12 Sep 2017

Is tough the same as strong?

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:26 pm on 12 September 2017
Sam O'Sullivan talking with Ian Mason at his farm in Lower Kaimai, Tauranga.

Sam O'Sullivan talking with Ian Mason at his farm in Lower Kaimai, Tauranga. Photo: Toughtalk.nz

Psychologist Sam O'Sullivan is talking to people around the country about what it means to be tough on the inside.

A diverse range of Kiwis share their own perspectives on the website and facebook page, called Tough Talk.

Sam was bullied in high school, but he "hung in there" until an experience with a school bully at the high school music competition Rockquest shifted his perspective.

"He was about to go on and his bass guitar wasn't working. He asked to use my guitar. He knew he was in a vulnerable position and I could have said no, but I said yes."

As they got older, the former bully opened up to Sam about his own story – both his parents were alcoholic – and admitted he'd taken out his own suffering on him.

"That moment was really healing, and I realised we were both victims."

Sam believes many New Zealanders – not all men and a number of women – struggle with three challenges.

The first comes from a strict definition of success as providing, making money or having status.

When people don't achieve, they feel stressed and like a failure and are unable to learn from the experience, he says.

Secondly, the idea that to be a 'hard man' you have to be strong actually works against true strength.

"Being strong is actually feeling your emotions and expressing them. That's hard, that's really tough."

Thirdly, many New Zealanders of previous generations have not been taught how to express feelings – in the case of men, particularly not to each other.

Sam hopes the Toughtalk videos will inspire people to open up and support others by listening and contributed to reducing violence and suicide rates.

"If watching one of these videos gets someone to open up and have one conversation and start that upward spiral, that's huge, that's how I see it working."

So far, Sam has interviewed one woman and hopes to include more in future conversations.

"Women are the leaders in this, men are learning from them."

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