It has been my experience that many men have an underlying set of beliefs that run counter to the notion of pursuing personal counseling. What is it that makes many adult males experience an adverse reaction to the concept of counseling? What holds men back from a process that has the potential to provide support, nurturing and emotional healing?
I believe that men have a cultural and primal predisposition that mitigates against the vulnerability necessary for seeking therapy. The primal instinct of men and male animals in general, has been to seek power, dominate their environment, and to take care of one’s family. This instinctual pattern calls on men to protect and defend. They are the warriors, providing safety and support for their nest.
The “warrior complex” carries over to the way we view men in relation to military service. Men are culturally conditioned to be fighters. They learn at an early age that commitment and self-sacrifice in defending the well-being of one’s community is a noble endeavor. A man’s psychic energy is directed toward the need to protect others from harm – the fight and flight response works on automatic pilot.
As men have been raised in our military/industrial milieu, they have learned basic assumptions about life that promote bravery, strength and courage as all important attributes. There is no room for vulnerability – it is viewed as a sign of weakness and cowardliness not courage.
What are some of the assumptions that men absorb that shape their worldview?
Fighting is the best way to handle conflict.
Anger and rage are the only emotions that are acceptable.
Expressing fear, hurt or sadness is a sign of emotional weakness.
Fixing problems is a primary role for men.
Life is always linear, easy to understand and logical.
Deep feelings are not to be trusted.
Decision-making must always be a rational process, never based on trusting one’s instincts.
Denial, avoidance and deflecting are the best coping mechanisms.
Caretaking for others is more important than taking care of oneself.
If men are the warriors, the protectors or the strong one’s projecting their sense of “machismo,” how do we get men to entertain the concept of attending counseling?
By helping them to reframe their thinking. Getting help is a sign of strength and courage.
Reminding them of celebrities such as Terry Bradshaw who have shared their stories of emotional pain and treatment.
Going to counseling with a partner as a means of introducing them to the counseling process.
Suggesting that men consider attending a men’s retreat to develop a sense of male bonding.
Suggesting a male counselor who has experience in dealing with reluctant clients.
Humans cannot function on the emotional “high road” indefinitely. Invariably, the psychological machinery breaks down and our “dusty corners” are exposed. Witness the battle scars of those men who have valiantly served in the military but suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder and other emotional syndromes.
Eventually, the “toothpaste must come out of the tube.” The dark-side of each of us will be evident for all to see. Behaviors may deteriorate and emotional symptoms may accumulate. It is inevitable; the darkness will manifest itself in some way.
Men are typically not good at accepting the vulnerability which comes over time. But the psychic pain associated with trying to stay in control may overshadow the “self.” It is at this point that a man must ask, “Do I stay in an impasse filled with conflict and pain or do I seek the support and assistance of others who may have the wisdom to see me through the wilderness?” When the pain is too great and we are feeling most vulnerable, it is time for men to reframe their thinking and move in a direction that goes against the tide of their cultural heritage. It is time to give oneself permission to be vulnerable. Helping a man to see this truth may take a significant degree of encouragement from others.
James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC, is an author, freelance writer, and nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. Hear his interview with Coach Lee on www.365daysofcoaching.com.regarding the topic of “courage and fear work together.” James can be reached at www.krehbielcounseling.com.