Just as men have some unique physical issues because of our biology, we also have some unique psychological issues because of the way we were socialized. This process starts early when baby boys are touched less and later touched more roughly than girls. It continues in the expectations that others have of us as boys (“Big boys don’t cry.”) and as men (“Did you score on your date last night?”).
One men’s issue directly relates to counseling. Men are generally expected to take care of their own problems independently and not ask for help—to be self-reliant and tough. Therefore it’s a wonder that men come in for counseling at all. We are likely to delay seeking help until problems are overwhelming. (Also true for medical problems and asking directions!)
Feelings Don’t Come Easy
Another men’s issue is having a hard time expressing feelings, except anger. For years in a typical man’s life, any expression of other emotions was shamed. When experiencing intense physical pain or grief, we were told to “Suck it up” and “Be a man.” So we stuff emotions way down in our guts and turn any emotion into anger (which society accepts) or depression (which is hard to see—the “strong, silent type”). After years of blocking emotions, some men cannot even identify those emotions, much less express them. Many men deal with their emotional pain by drinking alcohol. Showing love and tenderness or admitting that our feelings are hurt are very difficult. It does not fit society’s image of the masculine, the ultimate model being the soldier—ever ready to fight, but not to feel.
Because our fathers could not express their feelings either, we grew up in uncomfortable relationships with them. Frequently they were physically or emotionally absent or they were abusive. So, often men have particular trouble relating to other men. There were few models of male relationships, except perhaps in sports. Therefore, relating to men tends toward competition, rather than cooperation or support. Our first response to another man is not to trust him, but to be suspicious. We often try to “one up” the other man to establish our status. “So what do you do for a living?” “What car do you drive?” “Ha, ha, my team beat yours 28 to 7!”
What happens if we start to relate to our male friends as close friends, or express our tender emotions, or ask for help, or even if we lose a game? Then we feel shame because we can feel our culture’s displeasure. We feel we do not measure up; we see ourselves as weak, rather than merely human. We may hear the taunts (real or imagined) that we are not real men. Shame is also common when we think we don’t live up to society’s view of success, such as when our careers take a nosedive or when addiction takes over.
Addicted to Finding Love
Finally, going back to that early experience of not being touched, some men may develop a strong craving for the physical attachment and affection we did not get. This deprivation, along with a general cultural expectation that men will have sexual prowess, leads to a tendency to become addicted to sex or pornography in a desperate, but misguided, effort to find nurture.
These are just some of the issues that tend to affect men, written in the hope that men will begin to see that they are not alone in their confusion and difficulties. Yes, men, counseling can help.