Men’s mental health and wellness

two men casually talking face each other on a patio area

Hamid is a 30-year-old male, born in the United States. He studied engineering at university. Though he faced many challenges in his education and life, Hamid always persevered because he was taught that as the oldest son in his family, he had to be the best and always be strong. Being the eldest of five siblings, Hamid took on a lot of responsibility to support his parents and family. Hamid was taught that boys are tough, strong, independent, and do not show weakness. Hamid learned this through the messages he received from society about how a boy becomes a man.

Let’s explore Hamid’s life and how he shifts from the expectations of society and how he can overcome the challenges he faces.

5-year-old Hamid

Hamid’s experience: As a young boy, Hamid was shy and reserved. He did not talk much, but instead, buried himself in drawing and reading.

During recess, he was not interested in playing sports, but would sit back and draw or read.

little black boy sits on a bench reading a stack of books nexts to him

Impact of Societal Norms on Hamid: Because society teaches us that boys are rowdy, Hamid’s parents worried that their son was not “normal”. They would compare him to their friend’s sons, and say “Hamid, why don’t you go run and play with the boys”, or “get out of those books”.

The other boys in Hamid’s class would tell him to play football with the boys. He would hear negative messages about reading from his male classmates.

kids playing soccer

Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Hamid started internalizing that he is a boy and should run around, be rowdy and have lots of energy. He began to struggle between doing what he loves—reading and drawing— and wanting to please his parents. Hamid began thinking that to fit in with his male classmates, he had to play sports during recess or else they would not like him.

10-year-old Hamid

boy mowing lawn

Hamid’s experience: As Hamid got older, he continued facing similar challenges. At this point, his parents asked him to take on more responsibilities so he began a part-time job mowing lawns for neighbors. Hamid also helped his siblings with their schoolwork, often mediated their problems, and always showed up as the “strong older brother”. Everyone could depend on him.  

teen with short hair and green jacket looks at camera

Impact of societal norms on Hamid: Hamid learned that it was normal for young boys to take all this responsibility even if it was too much to handle. He never felt safe sharing his feelings with anyone because he was afraid of being seen as “weak”.

Additionally, he learned that boys are to be strong. Hamid takes on the role of “hero”—always being able to support others and be a shoulder to lean on. But he learned not to ask others for support or burden them with his problems.

Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Hamid never complained or expressed that the responsibility was too much for him. He did as he was told without conveying how it affected him. He had a hard time recognizing his own emotions and expressing them.

15-year-old Hamid

teen boy in jeans and t-shirt sits on fence

Hamid’s experience: Hamid is now in high school. This is a very sensitive time because his body is changing and he is figuring out his identity in this world. Yet, nobody talked to him about the changes he is going through. His mom said to him, “Oh, what a handsome man you are becoming” as he started to grow facial hair. Many of his friends went to the gym daily to build muscle. Hamid’s dad, uncles and friends kept encouraging him to join the football team even though he wanted to join the art club.

teen in black t-shirt against dark background looking down at cell phone

Impact of societal norms on Hamid: Hamid learned that boys transitioning into men are expected to be seen as muscular, tall, and handsome. They are supposed to be seen as strong both mentally and physically.

He continued to learn that art is not for boys and that he needs to be more athletic to be a “real” man.

man in shorts and t-shirt lifts weights in gym

Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Hamid did not “bulk up” his muscles as much as his friends, and dealt with the pressure of wanting to look more muscular. To fit in, Hamid started working out at the gym with his friends. Additionally, he shut himself down from expressing his feelings. He continued to be a support for others, while often feeling that his needs, interests, and feelings are not seen and not heard. He began to shut himself off from what he loves, and had to cope with the loneliness it brings.

20-year-old Hamid

man next to a woman sits on sofa holding face in his hands

Hamid’s experience: In college, Hamid wanted to study art and literature, but shifted to engineering because his parents though it was a more dependable career. He got excellent marks on his exams and made his parents proud. They encouraged him to find an engineering internship to start his career.

His mom also wanted him to get married, but he struggled to make deep connections with his friends and was not interested in anyone in particular.

Instead, Hamid focused on starting his career.

