Why a shed?
I have long advocated that every man should have a shed!
Big or small, it’s size or shape unimportant.
Because a shed is a bolthole… an escape pod… a place of sanctuary.
Before I ‘shed’ more light on this statement let me point out that, whilst I believe every man needs a shed, I am also a firm believer that a shed is not just for men.
It can be a place for anyone, regardless of gender, age, culture, background or whatever label you want to apply.
After-all the word itself – ‘shed’ – is made up of the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she.’
Whilst I would love to ramble on about the benefits of owning a shed for both parties, I do have a reason for making my word count gender specific on this occasion.
How to use your shed
A shed is usually seen as place to store things.
A collection centre for items we dare not throw away. Who knows when we will next need those half-filled tins of paint, old books or odd pieces of wood!
Sheds are winter depositories for garden furniture, the lawn mower and toys which become redundant as soon as autumn arrives.
They can even be spaces big enough to store power tools and begin (though not necessarily finish) a whole collection of DIY projects.
The uses of a shed are less important than the shed, itself, acting as a place to escape from the confines of the outside world – the house, the family, the children and even the dog or cat.
A shed is a place for men to reflect, think, chill and put their world to rights.
Now, I realise that this may sound like I’m suggesting that sheds are places to run away to; to avoid spending time with family and friends, escape responsibility or legitimately excuse themselves from daily life.
To be honest, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I’m not saying men should look for excuses, or should want to avoid family, friends or responsibilities – but I am saying men need a space; somewhere they can retreat to, reflect and make sense of the world around them.
You see the shed is a safe place. A sanctuary that men can use to evacuate from the issues and pressures that some of them face in today’s society.
A shed-full of emotion
For most men, when an issue raises its ugly head, they think about it. They look for an answer, and once found, put the issue to bed. In essence, us males build the world on practical foundations.
The idea of tapping into our feelings and actually exploring how we feel is not such an easy task.
Just like owning one suit, many blokes only seem to own one emotion – that of anger.
Just like the suit, this one emotion can be worn for many occasions, whether it’s because they are hurt, frustrated, grieving or don’t feel heard.
One of the few places men sometimes feel safe enough to express other types of feelings is at an event like a football match.
Here it’s acceptable for men to cry and be upset about their team conceding three goals and missing out on a place in the Premier League.
It’s also freely accepted that we share these feelings and emotions with our fellow football brothers without fear of criticism or stigma.
Male emotions – A professional perspective
How am I aware that many men don’t share their emotions but repress them?
How am I aware that many men present an image of solid self-control, of being strong in adversity whilst battling in silence with an emotional hurricane inside?
How am I aware that many men struggle with this internal storm until they feel that the only available route is to escape life altogether?
I know this because I am a counsellor and clinical hypnotherapist who, in supporting clients, both male and female, from a variety of backgrounds and ages, get to hear about their struggles on a daily basis.
It is common for men to fear being seen as weak by their peers or family if they show their emotions.
They question whether it’s okay to be sensitive about things that upset them, or to engage with an issue or trauma they have encountered.
This is evident in all my years of experience and these problems do not discriminate.
Males from all walks of life can succumb to feelings of emotional imprisonment; from manual labourers to the unemployed, school children, office workers, managers and even professional sports players.
It appears that society still pressurises men for simply being male, not allowing them the chance to recognise and explore their emotions.
So when their emotions are triggered, they find them difficult to process.
From shed to session
For some men, a counselling journey can begin and end with their first session.
For others, although they make the decision to attend, book the appointment and turn up, the idea of revealing any inner feelings and laying their emotional-self bare is too much to handle.
The therapy room, whether for counselling or hypnosis, is a place of sanctuary, another type of shed!
The therapy room is no different to a garden shed in terms of allowing an opportunity for a bloke to reflect and be supported. A place where someone can explore those feelings which have been bottled up and shelved, in a confidential setting and without judgement.
It’s an opportunity for men to leave behind their family and friends for 50 minutes (the time a counselling session usually lasts) to explore themselves; to understand ideas of self-care, self-compassion and develop an understanding about what they want to achieve.
As said, I think every man should have a shed, but it is also my metaphor, my belief, that every man should have the opportunity to talk about their troubles, to let go of mental or emotional pain and replace it with calm and ease.
In the same way labels can be applied to people with mental illness, men too can have labels applied to them.
From an early age they are told how they should act in society, how they should feel and, in turn, try to live up to “their role.”
Someone once told me that when their ten-year-old son cried, his father shouted at him until he stopped because he was “too old to be acting like a child.”
