A lot of men have trouble getting in touch with their emotional side. For thousands of years, they’ve been told that being a man involves being tough. To many, this means avoiding therapy like the plague, when it is, in fact, exactly what many men may need to build resilience. How do we best connect men with their emotions?
Wherever you sit on the gender spectrum, talking about your feelings can be very helpful, and you might feel loads better by opening up. When you avoid intimacy and sharing how you feel, it can make it difficult to recognize emotional problems.
Luckily, therapy can really help you get some perspective. It won’t be right for everyone, but more men than ever are recognizing the need for help and reaching out.
There seems to be something about traditional masculinity that stops men from reaching out.
In a 2017 meta-analysis of 19,453 participants, men who conformed to traditional masculine norms were much less likely to seek psychological help. But why does this happen?
You’ve all heard, “Boys don’t cry.” Or maybe you’ve even told a guy friend to “man up.” These statements may sound harmless, but they feed into the idea that seeking help is somehow unmanly. Resilience is an awesome trait to build, but it’s not exclusively masculine. And needing help to get there shouldn’t be a matter of shame for men, either.
Men avoid therapy because it’s not “alpha” to admit you don’t have the best life ever and go through your day smirking like Zac Efron at every major trauma or damaging life event. You’re allowed to feel sh*tty, and you’re double-allowed to seek help for it.
Look, even the mighty He-Man needed help from She-Ra to kick Skeletor’s ass. And he was the Master of the freakin’ Universe (and possessor of the most laughably masculine name of any fictional character).
The truth is, there are lots of ways to be a man because there are lots of ways to be a human. And it’s OK to ask for help when you’re struggling to cope.
Depression can vary from person to person. But some general signs that you might be experiencing depression include:
- constantly feeling sad or low
- feeling completely hopeless
- low self-esteem
- crying a lot or being unable to stop crying
- feeling guilty for no reason
- irritability and isolating yourself away from others
- lack of motivation and not finding joy in life
- suicidal thoughts or thinking about harming yourself
It’s not just mental though. You can experience physical symptoms too:
- slow speech or movements
- loss of appetite and weight loss (or vice versa)
- serious lack of energy
- lower sex drive
- insomnia or changes in your sleep pattern
- a feeling of restlessness, like you can’t sit still
- feeling overly nervous or anxious
- an overwhelming sense of dread
- constant worrying and feeling on edge
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty falling asleep because of worrying
Physical symptoms of anxiety can be equally distressing:
It’s fairly well-known that new Moms can struggle with post-partum depression — a specific form of depression that occurs soon after giving birth. But it looks like newly anointed dads can also struggle with depression. Post-partum depression in men can occur anytime in the first year of birth.
Symptoms can include:
- restricted emotions
- other general signs of depression (see above)
Being a new parent is hard. Like, really hard. So don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling to cope with such a big life event.
If you’re experiencing postpartum depression, therapy can be helpful in guiding you through that tough first year — it might work for some men, but not others. In peeps with severe depression, medication might also be necessary.
Everyone has different ways to cope. If talking works for you, that’s awesome! But you know yourself better than anyone. Do whatever works for you.
Whatever you’re dealing with, there’s always help. Here’s a rundown of the different therapy options available for men:
- Psychodynamic therapy. If you’ve ever watched “The Sopranos,” you’ll have seen some elements of this therapy used by Dr. Melfi. It mainly tries to understand how early attachments affect people and their relationships in the present day.
- Behavior therapy. Sometimes, you might find yourself acting in a certain way because of past experiences or trauma. Behavior therapy helps you change the way you respond to certain triggers.
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Cognitive therapy examines the things you do in the present moment. CBT combines behavior therapy and cognitive therapy, focusing on how your thoughts and beliefs affect your feelings and behavior.
- Humanistic therapy. This operates on the belief that you’re the best person to understand your thoughts and experiences. It focuses on self-actualization in order to get more meaning from life.
- Mindfulness-based therapy (MBT). Helps to understand how you react to your thoughts and feelings. By becoming more aware of your emotional responses, you can learn to approach them differently, or simply notice and accept them. Typical exercises include breathing techniques and mindful meditations.
- Arts or creative therapies. Explores how you think and feel through a creative process like music or painting.
Everyone has different traits and needs that make certain therapies more suitable than others. The important part is recognizing the need for therapy, fighting the stigma against it, and pursuing mental health treatment that could greatly benefit you.
There’s a lot of societal pressure on men to be dominant and in control. These things aren’t inherently bad, but they can make it more difficult for men to talk about their problems.
Differences in gender can cause additional difficulties for people experiencing depression.
In a 2013 analysis of data from a national mental health survey that compared the male experience of depression with that of females, males reported higher rates of:
- substance abuse
The important thing is not to self-diagnose. A healthcare professional or mental health practitioner can help you find the right diagnosis. Don’t struggle in silence.
The link between male depression/anxiety and substance abuse
More than 50 percent of people with mental health disorders also experience some kind of substance use disorder. There’s clearly a strong link between the two, and it’s well-known that people turn to booze and drugs to cope.
But it appears that men are more likely to develop these crutches than women (according to the 2013 review we mentioned earlier).
Booze and drugs may give you temporary relief from your feelings. But in the long run, they’re only going to make things much worse, and they don’t relieve you from the need to be honest about your feelings. With the right support, you can get your life back on track. It just takes that first step.
Talking can be tough, especially if you’re a man. But getting in touch with your feelings can be really helpful for mental well-being.
Therapy can help you open up and recalibrate your life. There are loads of different options, so you can find what works best for you.
Whatever you’re struggling with, there’s always someone to help. Don’t suffer in silence.