Impact of societal norms on Hamid: Hamid learned that men are supposed to be the provider and protector of others. Their status in society is usually determined by their career, earnings, and opportunities for promotion. Their status is about what they do rather than who they are as people with unique interests, strengths, and character. He also learned that to be considered successful, he should marry a woman and have children.

two men in hard hats review plans on construction site

Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Hamid believes that he should work on securing an internship at a major corporation and focus on developing his engineering skills. He tells himself that as he becomes more stable in his career, he will eventually find a wife and settle down. He doesn’t think too much about that process or make the effort he will need to successfully find a partner. He has transformed from himself into the mask that everyone expects of him.

30-year-old Hamid

man in grey suit jacket and red tie stands confidently looking up to up and to the right

Hamid’s experience: Hamid is now successful in his career, married and is now thinking to start a family. Everything seems to be going alright.

Suddenly, his dad passes away. Overcome with grief, Hamid does not know how to handle it. He is not able to focus on his work anymore, and sometimes he lashes out at his wife. Everything around him starts to spiral out of control.

six individuals in black stand somberly around a casket that has flowers on top

Impact of societal norms on Hamid: Because Hamid was successful in his career, everyone assumed he was doing well, including himself. There was no acknowledgement from his friends or family about the sacrifices he made to become a lead engineer, the support his wife has given to him, or the other life challenges he faced. Instead, Hamid was constantly praised for being “the guy who has it all”. Everyone around him constantly praises how he can do it all.

Hamid’s loss goes unseen as he is expected to be the strong one for his mom and siblings. When he tears up during the funeral, one uncle tells him, “Hamid don’t cry. Be strong for your mom”.

young man with head in hands dark background

Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Hamid believed that he should be able to do everything without help. Even though his wife had supported him a lot early in his career, he failed to acknowledge this.

Now facing his father’s death, Hamid doesn’t have the skills he needs to thoroughly and openly process this experience. He is overtaken by sadness and does not know how to cope.

Hamid makes the brave call to seek out counseling. He reached out to a grief counselor who began working with him to break down the societal messages he received throughout his life and created a safe environment for him to recognize and process his emotions.

50-year-old Hamid

4 young black boys standing together smiling at camera

Hamid’s experience: Now, with every new challenge or difficulty Hamid faces, he can navigate it with more ease utilizing the tools he has learned in therapy. He has started mentoring young boys at the town center on how they can learn to express themselves and encourages each of them to follow their interests.

Impact of societal norms on Hamid: Though society continuously taught Hamid that he had to be strong and stoic, he has broken that norm and has learned to be more expressive.

He is not afraid to be vulnerable, or share his feelings and emotions with his wife, family, friends, and the youth he mentors at the town center. He shows them that recognizing emotions and sharing them is strong. This has made his relationship with his wife stronger and more satisfying.

view of man from behind stands in a field at sunset

Hamid’s internalization of these norms: Now that Hamid has broken the norms of how society expects men to be, he feels freer and is more comfortable with sharing his emotions. He feels more alive and engaged in the world.

He is engaged in art and literature again and has incorporated it into his daily life.

Hamid is breaking the norms he faced growing up.

He is modeling for other males in the community how to find balance between oneself and others, without losing himself.  

Photos licensed from Creative Commons and Canva.

Support the well-being of boys and men:

  • Empathize:
    •  When we encourage men to share their feelings and experiences and be vulnerable, we can build stronger connections. By letting them know that we will make the effort to understand them, and share honestly ourselves, we give them a safe space to explore and feel supported.
  • Challenge outdated stereotypes about men and masculinity:
    • A common norm in society is that men should suppress their emotions. They are expected to be problem-solvers and be logical in every situation. Let’s challenge that in our homes, schools, and local communities. Encourage boys and men to express their feelings, and encourage them to explore activities, careers, or tasks that are often seen as feminine. Many boys will someday become fathers and need to practice parenting, so let them play with the doll.
  • Develop deep and meaningful connections with them:
    • A major way to help our boys and men is working with them to develop good communication skills. When they can express themselves better, it helps us understand what they are experiencing, and it helps them understand us better, too. This helps us develop deeper connections as we continue to understand each other better.
  • Build on their unique strengths, rather than the strengths society places on them:
    • Identify the strengths in the men around you and help them find their strengths. Allow them grace for not always having the characteristics that are expected of them by society.
  • Normalize seeking counseling:
    • Hamid made the brave decision to seek counseling when he felt overtaken by the grief. This counseling supported his growth in understanding himself better and expressing himself to others. We can transform our lives if we make our mental health as important as our physical health.

