxicity exists when the assertion doesn’t empower, educate, assist, commiserate, or foster belief OR if it conjures up a disgrace response. I exploit this definition as a result of toxicity on this context is the stuff that destroys shallowness, relationships, and psychological/bodily well being. Poisonous masculinity significantly endorses problematic themes, corresponding to isolation, violence, trophy-hunting, bottling feelings, and different issues which discourage wholesome conduct. Poisonous positivity, alternatively, is restricted to endorsing solely “acceptable” constructive responses and shuts down any response outdoors of that. Poisonous positivity exists when the assertion minimizes the expertise, encourages disgrace or guilt over feeling real feelings, requires/encourages masking (hiding your true self to artificially conform to the setting), and/or dismisses or diminishes undesirable negativity, even when these experiences, feelings, emotions, or wants are legitimate and needed.

The necessary factor to recollect is that neither positivity nor masculinity is the issue. It’s simply that ongoing modern tendencies embody an overabundance of problematic assumptions, requirements, and necessities which might be tied as much as types of positivity and masculinity. We’re not right here to assault positivity or masculinity, nor are we making an attempt to degrade happiness or manhood. We’re simply making an attempt to maneuver particularly from unhealthy behaviors to more healthy options. This work isn’t simple for us to do, whether or not we’re making an attempt to enhance ourselves or maintain our fellow people accountable. However it’s the proper factor to do as a result of our kids should reside in a world the place their wants are met, their relationships are significant, they usually reside lengthy and wholesome lives.

Particular Examples

The next examples spotlight problematic language utilized in poisonous positivity, generally adopted by its companion phrase from poisonous masculinity. The second phrase is simply an instance of how poisonous positivity has invaded masculinity, so the responses and alternates gained’t at all times apply to the second phrase in each scenario.

“Being adverse gained’t assist.” / “Man up.”

Whereas this can be true, it dismisses the particular person’s wants and shames them for struggling. This ends with the particular person now not trusting you with their wants, and erodes your relationship at finest. Over time, this sort of dismissal encourages isolation, and never asking for assist when it’s wanted.

“Thanks for coming to me. Let it out. As soon as you’re feeling as much as it, we will concentrate on options.”

This response acknowledges the humanity of the particular person. It additionally validates their expertise, even when we don’t perceive it. Most significantly, it reveals appreciation for the particular person taking a troublesome step: opening as much as you.

“Another person has it worse.” / “There are kids ravenous in [X location].”

Perspective is nice, however in a disaster, this invalidates an individual’s reliable expertise. The logic of statements like “another person has it worse” or “at the least you’re not a ravenous youngster in [X country]” is basically equivalent to claiming that just one particular person has it so unhealthy that they get to really feel unhealthy, wrestle, or want help. It additionally tells the struggling particular person that you just aren’t keen to be current with them and their wants.

A: “Inform me about it; no disgrace, no shade.”

The antithesis of “another person has it worse” is communication and validation. Speak about your psychological well being so others have perspective and really feel snug turning to you once they have wants. “Another person has it worse” is a direct reason for suicide, dependancy, isolation, and numerous different psychological well being signs and behaviors. Speaking about your struggles, validating them, and never judging them is how suicides are prevented. I’ll reiterate the “no disgrace, no shade” portion of this assertion. You could be current, accepting, and versatile for the opposite particular person. In case you reply with disbelief, outrage, criticism, or every other disgrace/guilt-inspiring conduct, you’ve undone the work of asking them to let you know about it. In case you don’t know what to say, simply say, “okay,” and let it dangle. They’ll let you know extra. You’ll get to be there for them. The scenario will get higher as a result of the opposite particular person is now not hiding their wrestle.

B: “There are methods for that to get higher. Can I supply some assist?”

Evaluating somebody’s expertise to a worse scenario doesn’t supply any options. In case you see a greater path to be taken, stroll them down that path. In case you aren’t outfitted to do it your self, assist them discover the native shelters, clinics, and charities that work with the precise challenge in your group. As a result of these sources nearly at all times have web sites, this is so simple as pulling out your telephone. If you wish to make a name or appointment for them, get consent first since they gained’t at all times be able to contain a 3rd get together—particularly in case you’re the primary particular person they’ve requested for assist.

