Do you wonder why your relationships are up and down and are you tired of not knowing which end is up? Maybe things slowed down or totally fizzled in your current relationship and you’re wondering what you can do about it.
Well, what’s not working and how come you can’t figure it out on your own?
Hey, we’re guys. We fix things, right? We can fix everything. It’s what’s expected—from others and from ourselves.
And if we can’t fix it we usually think something is wrong with us.
If any of this sounds like you, well, you’re not alone and through counseling for men I’ve helped many guys with these same struggles.
It can be strange how often it’s the women in our lives who tell us to be more emotional, but once we try we’re often mocked for not being the strong man who still can get everything done in the face of any obstacle.
There are just so many mixed messages and it’s exhausting trying to keep up. No wonder so many men decide to “turn off” or go numb. It’s a protection that many of us have used for years—ever since we were exposed to the shaming of what being “male” was supposed to mean.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- Men don’t cry
- I don’t have time for feelings
- Man up!
- Get it together
- Don’t be a baby
- Don’t be a girl
- You’re wussing out
- Be a man
Walls Closing In
I’ve heard guys talk about feeling like they’re in a box. There’s a particular expectation for how we are supposed to act and it’s asked of us by our families, employers, and by society as it’s seen on TV all the time.
It was an early message given by our mothers and fathers. There were expectations for us that our sisters didn’t have. The boxed in talk always reminds me of that old Batman trope (from the Adam West days) when he’s caught in a room and the walls were closing in on him. Often there’re even spikes on the walls or ceiling as the room gets smaller and smaller. It’s been used a lot in movies and TV shows since so I’m probably not the only person who was haunted by this idea.
I also had a good understanding of how that pressure felt—each new expectation on what it meant to be a man closed the room a little more and made my own space that much smaller.
With these metaphoric walls we either numb ourselves by closing in with the room and letting it shape us or we explode outwards—neither works in our favor. Either we keep it all in and let it wreak havoc inside or we let all that aggression out on the world.
But there is a place in between.
Men Don’t Do Vulnerable
This kind of talk doesn’t come up with our guy friends, usually. Sure, it’s there in subtle ways. In the complaints and the sarcastic remarks about wives, girlfriends, and partners—and about each other. But there’s still that code from high school: don’t let them see you be vulnerable. It’s dangerous. And you quickly remind yourself that you don’t do vulnerability anyway.
Men’s counseling, though? Why would I do that? What’s in it for me?
Men who are in therapy (counseling, treatment, seeing a shrink—whatever you want to call it is fine by me) can work towards a bunch of things.
- learning some techniques for stress relief
- discovering why you’re so pissed off all the time
- reducing your fear that you’re being taken advantage of
- becoming more assertive, at work and at home
In your relationships:
- having a deeper connection with your partner
- having a more enjoyable sex life, whether partnered or single
- making sure your needs are taken care of—what some people might call selfish, but may actually be a positive thing
With your kids:
- having more fun with your children
- being the role model for your kids that you want to be
- learning that showing grief in front of your kids can be one of the strongest things you can do
- understanding that you don’t have to be your father—or you can take his best qualities and discard what you didn’t like
How does this work? Well, counseling isn’t just about talking about your feelings these days. It’s about looking at your reactions to situations. Exploring and examining what’s behind them—especially if you’re not happy with them.
Let’s go with an example:
(An aside: examples on my site are always highly disguised combinations of people I’ve worked with. I never talk about anything that could be tracked back to someone—confidentiality is extremely important to me in this work. I say more about this below, but feel free to ask me about it right away if you have any concerns whatsoever.)
Joe was in his late 30s who had been on and off with his girlfriend—and other women—for over ten years. He was angry a lot. He’d get angry when driving, he’d get angry when his kids didn’t do what they were supposed to, he got angry at me when I asked about his anger. It was such a normal state that he didn’t see why we were even talking about it. He didn’t know he was so pissed off all the time. Well, after several sessions he began to realize that he wasn’t actually angry at all these things. He was angry and upset about a loss from many years ago. He needed to find some place to talk about that loss—those more difficult feelings—not because he needed to cry (he never did, at least not with me), but to feel safe to express some vulnerability in a place where he didn’t have to be the tough person who keeps it together for everyone else. It didn’t make him weaker. People didn’t start seeing him as a pushover. But he was able to connect to those difficult emotions for himself which left him freer to be a partner, a dad, and a manager.
