While it may often seem we live in a patriarchal society dominated by powerful men, this by no means signifies that all individual males feel a sense of empowerment. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Despite men’s traditional, masculine roles as warriors, hunters, and providers for their families and communities – and often because of these very roles – countless men struggle with anxiety, internal conflicts, and confusion.
To make matters worse, the stresses resulting from societal expectations of strength and achievement are often compounded by traumatic early childhood experiences, such as familial violence, separation, divorce, and loss.
Unfortunately, many of society’s masculine stereotypes and roles go unquestioned, even today. But that is slowly beginning to change…
While the field of male psychology and the use of psychotherapy techniques designed specifically for men are relatively new phenomena, they are creating a new paradigm to help men redefine themselves and their roles today so they can move forward with confidence and optimism.
Why Men Can Benefit from Psychotherapy
Given the multiple millennia of men’s roles being primarily those of provider and protector, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the two traits most valued in men over the ages have been physical strength and intellectual prowess.
Throughout most of recorded history, individual men have been defined primarily by their profession and their successes in business, sports, wars, and other “aggressive” ventures. Outside of their status as “heads of households” or “heads of state,” men’s roles within familial or societal relationships came a distant second in significance.
However, the past few decades have seen revolutionary economic and social changes, and men’s roles at work and in relationships and society have changed dramatically.
Until very recently, there was no need or expectation for men to communicate in an intimate manner. There was no historical necessity for men to talk about their feelings, to be emotionally sensitive to others, or to “validate” women or children.
Because traditional male roles require men to hide vulnerabilities (especially emotional ones), they often have few outlets and even fewer role models for expressing emotions in positive ways.
Given the conflicting roles they face and a lack of outlets for expressing the anxiety, confusion, and stress that often results, it’s no big surprise that men experience higher rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, and violent acting out than do woman for whom it is traditionally more acceptable to share their emotional pain with others.
This all helps to explain why men feel and do what they feel and do, but how can men learn to cope with and overcome their struggles with confusing and conflicting expectations and demands?
Boys and young men learn endless ways to psychologically armor and defend themselves. As adults, they need to see and understand the emotional and relational costs of wearing armor that no longer serves its intended function.
Fortunately, licensed counselors and psychotherapists who are adept at working with men can help males understand the importance such psychological and emotional armor played when protecting oneself during the trials of childhood, adolescence and early adulthood while helping them understand their conscious and unconscious uses of that same armor today, its consequences, and alternatives.
In addition to helping men address protective behaviors that are no longer serving their best interests, psychotherapists and counselors who specialize in working with individual men can help males address the radical cultural changes that have occurred in a post-feminist world, including the reality that many men find themselves in roles, situations or relationships for which they have had little or no preparation.
How Counseling and Psychotherapy for Men Can Help
There’s little arguing that men confronting the new expectations and demands of the 21st Century are experiencing increased levels of anxiety and stress – most commonly related to their work or personal relationships.
This stress, and the new, complicated role requirements men face today, often manifest in the following forms:
- Anger Management Issues (be they at work, at home, on the road, or anywhere in between)
- Career Issues (including success sabotage, avoidance, and procrastination)
- Anxiety and Stress (often work-related, but commonly causing sleep disturbances and feelings of frustration and irritability in other areas of life)
- Depression (commonly confused with feelings of profound boredom or lack of motivation)
- Addictions (including alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling, internet, and sex addictions)
- Relationship Problems
- Fear and Shame
These last two (fear and shame) deserve special mention, as most if not all of the problems men experience either result in or are brought on by these two emotional states.
Any time an individual male feels he’s not living up to expectations, fear and shame are likely to raise their proverbial heads. And given the increasingly various and often conflicting roles men are faced with today, feelings of fear and shame are likely to be more common among men than ever before.
These feelings are further compounded and complicated by most men’s tendency to fear their vulnerabilities and any “feminine” aspects of their feelings, behavior, or personality. It is not uncommon for men who are emotionally vulnerable, sensitive, or dependent on others, to feel ashamed or out of control.
Unfortunately, since asking for help or talking about one’s problems is viewed or felt to be shameful, men are far less likely to seek professional counseling and psychotherapy than are women, and they often delay getting help until a crisis necessitates it.
Fortunately, for those men who do seek professional counseling and psychotherapy, numerous clinical studies have shown that their success rates in overcoming anxiety, stress, depression, addictions, career and relationship issues are equal to that of women.
Personally speaking, I’ve helped numerous men successfully explore and work through their anger management, anxiety, stress, depression, and relationship issues. And when combining coaching with counseling and psychotherapy techniques, I’ve helped many men turn their attention away from the strictly competitive pursuits of their youth towards exploring and effectively pursuing their dreams with the help of others.
Given that several millennia of gender roles are sure to die hard, it’s not surprising that most men who attend professional counseling and psychotherapy do so with a sense of ambivalence.
However, if you’re a man who’s considering professional counseling or psychotherapy, know there are numerous therapists who “speak your language,” can recognize your unique strengths, and can work with you to help you find the words for your emotions.
Once you find a counselor or psychotherapist you feel comfortable with, you may be surprised to find that you actually look forward to therapy sessions and the chance to discuss your concerns in a professional and confidential environment so you can actively reflect on and consider the changes that will allow you to move forward in your relationships and in life with confidence and optimism.
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