The first time I read an article talking about how difficult it is to be a man in the world today, I did what some of you may be doing right now -- yep, so hard for men when they on average get paid more for the same work women do. Especially those white men, they really have it hard. But my eye roll was as off-base, wrong and insensitive as the pay gap between men and women. Yes, there are advantages in the world to being a man, but there are very real disadvantages too.
When men are depressed, they often come across as angry or withdrawn. They don't express sadness as easily. Most men have been conditioned at a very early age that the only acceptable negative emotion for them to express is anger. Boys grow up hearing messages like "boys don't cry: and "shake it off, get over it." There's a great Netflix documentary about this cultural phenomenon called The Mask You Live In which I found eye opening.
The problem becomes as men go through challenging life transitions and stressors -- getting married, becoming a father, professional transitions, relationship conflicts-- they are at a disadvantage. They know how to be angry or check out to avoid pain, but connecting with deep emotions and sharing them in a meaningful way is difficult. They lack the skills and space to feel their way through it. So they disconnect emotionally or they get mad because that's safer. And then they suffer the resentment of those who feel emotionally disconnected from them and/or hurt by their anger. Many fear or believe on some level showing genuine heartfelt sadness or fear might compromise their manhood. After all, we have all heard the adage, "boys don't cry."
We teach men that they need to "man up" and disconnect from their emotional experience and then we punish them for being emotionally disconnected. Seems to me we need to change what it means to "man up."
Therapy is a safe place to explore what it means to be a man from an emotional standpoint. Being a man who is capable of connecting to feelings and communicating them opens the door to healthy and more meaningful relationships.
I have worked with men who struggle to reconnect emotionally and feel grief over the time they lost during which they disconnected from their loved ones and their feelings. I have also worked with men who are truly sensitive and feel like there is something wrong with them for feeling so strongly. I am grateful to have opportunities to work with men who really want to "man up" and tackle healthy ways of processing and communicating emotion.