Contact ReWA

  • ReWA’s Center for Social Emotional Wellbeing can help. Contact us at CSEWIntakes@rewa.org or email MohammadS@rewa.org or call Mohammad Hamid Safi at (206) 423-7310.

Supporting the Women in your Life

Opportunities for women and overall gender equality have increased substantially in recent years, but significant barriers still exist. Barriers, such as, gender-based violence, unequal pay, and limitations in education and political power prevent many women from using all their talents to benefit society. Women all over the world experience life in multitude of ways and not all women are afforded the same opportunities.

Marwa is a 28-year-old doctor, mother and wife. She works at a hospital and is one of the only two female doctors in her department. Let’s travel through one woman’s typical day with Marwa.

Marwa’s Morning

Marwa wakes up at 5:00am, and gets ready for her long day at work. She prays, drinks her coffee with a bagel, prepares breakfast for her husband and kids, and drives to work. She leaves for work before her kids wake up, and this makes her sad. However, she loves being a doctor as well.

Marwa Arrives at Work

Once Marwa arrives at work, she takes a deep breathe and checks in with the nurses on the unit. She gets updates on all her patients she will see for the day, and begins her rounds.


Marwa’s Workday

Within the first hour, she is yelled at by a patient who says, “Women should not be doctors”. Later in her shift, a doctor aggressively questions her diagnosis of a patient. Throughout Marwa’s shift she faces negative comments, yet she continues to support her patients. Although she remains headstrong and positive, it begins to wear down on her. Marwa’s team of nurses, doctors and staff see themselves as a collective and supportive unit. The team uplift and encourage Marwa to tap into her inner strength and she feels confident speaking up for herself. She gathers enough inner strength to finish her shift. She leaves her shift after a long day at 7pm.

Marwa’s Commute

On her drive home, Marwa thinks about all the chores she has to do once she reaches her home. She has to prepare dinner, run the laundry, bathe the kids, and put them to sleep. Marwa’s role as a parent is very important to her and she loves her family deeply. Nonetheless, Marwa is exhausted.

Marwa’s Home

Marwa enters her home, and her beautiful children come running to her. They both instantly tell her about their day. She embraces her kids and hugs them deeply. Her husband then comes and gives her a kiss on the head. After hugging, Marwa goes to the kitchen to start dinner only to realize that her husband has already cooked it. Her husband, Adam, and the kids prepared dinner and set the table for the family to eat together. After dinner, Marwa and her husband load up the dishwasher, bathe the children and put them to sleep. She realizes that she is not alone, and has a strong support system in her husband, children and coworkers. Once everyone is asleep, Marwa takes a small break, drinks relaxing tea, and heads to bed to start it all over the next day.

How can we support the women in our life?

As Other Women: Uplift one another and encourage each other towards growth in life, advocate and speak up with another.

As Men: Listen to the women around you, ask them how you can support them, listen to their stories and struggles, advocate for their rights.

Young Adults: Advocate for women’s rights, take part in community conversations and engagements on topics of equality, Help the women around you.

Children: Help out the women around you, for example, your mom, sisters, grandmothers. Ask mom what you can do to help with chores or tasks.

If you would like to improve your emotional wellness, contact ReWA at csewintakes@rewa.org or fax (425) 955 7877.

Healthy Relationships

three pairs of hands shape a heart on pink background

Why are relationships important?

What is a “healthy” relationship?

  • A healthy relationship is filled with love, respect, and joy—in the best of times. And in hard times, healthy relationships can provide support, empathy, and knowledge. When we have a healthy relationship in our life, we share our joys and concerns about life. And we can learn more about our own needs, desires, dreams, and fears—as well as those of others.*
  • When we have healthy relationships in our life, every day can be an adventure of discovery.

When we have healthy relationships in our life, every day can be an adventure of discovery.

What are the key factors of a healthy relationship?