“Good vibes solely.”

That is basically unique as a result of no person feels nicely the entire time. Additionally, utilizing the phrase “good” right here subtly associates feeling poorly with being “unhealthy,” and that’s a layer of judgment no person wants. This phrase additionally shames folks for pure emotions they’ll’t management and shouldn’t be ashamed of. Principally, it tells folks, “You’re not allowed to specific your trustworthy self, right here.” If somebody is depressed, anxious, harassed, or simply not feeling nicely, this phrase normally communicates the sentiment of “Don’t hassle displaying up.” This phrase additionally comes up in online game teams, streamer channels, and many others. Principally, this appears to be making an attempt to speak a broader message like “Trolls not welcome,” “We don’t do private assaults,” “Be form, please.” However that’s not what’s being communicated with “Good vibes solely.” In case you don’t welcome trolls, say so. In case you don’t welcome criticism or backseat taking part in, say so. Be particular, and use the under phrases to speak the constructive features of what you’re transferring towards.

A: “We’re right here to develop.”

Whenever you base your dynamic on development as an alternative of positivity, you permit for folks to wrestle, ask questions, and supply constructive criticism. As an alternative of being afraid of rejection due to their emotions (or yours), folks within the dynamic can loosen up into an setting that’s secure and welcoming, even to individuals who make errors. It additionally welcomes folks to let you understand if you’re hurting them, which is a crucial a part of fundamental communication in wholesome dynamics. If you wish to be a greater good friend, companion, or father or mother, you’re going to must be keen to hear when somebody says, “That hurts me.”

B: “I really like you, irrespective of your emotional state.”

This phrase focuses on welcoming, not excluding. It additionally avoids shaming somebody for the way they really feel, and creates a stronger relationship, as a result of the particular person is aware of they’ll belief you once they really feel susceptible. Lastly, it permits for encouraging folks to concentrate on therapeutic as an alternative of wallowing, with out shaming them for his or her ache.

“You’ll recover from it.” / “Actual males…”

Obscure/nonspecific, terribly overused, and due to this fact meaningless. Principally, this phrase is problematic due to how society has grown in its use of the phrase. Whereas there may be nothing explicitly unsuitable with this phrase, it has develop into cliche and overused, and that’s the place the issues are available in. When somebody makes use of this line, it doesn’t really feel significant, invested, or goal. It sounds extra like “This isn’t my downside” than “I care about you.”

“You might be resilient, and your power will see you thru. And in case you do need assistance, I’m right here.”

Particular, complimentary, and empowering, this phrase is neither dismissive nor avoidant. This assertion works since you’re demonstrating religion in them and you’re placing your self on the road as nicely. As an alternative of the dismissal and isolation of the problematic phrase, you’re giving hope in a number of methods.

“Smile, crying gained’t assist.” / “Stiffen your higher lip.”

I’ve heard this line too many occasions, and it makes me stabby. Do you know that crying has a function? The act of crying helps us launch and purge stress hormones, nervousness, and anger/frustration. It’s a posh physiological response that helps us transfer from “sufferer” feelings (melancholy, nervousness, emotions of worthlessness) to “survivor” feelings (hope, function, aid). In brief, crying does assist. So, this problematic phrase is a lie. Additionally, asking somebody to smile once they’re in ache? That’s known as gaslighting, and it’s dangerously abusive conduct. When somebody hides their feelings for another person’s comfort, it’s known as masking. And masking is the other of therapeutic. Whenever you ask somebody to masks, you’re telling them that they aren’t ok, that their feelings or expertise are too inconvenient, or that you just don’t care. The one that is struggling has to justify your hurtful conduct to be able to get your acceptance, and that simply provides layers of trauma to the wrestle as an alternative of giving them the therapeutic they’re looking for.

