Do we allow men to discuss their feelings?
Updated: Oct 9, 2021
World Mental Health Day is on 10th October, and this post, although about men, is for both men and women. It is about the fact that men may find it more challenging to come to counselling. And the belief that men think they are expected to sort things out on their own.
I recently attended a workshop “Working successfully with men in therapy” by James Hawes. He is worth checking out if you (both women and men) would like to read a bit more what is means to be a man. His book is called “The secret lives of men”.
As my background is in sales management and traditionally a very male orientated environment, the workshop encouraged me to look at my own experiences, and stereotypical thoughts at working with men within a business environment. Company cultures have hopefully changed a lot of recent years. However, I can recall numerous times when I heard the term “boys will be boys”, “he is a man/they are men, what else do you expect” which was used to validate any possible behavior, most often misbehavior: angry bursts in the office, bullying, drunken behavior, to name a few. In general, there was no time for emotional, “heart to heart “conversations to ask any reasons for the behavior. Whatever may have happened within their private life or at work, the expectation was to move on and “man up”.
Even when times have changed, cultural and societal conditioning still sends out strong messages about how a man should be “a real man”. But what is included in being “a real man”? What do we need to “man up”? Not showing how you really feel?
For men it can be hard enough when these messages come from other men, but when they come from women it can be very difficult and painful.
The workshop also challenged me to look at the way I am counselling men who come to therapy. The principles of counselling are the same for men and women.
Men have exactly same emotional needs as women. Men feel anger, grief, shame, sadness and anxiety in the same way as women. The main difference is that whilst women have been traditionally allowed to name these feelings and seek support, men have been stuck in their male gender roles, “be a man” – culture and have felt that all these emotions have to be kept secret.
Counselling is talking therapy which starts with listening when you are ready to talk. There are no gimmicks, no advice given, and no short cuts. But we are all unique, not depending on our gender, how we express our feelings and emotions. That is something as a counsellor I need to be aware of.
Feelings and emotions are strange things as they tend to come up some way even if you try to suppress them. The role of counselling is not trying to force those feelings out, but try to normalize them, find names, emotions for different feelings and a safe way of expressing them. As one of my male clients told me, I am learning what is behind my anger and frustration.
So, to summarize, talking is good, talking to someone who will not judge or try to advise can be beneficial. If you have a person in your life who you can share your thoughts, hopes and fears with, excellent! If you need some support to find a way of sharing and talking about your feelings a little bit more openly, counselling can support you with it.
And for all women reading this, I challenge you to think about what is “a real man” for you, and what “man up” brings to your thoughts.