Communication: Sharing information with each other is important. Confusion or a lack of communication is one of the biggest hurdles in a relationship and leads to many conflicts and break downs.

a male and female couple standing side by side, smiling and looking at each other
  • If what you are doing will impact another person, let them know so that they can prepare and respond.
  • If you need or expect something from someone, make sure you talk to them about it and establish clear information about it.
  • When something is bothering you, speak up and talk to the people around you.
  • If you have a concern with someone, talk to that person directly.
  • Clarify to make sure that you have understood each other.

For example, if you have a problem with your spouse, sit down and have an honest conversation with them.

Empathy and Respect: To respect another person, you must see them as an equal. It means respecting their interest or expertise on something, their needs, boundaries, strengths, limits, fears, and dreams. And you must also respect these yourself as well. Here are three steps to developing empathy and respect for yourself and your partner:

  • Understanding yourself is the first step. Ask yourself, “What are my needs, my boundaries, my limits, my fears and my dreams?” Studies have shown that we cannot provide for others what we do not provide for ourselves. Knowing your own answers to these key traits helps you to follow through on the other key aspects of healthy relationships.
  • The second step is listening to the other person’s perspective. This can be your partner, child, friend, or colleague. You do not have to agree about everything but asking questions and really listening is important when learning to respect another person. (Learn about “Active Listening” here).
  • Learn to resolve conflicts in a healthy way: When resolving conflicts, take time to understand your partner’s underlying concerns. These may be concerns that the other person has not spoken directly about, but these unspoken concerns could be fueling long-standing disagreements. Take time to listen, understand and respect those concerns.
  • Find a “win-win” solution. A “win-win” solution is one that makes both people happy. A solution can also be a “yes with conditions”, instead of a “no”. Respect that everyone has the right to their own comfort levels and boundaries.
two African American parents help their child with learning

For example, imagine that your child does not want to go to school.

Instead of yelling at them, sit down and ask them why they do not want to go to school.

You may learn that they are being bullied or are struggling to finish homework on time. Once you learn of these issues, together, you can make a solution that addresses their concerns.

Boundaries: We all have personal boundaries on what make us feel good, comfortable, and safe. Remember that you shouldn’t feel nervous or scared to set personal boundaries in any relationship.

two teen girls in head scarves linking arms and smiling at viewer

For example, Isa shares a room with her younger sister, Mila.

Sometimes Mila goes into Isa’s closet when she is not there. This makes Isa feel like she could lose her belongings.

Mila responds by explaining how Isa’s “boundary”—that is, asking Mila not to go into her closet— impacts her.

Mila says that sometimes she might need to borrow something of Isa’s when she is not home.

Together, they came up with a plan together in which Mila will text Isa when she needs to borrow something with a promise to return it.

Trust: Trust is built over time and through the many little things we do each day. Here are some ways you can build trust:

  • Learn how to be open, honest and vulnerable with another person. Read more about specific techniques here.
  • Demonstrate personal integrity. There is a saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” This means that in order to build trust, you must do what you say you will do.
  • Show that you value the relationship by developing healthy relationship skills together.
two men stand at the end of a dock overlooking a lake

For example, Mohamad and Ahmed are good friends. They make time each week to get together—usually to play soccer at the local playfield, and they also talk about what is going on in their lives.

When they talk, Mohamed also shares what he thinks and feels about their interactions and relationship, especially clarifying when there might be confusion. This helps Ahmed feel secure in the relationship and able to be honest and vulnerable as well.

They know that they can count on each other sharing joys and concerns about life together.

Support: Lift up one another, and support your partner, child, friend, etc. through the good times and bad times.

A male and female couple standing close, smiling at each other

For example, Basima is struggling in her job and worried she might be fired.

Her husband, Adil, sees her worrying and reaches out to talk about it. Basima shares that this morning her boss gave her negative feedback on a new work project.

Adil knows how talented and knowledgeable Basima is at her work. He listens to her concerns, empathizes with her disappointment, and shares with her his confidence in her to turn it around and show her colleagues what she can do.

They explore the situation together, Adil encourages Basima as she explores a variety of solutions to the situation.

*“Unhealthy” relationships may include, among other things, violence, emotional or psychological manipulation. Read more about those here. If you need help to escape violence, call ReWA at (206) 721-0243 between 9-5pm, and afterhours, call the Peace in the Home Helpline: 1(888) 847-7205.