Why do we need to stop crying at a set age? At what age do we become too old to cry?
Crying is natural, it allows us to let out angst, move on with our lives and avert bottled-up tension that becomes destined to pop like an emotional champagne bottle!
Growing up with sheds
It’s not only in private practice with adults that I hear the male voice telling me how difficult it is to express emotion.
Working with children of school age, you get to understand some of the key fears and concerns that young people have about the world they’re growing up in.
What’s been enlightening over the last few years, is seeing a noticeable change in more lads utilising counselling opportunities and a decline in the stigma traditionally associated with it; although it would be foolish to think that this has gone altogether.
Whilst more young males attend counselling nowadays, it is still difficult for many lads to explore or express their emotions; except through our old friend – anger.
Whilst there is a place for anger in our emotional make up (after all, it is part of our collective emotions), it is often used to shield the real reason for upset.
For many boys, anger hides the deeper upset of being unheard, frustrated, lonely or even scared. The only emotion they feel they can rely on to ‘safely’ illustrate their issues is anger.
What strikes me as a therapist is that even though society becomes more tolerant of mental health, we are still only at the start of the journey.
We have a long way to go before we accept fully that, as a male in society, it’s okay to own an emotional library, rather than a single book.
This should be advocated in our formative years – ‘owning a shed’ should not be limited to any particular age!
The grief shed
In addition to the general counselling and clinical hypnosis I do, I also specialise in work around grief.
I believe the cornerstone of most psychological issues is based around a loss and the grief which ensues.
This is most recognisable when someone dies and, again, is something many men find difficult to engage with.
Instead, they push their feelings away, not understanding that grief doesn’t disappear when pushed away; it merely hides, waiting in the wings for an opportunity to hit back with a vengeance.
As a bereavement counsellor I have supported men, strong in stature and mind, who have crumbled when grief has met up with them.
They cannot understand or accept why they feel or act like they do. A safe environment to talk, whether it be a hut, shed or counselling room, can go a long way in helping these men.
Once men acknowledge their grief, and associated feelings, it’s surprising how effectively it can be dealt with.
This is really evident in grief work I’ve carried out within male groups.
Over a period of a couple of months, men involved in these groups have gone from an emotional wilderness, to embracing their feelings and supporting the other men in the group, showing a clear step forward in understanding and processing their own grief.
A final word on sheds…
I started this written piece with the idea that every man should have a shed, and still hold that premise because I believe that a shed is more than just another space in a garden.
I’ve touched on why I think this is important for men of all ages and backgrounds but maybe I can re-enforce this viewpoint a little more.
You see, I believe that if men don’t feel safe, aren’t allowed to talk or aren’t listened to, the only choice they may feel like they have left, is one of taking their own life.
According to the Men’s Health Forum, there is still no clear picture of the real magnitude of common mental health disorders in men because, although many men are willing to discuss physical issues with their doctor, very few mention their mental or emotional issues.
The Men’s Health Forum suggest that 4 out of every 5 suicides are carried out by men, with suicide being the biggest cause of death for men under the age of 35.
This suggests that men are suffering with mental distress and may not be getting, or asking for, the help they need because they don’t know how to or, for what-ever reason, feel they shouldn’t.
It’s also worth noting that not all suicides are mental health related; other factors can play their part – whether it’s finance, work or an individual’s perception of their self-worth or belonging.
This is reflected in a study carried out by The Samaritans in 2012 which identified why certain groups of men were more likely to commit suicide than women.
The study found that men in mid-life compared themselves against a ‘gold standard’ which prizes power, control and invincibility.
It found that men in mid-life are now part of the ‘buffer’ generation, not sure whether to be like their older, more traditional, strong, silent, austere fathers or like their younger, more progressive, individualistic sons.
The study also found that with the decline of traditional male industries, these men have lost not only their jobs, but also a source of masculine pride and identity, becoming overwhelmingly dependent on female partners for emotional support.
Obviously, this information only touches on the topic of suicide and some of the multitude of factors behind it, as well as a particular age group. But what it shows is a clear need for men to be allowed to explore their feelings and emotions.
This work started with what might have seemed a flippant comment about sheds. There was a point to that!
The shed is a simple metaphor, but one which allows blokes to connect with the idea of a safe place.
It helps them visualise somewhere to retreat and to talk about their worries.
It is a symbol of the support that can be obtained in dealing with issues and breaks down the stigmatised notion that counselling is somehow abstract and inaccessible.
A shed is therefore important. It gives purpose and a grasp of what can be available to a troubled soul.
With that in mind, please spread the word – sheds are more than storage huts, they are also places of support and personal change!