When you’re not spending your time in the hamster wheel working so damn hard so that others don’t see you sweat it means you’re more able to be there for others and to let them know what you need from them.
If you no longer want those walls to define you, counseling for men could be a great solution.
Maybe you’re seeking this out on your own. Maybe a partner has been telling you that you could benefit from counseling. (I’ve had more than a few pre-calls from wives who want help getting their husband into counseling–rest assured that it is always your decision and I don’t share information with a spouse or partner–ever–unless you explicit want support talking to them about something). Maybe you’re dealing with issues that are beginning to creep into the work place and your boss or HR has been talking to you about getting some help.
Counseling for men could be that help and it may not be as scary as you think.
Why Talk to Me?
I’ve successfully worked with single guys, married men, men who have affairs, men who’ve been cheated on, men who are angry, gay and straight men, men who are “nice guys” but just can’t seem to get ahead. They are sons, brothers, husbands, boyfriends, and fathers (in fact, I particularly work with men who are new fathers).
Also, I’m a guy.
It may just be easier for you to talk to another man. And not one of your buddies or someone who might use your stuff against you—even in a playful “breaking balls” kind of way. As a guy I know first hand the stress of those walls pressing in. It was no easy step to sit across from someone else and talk about all the things I worked so hard to hide. Believe me, though, just letting some of it out to someone who was not in my family or my group of friends was an immense relief.
Lightening the Load
Think of the weight you’ve been carrying around—like a bunch of rocks in a backpack. Imagine it lighter—just a little bit lighter. That’s what counseling can be. Sure—it can get more difficult before it gets easier, but it can get easier. We can take out some of those stones you’ve been carrying on your back and slowly look at them and decide which ones to throw away—while they may have done some good in the past, now they’re just keeping you down—and which ones need some other attention. Counseling’s not about letting yourself off the hook or not being held accountable, but it’s about making some better choices about what to hold onto and what to say, “No” to.
For the “nice guys” you know you are definitely not good at saying, “No” and many other men worry about how they’re judged when they say it. Saying we can’t or won’t do something: Who are we letting down? Is it going to cost us a promotion or a relationship?
In counseling, you’re not figuring all this out by yourself.
Can You Afford Counseling?
It’s absolutely an investment and what makes it difficult is that it’s a total investment in you. One of the reasons we get stuck is because we don’t always prioritize our own needs and part of counseling for men is you beginning to do just that. It can be easy to make a long list of reasons to not spend 45 minutes a week focusing on you, I know.
But let’s cut to the chase and make it more concrete–there’s more and more research every day about how stress, anger and other strong emotions affect our bodies and how we can easily end up in our primary care doctor’s office paying who knows how much for something that cannot be ignored any more. That’s money and time away from your children, your partner—your job. Investing in yourself in counseling may mean that your new assertiveness or ability to better talk to your boss may lead to moving up in your place of business, as well.
Men are traditionally not always allowed to express their feelings. We all know a few older men who stuffed all those feelings in while meeting the needs of their family or their career–often with great expense to their own happiness and their physical well-being.
Maybe that was even your dad.
Are You Afraid Other People Will Know?
Back to confidentiality and privacy. Part of making the space safe for you to talk about yourself is by making sure that you know that I won’t share what we talk about with anyone. Not your partner, not your friends, not your boss. This is also the law. I can’t do it and I don’t want to. This is your time. The only exception to this is when someone is in danger, whether that’s you or someone else: then my job is to ensure safety.
Also, it’s important to admit that other counselors and I have not done the best job hacking away at the stigma of going to therapy. It’s less of an issue in New York City, but it’s there. The best consolation I can give you is that many of the people you think will judge you are secretly worried about the fact that they are in their own therapy and they don’t want you to know about it.
I’ve also heard people say they finally told someone about being in counseling. The response: “Oh, yeah, me too.”
Online sessions are also available! You can find more about that here, but in a nutshell–it’s counseling from wherever is easiest for you. As long as you can find a private space with internet access, we can work together from wherever you choose. Let me know if you have questions about online counseling.
Good. That makes sense. You’ve gone through and are going through a lot. Starting therapy is no small choice and who to do it with is another big choice. I invite you to look around the site, check out some blog posts about men’s counseling.
If you haven’t done so Click HERE to check out some questions in private to see if talking to me would be helpful.
If you’d like to talk more about counseling for men in my Park Slope or South Slope offices in Brooklyn feel free to get in touch with me directly. I look forward to hearing from you.