Author: Simon Niblock, MA, LMFT-Associate
We all know that when you throw the gauntlet down, most men are up for the challenge. Consider these examples:
Are you ready to tackle the next ‘Tough Mudder’ in record time?
Sure! Let me show you who’s boss!
Ready to dismantle the kitchen garbage disposal, blindfolded, with dinner guests about to arrive?
Easy mate, I can do that, while still juggling the BBQ!
How about changing the nappy of your child, while in an airplane toilet stall at 30 thousand feet, while experiencing turbulence?
Come on, that’s old school dad stuff! Would you like me to land the plane too?
How about coming to therapy?
You’re bloody joking right?!
So… we struck a nerve then?
Why the adverse reaction? Why do some men suddenly develop an acute phobia when presented with the idea of seeing a counselor or a therapist? In my professional opinion, I suspect there are three reasons.
1. Society has expectations that men must be independent, bulletproof, and have the world in the palm of their hands.
2. Men are not taught the language of verbal, emotional expression.
3. The counseling and psychotherapy profession has not fully accommodated the therapeutic needs of men.
Because of these reasons, many men are willing to sit in their pain, while hoping they can push through it, using the same old tired tactics. Most of this is an attempt to show the world that they have both the answers and solutions and that they will fix themselves by the end of the business day.
Let’s explore these reasons a bit further…
Society has done a wonderful job in shaping how men should view themselves. Men are labeled in so many different ways these days, whether it’s trending or not, the story that many guys portray isn’t necessarily their own. Think of stereotypes or labels like; the toxic masculine, the metro, the sportsman or jock, the action hero, the buffoon, or the ‘strong silent type’. Many of these social narratives are placed heavily on men’s shoulders right from a young age. These labels are created to reinforce our expectations of men and how they should think and behave towards themselves towards women, with their children and other men.
If society says that men must think of themselves as untouchable and indestructible - then naturally men aren’t going to seek help when they really need it.
The stigma of reaching out for help is both internalized (there’s no way that I will admit that something is wrong) and externalized (he better not fall off his horse and crash). That is an incredibly powerful force in shaping our ideas about masculinity and how we think about ourselves.
As a consequence, many men are never taught (or even expected) to be able to openly express themselves or experience their emotions.
When men are asked to ‘express themselves’ they come up short. Because they haven’t had any real training in this action, they don’t necessarily have the right type of vocabulary to communicate what’s really going on inside. Now, that’s real pressure. In many circumstances, this is viewed as avoidance or resistance and as a result some men are portrayed as ‘emotionally void’ or even just ‘bumbling idiots’. What’s important to recognize is that it’s not a situation of unwillingness but a simple lack of capability.
Subsequently, men struggle to express what’s really happening behind the kimono and the cycle of shame and despair is perpetuated; their needs get buried deeper, problems never get resolved and their relationships suffer.
What can we do to help men help themselves?
Offering gender-specific services, practices, and environments that honor the diverse needs of men is a practical way of engaging more men in therapy.
Services that address the typecasting or labeling that has commonly deterred them, using language that suits men's thinking will help minimize the uncertainty and misconceptions of therapy and open the door to endless possibilities. Hopefully, men can then come out of the trenches and live authentically without fear of reprisal or isolation. If men were confident that this was available to them, then more might actually be willing to engage in services that create a meaningful, healing experience.
To schedule an appointment with Simon Niblock, MA, LMFT-Associate, call 512-470-6976.