[box]If you want to learn more about Healthy Relationships, you can come to ReWA’s Center for Social Emotional Wellbeing.[/box]

Other Resources: Create a Love Map

Love Maps are a fun and creative way to explore how well we know our family and friends.

For example, Anaya wants to strengthen her new marriage with her husband, Ahmed. One way to do this is by creating a love map. Anaya can start this by exploring her husband’s interest, hobbies, etc. Anaya uses this MAPS to strengthen her bond, understanding, and love of Ahmed.

a love map helps a person understand their partner's likes and dislikes

Setting goals

Setting Goals Can Help Improve Your Life

climbing to the top of a mountain

Have you ever wanted to learn a special family recipe, but felt too overwhelmed to do so?   

That is where “goal setting” can help.

Are you thinking about going to college, but do not know how to apply?

Many people spend their lives thinking about things they want to do, but never get around to actually doing them.

What are goals?

A goal is something you want to do, to be or to have.

It is important to first ask yourself: “Do I have the resources—that is, time, money, permission, etc.— to do it now?”

You will have to work towards your goal after you figure out what resources you need to reach that goal.

Short term and long-term goals

A short-term goal is something you want to dosoon. A long-term goal is something you want to accomplish later, for example, in six months or in 10 years, depending on your perspective.

For example, Sarah’s short-term goal is to learn her grandmother’s kanofa recipe.  

Her long-term goal is to work as a pastry chef in a famous bakery in Seattle. 

What are S.M.A.R.T. goals?

“S.M.A.R.T goals” can provide a framework for identifying and achieving your goals. S.M.A.R.T stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound.

Sarah is going to use S.M.A.R.T. goals to help her learn her grandmother’s recipe and become a pastry chef. Here is how:

Specific: Be clear.

Since she was five years old, Sarah’s goal has been to work as a pastry chef in a famous bakery in Seattle.  

To achieve this goal, Sarah decides to enroll in pastry school.

Measurable: Track your progress.

SMART Goals defined: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound

Sarah downloads the pastry school application form and makes a note of the application deadline.

Sarah makes a budget of how much her classes cost per month.

Achievable: Make your goal realistic. Do you have the time and resources to do it?

Sarah has the time and motivation to attend pastry school.

She can get a job to pay for it. She feels becoming a pastry chef is a realistic goal.

Relevant: Is this something meaningful to your life?

Sarah is 100% certain she wants to be a chef.
She has the time and money to apply and pay for it and her family supports her.

Time bound: When will this goal need to be accomplished?

Sarah learns that the pastry school application deadline is three months away.

The school session starts in six months.
She will graduate in 24 months and be a pastry chef!

With S.M.A.R.T goals, Sarah can make a plan and achieve her goal of becoming a pastry chef.

What are some goals you would like to accomplish? ReWA’s Center for Social-Emotional Wellbeing can help support your goal-setting journey!

CONTACT: maryam@rewa.org to learn more.

The Secret power of tears

Next time you get tears in your eyes—be happy about it!

Why, you might ask?

Because tears are an incredibly important signal that helps us regulate our physical, emotional and social selves. Allowing your tear ducts to flow benefits you in many ways:

Physically, tears help our bodies by:

  • clearing chemicals that trigger damaging stress hormones—which can cause physical illness
  • flushing toxins and killing bacteria
  • keeping our eyes moist

Emotionally, tears help us:

  • express emotions, heal, and end our own suffering
  • acknowledge and accept our feelings and move forward in life
  • allow our feelings to give us direction

Socially, tears send a powerful signal that:

  • we care about someone or something
  • showing our feelings connects us to others
  • shedding tears also gives others permission to shed their own—what better gift is there than to allowing others to be their authentic self around us?

In fact, crying is courageous!

  • Tears give us courage to face life’s strenuous developments
  • Tears help us release suffering
  • Tears let us be vulnerable to loved ones and build connection

So next time you feel tears in your eyes—remember: Tears are our secret power of strength and health. Let them flow!

Have questions about counseling? Call (206) 496-4330 or email maryam@rewa.org at ReWA’s Center for Social Emotional Wellbeing (formerly, Behavioral Health)