I am going to write a few posts highlighting issues I often see in the counselling room that are common, but not exclusive, to men. In no way does this mean that men have it worse. I think it is important to raise awareness of these issues, especially if we consider the wider impact of such behaviour and beliefs on families.
I want to address the stereotype that men should not cry. Similar stereotypes are that men need to be tough and it is a sign of weakness to show emotions or to seek help. All of which interfere with men’s willingness to enter into the counselling room.
Even once they are in the room, certain stereotypes remain and it can sometimes take a while for the man to get in touch with his emotions. He is able to see the impact that his emotions are having on his life but might not feel comfortable sharing them with me.
Of those that do feel able to share, it can still be a difficult task – if men have learned to hide their emotions, they certainly do not learn the skill of understanding their emotions nor how to share their emotions with others. A number of tasks remain, then, in the counselling room.
First is to identify those unhelpful beliefs linked to ‘being male’ or to sharing emotions. It requires challenging those beliefs, which could also mean exploring past experiences – where did the belief start? Who/what added to or maintained that belief? And asking questions such as “is this helping me?” or “how is this impacting my life?”. Often, this sort of belief permeates into other areas, and could affect relationships, work, performance, satisfaction, health. We also have a duty to help young men to get rid of such stereotypes so they grow into men who feel comfortable to share their emotions.
Second, it is important to help men to develop their emotional vocabulary. This can be daunting and too abstract for some men; however, it is doable with persistence and self-compassion. I suggest glancing over an Emotions Wheel (search this online) become familiar with the range of emotions one could feel. Then, it is worth checking in throughout the day. Ask questions such as, “How am I feeling?” or “What emotion is most present right now?”. There are other tasks, such as linking thoughts and physical sensations to emotions; however, it becomes a bit trickier and often is more effective with some guidance.
With a new set of beliefs and an ability to recognise and express feelings (or even cry) the person in the counselling room moves into a position where they are able to process and explore other areas of their life. My hope is that relieving an obstacle in one sense, creates a positive shift in lots of ways.
I fully understand the reluctance to engage in therapy, and how difficult it is to challenge deep rooted beliefs. I was reminded recently that we create our own obstacles – this also means that we can remove them, too. I believe in the power of counselling, persistence and one-to-one guidance, and urge all men to talk. To a friend, family member or a professional – whatever feels easiest and most useful. And for all of us to challenge the stereotype that men don’t cry – the outcome is a better life for everyone.