MEN's ISSUES

What are men's issues in therapy?
Why do they exist?
Are they different from women's issues in therapy?

MyOxfordCounsellorThe answer to these questions is a definitive – sometimes, maybe and yes. Men and women have similar and very different issues in therapy. The similar issues exist in the form of abuse: physical, mental, emotional, sexual, and spiritual. The dissimilar issues exist because the men are men. They think differently than women, act differently, develop in a different social direction, and have unique and different experiences in life. Some mothers brought up most of their boys with little or no involvement with men and therein lay the problem. The male role models were poor to non-existent. This is not to say that these mothers did not do a good job. They just do not know how to teach boys how to be men.

With the advent of the industrial revolution, the fathers went off to become the major breadwinners of the family. They immersed themselves in their occupations. As this situation expanded, young men lost their "male mothers."
The rite-of-passage into man-hood ended. Workaholism usurped tradition and the family. Men no longer went with their mentors to learn what they needed to know to go from being a boy to being a man. Men created a father wound in their sons and the sons created a father wound in their sons ad infinitum. Men lost the connection with other men and with their sons. The pain and damage this has created is immeasurable.
When our fathers left us, they betrayed us. When they did not teach us, they betrayed us again. This abandonment generated what is believed to be the largest issue men have today; the inability to trust another man on a very intimate level. How can we learn to trust or be trustworthy when the men we trusted or attempted to trust left us? The answer is we can't. The same is true for trusting other men with our feelings. Because we grew up not learning how to do this, we don't feel comfortable doing it and we couldn't.
In fact there are men who prefer to seek for a counsellor to work with a woman, not a man. Why? Working with a female therapist feels familiar, safe, and comfortable for them. After all, they only really know how to communicate with a woman about their feelings. They did not know how to do this with a man. In fact, the truth is that they did not trust a man with their feelings. At some point, however, a shift will occur and they will begin to trust and want to work with a male therapist. Major changes will occur when they do this.

Our social moral placed a heavy burden on men and their feelings. "Big boys don't cry" implies that it is shameful for men to grieve. "Be tough," they tell us. Being tough implies not feeling fear, pain, or joy. It could even imply being angry, aggressive or competitive. Some men can't feel or don't feel fear and those that do feel fear if they express their feelings, people around them will shame them, belittle them or call them names. That certainly was a pattern of the childhood and could still be a problem if men choose to share with the wrong person. But the reality is this – there is no shame in expressing our feelings.

Below are listed some of the men’s “secrets” discovered by using the form of talking therapy or counselling:
The “Male Mystique”
The contradiction between a man’s outer appearance and his inner feelings.
The “Male Dread/Pain”
Feeling alone and not understood in relationships, even in significant relationships.
The “Male Yearning”
Getting warmth, acceptance, and physical intimacy.
The “Male Strategy”
Withdrawing, becoming emotionally detached, and “cutting ones losses” when there are difficulties in relationships.
The “Male Task”
Staving off the feeling of (or fear of) being a failure.
The “Male Dilemma”
A deep ambivalence about emotional involvement.
The “Male Principle”
Doing the objectively “right” thing.
The “Male Interpersonal Style”
Giving advice, giving “constructive” criticism, pointing out differences between oneself and the other person or being respectful and saying nothing.
The “Male Territorial Imperative”
Obtaining and safeguarding ones space and privacy.

How many men cry alone, in private or worse yet, do not cry at all? Men full of grief are walking time bombs waiting to explode into a river of tears, fearing that they will drown in the flood. When we get in touch with the grief about our beloved it will take a lot of energy to sit on our feelings. Stuffing our feelings does not make them go away. The feelings sit and fester, and surface when we least expect them or want them to. Sitting on feelings drains us of our energy, we may go into depression, and if we sit on one feeling, then we sit on all of them.
Some people believe that grief is the gateway to other feelings. Men must learn to share their grief with others, especially other men. Men need to grieve the loss of their fathers, mentors, and rites of passage. Grieving allows us to say goodbye to that which we lost, and heal our hearts and souls. Grieving lets us get on with our lives and make room for new experiences. Grieving lightens our self-imposed load.

man-roadMost men believe that intimacy refers to having a sexual relationship with a woman. Certainly, that is one aspect of intimacy. However, that is not the whole issue. Women want intimate communications with men about feelings. Some authors suggest that to most men, intimacy with another man means being part of a team. The team bonds together against a common enemy. Intimacy means sharing our deepest thoughts and feelings with both men and women. If we share our feelings, we cannot remain strangers. We will generate emotional connection and a sense of community. This is something most men do not know how to do. It terrifies them, and at times, they unknowingly manipulate women into speaking for them. The social upbringing of men forces us in a competitive, hierarchical direction. Women, on the other hand, grew up in a relational mode. They get encouraged to relate to other individuals rather than compete and develop intimacy with their female friends.
Men resist intimacy. They fear abandonment if they share their feelings and who they really are. They feel it is unmanly to share their feelings and emotional experiences, so they hold back and do not identify. There is a paradox here because if they do not share, if they do not open up, they do get abandoned.