“It’s okay to cry. All of us do it. Can I get you a tissue, beverage, or a hug?”

Introduces willingness to assist with out overcommitting. This can be a nice option to present up and be useful, for a number of causes. First, it’s particular. You’re providing a short-term resolution to their instant expertise. Second, it’s actionable for each of you. You’re providing small options and giving them the ability to decide on what would assist them. The higher you understand the particular person, the higher your supplied options shall be. Lastly, it’s productive. As an alternative of simply observing one another uncomfortably, you make the scenario extra regular by introducing an on a regular basis exercise that doesn’t forestall them from sharing extra. Getting somebody transferring might help them really feel empowered to hunt options, even when all they’re doing is cleansing their face or having one thing scrumptious to eat. Partly, it is because you’re giving them a minor distraction with out avoiding the scenario you’re in, however you’re additionally involving the senses. Serving to somebody who’s struggling typically entails bringing them into the current (at the least generally) to assist them really feel higher as an alternative of ruminating. When the particular person can let go of the sentiments which might be inflicting them discomfort, they’ll extra simply step again from them and consider their wants extra objectively.

“Simply keep constructive.” / “Actual males don’t…”

Very similar to “Good vibes solely,” this phrase invalidates people who find themselves experiencing pure, regular, and basically human issues. Partly, it is because you’re inadvertently telling them that they’re unsuitable, unhealthy, inconvenient, or not working laborious sufficient when none of that’s true. It’s because no human has good management of their feelings, and when somebody is harm, anxious, depressed, or traumatized, what management they do have can slip away quickly. Telling them to vary one thing they don’t have management over simply makes them really feel powerless.

“Issues are robust proper now. Do you wish to be heard or are you searching for options?”

That is most likely probably the most empowering response on this checklist and is fairly good for nearly any scenario. As a result of it requires the particular person to let you know the way to assist them, you could have consent to assist them in that means. I can not stress how necessary that is. With this phrase, you’re validating their expertise, after which empowering them to interact within the conduct that can assist them.

Phrases for On a regular basis Use

The next phrases are these you should use to encourage these round you to open up, to be extra susceptible, to get assist, or to have a greater relationship with you. Use them if you suppose somebody is having a tough time, or say them to your children once they aren’t upset, to allow them to internalize the supply once they’re calm. Bear in mind, tradition is made up of individuals miming what different folks have modeled. Be the mannequin you need your fellow people to imitate.

  • I don’t at all times really feel good. And generally I really feel unhealthy for no purpose. That’s okay. In case you really feel that means, you may discuss to me about it, okay?
  • Life is full of people that need you to suppose or behave a sure means. I attempt to not be that particular person, however let me know if I might be higher.
  • It’s okay to not know the way you’re feeling. It takes follow to learn to describe your feelings. I promise to allow you to determine that out, and be right here for you when you do.
  • I’m sorry. I’ve had a tough day, however I’m making an attempt. Can we make an adjustment so issues are higher for everybody?
  • You understand you may inform me something, proper? I’ll by no means decide you for making a mistake or altering your thoughts.
  • I’m sorry, I do know I dedicated to this, however it’s tougher than I believed it could be. Can I’ve assist or extra time to do it?
  • I’m having a tough time, however I’m glad to be right here. 


In the long run, it’s necessary that we shed our instinctive cliché responses to troublesome conditions and feelings our youngsters (and different family members) take care of, to be able to create more healthy folks. General, we should always have particular targets after we give suggestions to somebody struggling, no matter gender. Our responses ought to be useful, instructive, significant, and empowering. Most of all, they need to contain express consent on either side, concentrate on clear communication, and be particular to the issue at hand. By specializing in these options in our communications with somebody having a tough time, we construct a greater rapport, generate belief, and pave the way in which for each events to place within the work for everybody concerned to reside higher lives.

In case you’re searching for extra sensible recommendation for tackling unhealthy behaviors in your life, at work, and extra, I like to recommend Brené Brown’s guide Dare to Lead. (Affiliate hyperlink.)

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