MEN AND THERAPY
To most men, the idea of going to therapy is similar to having a root canal; it’s painful and to be avoided at all costs. They think that therapy is an excuse to talk about something they would prefer not talk about – their feelings. Men would rather discuss sports, or politics, or work because they look at these topics as being objective whereas feelings are subjective which means they can be hard to define and even scary.
Some men believe that discussing personal issues is not something an average man indulges in. While it is true that women are socialized to express their feelings and men are socialized to suppress theirs, this truth doesn’t mean that men have to avoid a process that can help them in their personal development.
We all have to handle our emotions as we go through difficult situations such as unemployment, ageing, or divorce. There are no easy answers as to how we should feel about a situation because we are all different, but facing our feelings is half the battle. Once we face them, we have an opportunity to heal and grow. Ignoring feelings is not a smart decision, but it’s one that some men take. However, ignoring feelings doesn’t mean that they will go away. Feelings that are not acknowledged tend to resurface in other ways such as heavy drinking or depression.
Therapy is a way to explore feelings in a safe environment. It isn’t an arena where men have to compete to prove themselves; all they have to do is be themselves. It is a way for men to explore their inner world and gain balance and perspective. For men, their sense of identity is very important to them. Therapy can enhance the process of defining and redefining their identity.
There is nothing wrong with being aware of your emotions as a man; you feel sadness, joy, anger, guilt, etc. the same as everyone else. The problem is that society doesn’t think that your acknowledgment of the way you feel should be valued or respected.
Men are raised to be practical and competent and any sign of weakness i.e. any display of emotion isn’t considered masculine because it is seen as a threat to the ego. However, emotions are not about ego; they are simply a sign that you have to look inward for a gauge on how to handle a situation. Feelings are an essential part of being human; they are not distractions or things to be ignored. Feelings tell us about our internal world.
Therapy helps an individual develop expertise to gain a better understanding of issues they want to resolve or explore. It’s an environment where a skilled professional helps an individual to build trust so that they can discuss past traumas, work on relationship issues, or set goals. It’s an environment where there is no judgement or criticism; there is just an opportunity to gain insight.
This doesn’t mean that therapy is easy; there is work involved because exploring and confronting issues can be challenging. You have to be honest about yourself and respect your feelings, but the rewards for being candid are valuable. Discussing emotions can help men to understand their behaviour and explore their expectations. Going through the process can help any man fully accept who he is. Men may need to acknowledge that they are on a journey of self discovery, but that journey which can help them to become better husbands, fathers, brothers, and friends.
Guest Editor: Jackie Claxton