Men, Be Kind to Yourself
Updated: Sep 8
I have always found being a male psychotherapist an interesting position. Of my cohort of trainee psychotherapists, there were only 3 other males out of a group of 25 trainees and a quick glance through any therapist search website will present you with more females than males. Throughout my work in healthcare there have generally been more females than males (with the exception of medical doctors which is the reverse). There is something about the "caring professions" (with the exception of psychiatry, if that is included within this umbrella) which invites female job seekers but not male. Indeed as patients, males are less likely to seek help for medical problems and mental health problems and yet make up the majority of those in secondary mental health care and have far higher rates of suicide than women. Amidst the current Covid-19 pandemic, men are also reported to be less likely to wear masks than women due to it being seen as a "sign of weakness".
Male leaders who seek help are deemed as less competent than male leaders who do not seek help and males who do not fit in with male norms are marginalised by other men. In my experience these gender norms are evident in my clients. Male clients tend to struggle to speak about their feelings and when they do, they may tear up for a moment which then quickly passes and their stoic veil returns, lest anyone sees their "slip-up". Of course this all happens unconsciously, it is something I always make note of, in the session, and discuss with my client. "I don't know what happened" or something similar is the typical reply and they often say they would like to speak about their feelings but do not know how.
You may have found that some of those around you (parents, siblings, partners) have been the people downplaying and belittling and you throughout your life and have learned that your emotions are not important. Maybe you have taken this on and found a really good way of downplaying and belittling your feelings. In my experience working within the mental health field, our early experiences shape us and form who we are as an adult. In this way it is entirely normal for us to struggle with some aspects of our mental health because no one has a perfect life; everyone struggles with something. Seeking help for our difficulties can be one of the hardest steps we make and yet it can also be one of the most rewarding. Exploring and expressing emotion is good for your general health, let alone your mental health. As I tell my clients, feelings happen, it is up to you whether you pay attention to them.
In my experience, the difficulties my clients struggle to shrug off the most are those that were enshrined in their early life experiences, despite how negative they may be for us. It is extremely important, therefore, to challenge those beliefs that hold us back. This is especially true for those males who hide their "non-masculine", "weak" feelings that they "shouldn't be speaking about". The extreme of this might be broadly described as "toxic masulinity", a by-word for all of the hurtful, negative and destructive attitudes that some men harbour.
So, to my reader, whether you identify as male or not, it is extremely important to learn how to be kind to yourself, the theme of this year's Mental Health Awareness week from 18-24 May, 2020. Give yourself a chance to feel your feelings, attend to your emotions and listen to your struggles. Society prefers those who express happiness but what makes feeling low a less valid feeling than happiness? All feelings are valid because they are all normal feelings we experience. Below are some suggestions for how to speak about feelings and emotions and they are relevant to all genders, not just men.
If you have someone around you that you care about, try speaking to them about how they are feeling. Hearing others speak about their feelings can give you an idea about how to speak about your own feelings. It also can help to normalise the discussion of emotions, to counter that idea you might have in your head that emotions are not to be spoken about.
Try sitting in a quiet room, or perhaps with some relaxing music or white noise, and try to pay attention to what your body is doing. We often feel emotions in our body - "butterflies in your stomach" is used as a metaphor for that anxious feeling you might get when you are feeling nervous. These physical, embodied emotions often go unnoticed, especially when we are busy or used to ignoring our feelings.
If you begin to feel particularly strongly about something or nothing, write down what is going on for you in that moment. You can begin to piece together how you experience emotions and what situations bring up what emotions. This is particularly helpful for those who experience high levels of anxiety. For some, the acknowledgement of their anxiety is seen to be the end of any exploration but anxiety is a broad experience that can be related to a whole host of feelings, even those that are, on the face of it, entirely unrelated to the situation that evokes the anxious reaction in the first place.
When you are ready to speak to someone about a feeling you are experiencing, choose the person you speak to carefully. If you are used to rejection, for instance, or feel like your emotions are not important, finding someone who repeats those behaviours will likely leave you feeling rejected again and unwilling to speak to someone else. We have a tendency to seek relationships that are familiar to us, even if those relationships are, ultimately, unhealthy for us. Being aware of the dynamics of your past relationships and how they affected you can be really helpful, in this regard.
Even if you did speak to another person about your feelings and did not have a good reaction, do not give up. There are those of us out there who are accepting and will not reject you.
It can be difficult to see any possibility to change your current negative mood when you are down in "the pit" and you may feel too immersed in your pain to see any possibility of any change or improvement. But you are not alone. Many people feel like this. Psychotherapy can help you work through your problems to help you integrate your whole self, rather than only those parts you or others might think are "acceptable". I don't believe therapy is about making everything "better" but more about learning that every part of ourselves had validity, even those parts we most dislike. There might be someone else in a subjectively worse situation and you may have been telling yourself up until now that what you are going through isn't that bad, but learn to listen to and appreciate yourself.
If you find that something is bothering you or that you can't get off your mind or that makes you feel an extreme emotion, speak to someone about it. No one should be left alone with their troubles. If you would like more information about Mind Discourse Psychotherapy please visit my page where you will find my contact details as well as information about psychotherapy and what you can expect from sessions. Value yourself, be kind to yourself and look after yourself.