A quote says that our society "bought a lie." Our society tells us that men don't have feelings (implying a genetic difference), or don't need to feel, and that men should not have needs. Men even deny the need for connectedness.
This is a strong, deep need in humans and sometimes the only way men can connect with women is through sex. There is, in fact, no genetic difference between men and women when it comes to needs and feelings. We just bought into the idea; the lie.
Men experience a tremendous amount of stress because of the emotionally restrictive and rigid behaviours taught to men concerning feelings and needs. This stress contributes to shorter lives, relationship problems, a greater propensity to addictions, and other health-related problems for men.
Men often experience feelings and attitudes unique to their gender. The following list addresses some concerns specific to men:
• Socialised to hold in and suppress emotions
• Socialised to place the highest premium on competition
• Grew up feeling innately, internally alone
• Learned to be emotionally independent
• Learned to be self-reliant (and self-contained)
• Must be in control or project this
• Can’t go to others for help, especially another male
• Absent role model (often emotionally distant when there)
• Main influential agent growing up is a female
• Most important element about being a man is to be successful
• Most important element about being a father is being a provider
• Must project confidence, strength, and self-assurance
• Must be able to handle own problems, know what to do
• Must be or sound “right” in discussions
• Must be sexually proficient
• Must be dominant, decisive, and exert control
• Must be and stay competitive in what one is involved
• Should know or be able to predict/figure out what will happen in life situations
• Must not get down and must bounce back
• Must be responsible and earn one’s keep
• Must be physically capable
• Must prove oneself in life

The act of abandoning us created another problem for men too. It left us with a big hole where our father's love should be. Of course, as children, we were not aware of what happened. We knew something was wrong and we did what we needed to do to survive. As adults, we tried to fill the hole with a myriad of items such as women, money, social status, and other material items, or we did acts to numb ourselves. We go into our heads, drink alcohol, eat, smoke, do drugs, become sexually promiscuous, or perform any other addictive, self-destructive behaviour all in the name of filling the emptiness and turning off the pain. What we really need to do is feel the pain, grieve about it, be angry about it, learn to love ourselves and get on with our lives. We must fill that hole with ourselves; our own love.
Society teaches us to compete, be strong, exercise self-control and emotional restraint, and to base our self-esteem on our relative status and position to another man. When this happened, we lost our ability to identify, communicate, and relate to men and women. What this leads to is chronic insecurity, isolation, and loneliness, which are other aspects of the wound.
The challenge to men in counselling is to explore and question these roles and constricts. What men need to do to overcome all of this is to go down into their feelings, heal the insecurities, heal the wounds, and dispense with the isolation. They need to go into their shadows and acknowledge the parts of themselves they have denied for so long. Men need to learn to relate to other men and be intimate with them; tell men their deepest, darkest fears and secrets. It’s easier to say than done.
Men need an immense amount of safety to even start thinking about doing any of this. It is scary, no, terrifying stuff to most men. For most men, it takes a crisis or a realisation that their life in not working to get them started. They have to be willing to take a long hard look at what they are willing to sacrifice if they refuse to change.
What does safety look like for men? It is an environment of men that is nurturing, non-shaming, trustworthy, honest, non-competitive, not position or status oriented, has boundaries, protection, and loving hardness. It is an environment of men that gently and firmly invites the members of the group to grow, be real, feel, and connect. It is in this type of environment that a man will learn to trust another man, dispense with his shame, feel his grief, anger, and joy, and start taking risks he never thought he would take. He will go into his shadow and tell you what is there. It is an environment that will allow him to heal, become intimate, and to know what it really means to be a man.

Here are some of the male's "playground messages" that could prove to be a significant factor in creating a temporary trauma in the childhood which later in adulthood to turn into a psychological problem:
• Don’t cry
• Don’t lose control
• Don’t lose at anything
• Don’t look like a loser
• Don’t look stupid
• Don’t lose face
• Make them respect you
• Don’t lose your cool
• Don’t let them know they got to you
• Don’t be intimidated
• Don’t back down
• Don’t let them have the last word
• Cover your mistakes
• Don’t admit your mistakes
• Cover your tracks
• Get laid
• Don’t be rejected by a woman
• Don’t be trapped by a woman
• In confrontations, be careful because it could get physical

The Victorian socialisation of men taught men to grow up and base their identity and self-esteem on positional status compared to other men. Women, on the other hand, were brought up with a relational model and learned to relate to other women rather than compete. This perpetuates the lie that men should not or do not have feelings and needs. It teaches men how to stuff their feelings, live in competition, hide in shame, not communicate their needs, and not trust other men. Our society performs a dis-service to our boys and men.
The challenge of men in society and in counselling today is to create change for the boys and men of the future so they may have a balance in their lives and be able to relate on a feeling level with men and women.

What do men usually bring to a counselling as Men's issues:
• Difficulties relating to women
• Anxiety
• Stress
• Difficulty with expressing anger
• Difficulty making decisions
• Impotence
• Difficulty expressing feelings and caring
• Difficulties communicating
• Difficulty with trust (especially with other men)
• Difficulty creating and maintaining intimate relationships
• Difficulty giving and accepting nurturance
• Difficulty with commitment
• Difficulty dealing with losses and good-byes
• Often seen/experienced as insensitive and "not getting it".