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  • Writer's pictureDawn Ford

The British Stiff Upper Lip Mentality

Updated: Jan 16, 2020

August 2018

" I still had the military mentality .. 'shut up and soldier on.' That's the attitude drilled into you. It makes you feel there's a stigma in asking for help, even if you're desperate."

There is a such a sad correlation with The British Stiff Upper Lip mentality, where we are taught not to admit or disclose our true feelings, and low self esteem, depression, anxiety, addictions, PTSD, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. This 'British Stiff Upper Lip' is everywhere but especially prominent with boys and men. And who's fault is it? To be honest it's ours. The fault lies within our society; with generations of parents passing this mindset onto their children and when these children grow up and become parents themselves there is a high chance that their learnt behaviour gets passed onto their children and there lies an unbelievably damaging cycle. Unbelievably damaging cycle is actually putting it lightly.

Rio Ferdinand talks about this innate discomfort in 'talking about his feelings' in his book' Being Mum and Dad, Thinking Out Loud. 'Rio's BBC1 documentary, Being Mum and Dad, touched everyone who watched it and won huge praise for the honesty and bravery he showed in talking about his emotions and experiences. He shared with us the lifetime of 'holding things in' and how this was learnt behaviour from his parents, his childhood, his football mates.

As Rio says (and this relates to women too) “ Men typically do what I did instead, and try and outrun, out-numb or out-busy their way around grief.” He writes of his automatic tendency to be emotionally distant and how this ‘coldness’ was how his mum and dad were with each other and around him. He felt he didn’t show his emotions because he couldn’t, he didn’t know how. The power of learnt behaviour! Learnt from parents, grandparents, older siblings, peers etc.

Robert Webb talks about the same issue in his book ' How Not To Be A Boy'. This book focuses on gender issues and one of the biggest most damaging and insane beliefs society places on men is that 'boys shouldn't cry' and 'boys don't do emotions'. This is so wrong on every level!

Can you remember approximately when you became aware of feeling uncomfortable with crying in front of people, especially peers at school? I think I was about 6years old. Before then I remember crying unashamedly when I hurt myself, when I was scared. So how come the natural reaction to experiencing something pleasant or funny (often resulting in laughing, or a smiling) is deemed acceptable throughout our lifetime yet the natural reaction to experiencing something unpleasant (often resulting in crying) is deemed unacceptable? These are natural reactions to being Human and we are doing such tremendous untold damage by not rectifying this mindset.

And why are we so bad at asking for help? I believe it is because those around us don't know what to do. They don't know how to act, what to say.... So, we often hear: " Don't cry .. here's a tissue." " Don't cry over spilt milk." or "Man up."

Frequently those around us think that the pain, physical or emotional can be eradicated with what they deem to be a treat - "Don't cry have a cup of tea, shall I put the kettle on? "Would you like a biscuit or two, or perhaps a slice of cake?" No wonder we associate food, particularly sweets, cookies etc as a treat. And so starts the cycle of feeling sad and turning to food for's all learnt behaviour.

Have you ever said " I'm OK, don't worry about me" ? This is a classic statement which demonstrates how we often put our feelings and emotional needs secondary to others; when we feel like we're a burden. This is a consequence of the British Stiff Upper Lip mentality. As a society we have to change. We need to be encouraged to acknowledge and accept the emotional losses in our lives, own our feelings and feel comfortable enough to share them with others. We also need to be understanding and supportive to others who need a shoulder to cry on too. It has to work both ways. Let's try and make the British Stiff Upper Lip a mindset from the past. Let's make our future an openly caring one.

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