Is This the End of The British Stiff Upper Lip?

Not so long ago, Prince William, already an advocate for the promotion of better mental health, gave a warning to others in an interview, stating that "keeping a stiff upper lip" should not be "at the expense of your health." Indeed, with the death of their mother, Princess Diana, in 1997, both William and his brother, Prince Harry, seem not to be strangers to the swinging scale that mental health can sometimes be. Harry has said that he went for counselling after repressing his grief over his mother's death, a bottling-up of emotion which ended, he remarked, in two years of anger, anxiety and "total chaos." Indeed, it might be said that Diana's funeral was not only a turning point for her children, but for the nation as a whole. The massive outpouring of grief shown on that day by the usually restrained British public perhaps marked the end of the era of the British stiff upper lip. As grown men cried in the streets, all notions of British reserve seemed to fly out the window. But, has this new found emotional candour created a situation where almost everyone emotes to an unhealthy degree? As some philosophers remarked at the time of Diana's death, had emotion finally won out over the now undervalued quality of reason?
In terns of mental health, I suppose talking about one's problems is to be encouraged. In my own experience, I wasn't very good at expressing my feelings when I first entered mental health services, and learning how to finally communicate what I was experiencing and the ostensible reasons for it was probably key to my recovery. Nowadays I know it's wise to talk about my feelings before they fester and turn into something altogether more unhealthy. Indeed, William is not the only one saying that the stiff upper lip might be an unhealthy way of managing one's more negative feelings. In an article in The Guardian on the subject it was pointed out by a number of psychologists and psychotherapists that "ugly feelings left unattended just fester" and that if we don't acknowledge such emotions they can be expressed in more unhealthy ways, such as taking things out on others, angry outbursts or even poor physical health. It was also said that those perceived as emotionally strong are often more likely to suffer with depression or PTSD, and that suicide rates among young men are high in comparison to other demographic groups, a fact perhaps down to the male notion of "keeping it together" and not sharing such things.
However, moving beyond the realms of mental health and into wider society, I am inclined to think that the expressing of one's emotions has become all too pervasive. If, for example, we look on the Internet, and perhaps particularly Twitter, we find never ending examples of people emoting. The democratisation that the Internet has brought means that everyone now has a voice, and they seem forever willing to tell us of their joy, fear, angst, turmoil or, particularly, offence. In the realm of politics, matters appear to be governed by passion and "gut" instinct, rather than any recourse to the facts or reasoned argument. Indeed, in this spilling out of emotion, we seem to have forgotten how to reasonably disagree with one another. Witness, for example, the rise of Trump, or our very own Brexit debacle. So, I think there is a huge difference in acknowledging and expressing our feelings and actually being led by them.
As a final thought, I once lent my DVD copy of Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" to a friend, and he remarked that he found the often taciturn characters somewhat refreshing in an age where we are all, including and perhaps particularly men, encouraged to embrace and express our feelings. Indeed, I myself seem to hanker after some old fashioned ideas of masculinity, such as stoicism and Hemingway-like grace under pressure. Mind you, if I remember correctly, Hemingway, with his deep understanding of the male sensibility, went on to take his own life. Maybe he should have opened up and talked about it.                          


klahanie said…
Greetings David,

Ah, my illustrious friend. You raise some interesting points to ponder. Indeed, as you know, our environment can have a significant impact on our mental health. It must have been awful for Diana's sons, what with all the inane protocol that they would have to adhere. Little wonder that Harry attended counselling instead of continuing to bottle up the emotions. The, "stiff upper lip" stereotype is most assuredly something to move on from. Of course, there has to be a balance. Those references to social media and the outpouring of certain individuals, notably on Twitter, you may well find that a number of those who do such emotive rants are bordering on just being attention seekers to help aid in their never ending quest for more followers. Oops, cynic alert!

Thus, a healthy balance is definitely a better ideal. Your voice is important but with a modicum of restraint. And thus, David, you have verbalised your valid feelings without ranting on Twitter.

Nice to see a post from you. Did you get the CD back?

bazza said…
Hi David. Long-time-no-hear-from! The notion of a national character is difficult. The shifting demographic in the UK possibly has changed the typical way we behave.
The problem, as Gary has alluded to, is where should the balance (or probably the pendulum) come to a stop?
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s awkwardly amatory Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Hi Gary,

Thanks for commenting, my hirsute friend. As you suggest, some balance is perhaps what's required. While it's obviously not good to bottle up one's more negative feelings, I don't think one should be led by one's emotions. A little reason and restraint may be a good thing.

I hope all's well with you and I'll try to get in touch soon.

Best Wishes,


P.S. Yes, I did get my DVD back!
David said…
Hi bazza,

Thanks for your comment, and it's nice to be back!

I do think that something in the national psyche shifted when Diana died. Even my mum remarked that she'd never seen such an emotional outpouring, and as I said in my post, I remember that, at the time, some commentators bemoaned the seeming prioritisation of emotion over reason. And, as you say, it's probably finding a balance between those two important things that is the problem.

Best Wishes,


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