Why is it that so many men feel more comfortable opening up to a therapist — essentially a stranger — than they do their own spouse? Do they trust their therapists more than their wives? The short answer is, no, they don’t. The slightly more complicated answer is that they’re afraid to let the one woman who they’re closest with — the one woman they’ve professed to love and protect — know that they, too, are at times scared, confused and dare I say it…sensitive.
The Social Stranglehold
Although men have, over time, become more open with their emotions, the reality is that many men still strongly identify with traditional values. They want to be the voice of reason in difficult situations, fix things, “handle themselves” and remain calm, cool, collected — and maybe even seemingly a little fearless — in the face of distress or potential danger.
As much as we’d like to believe these traditional values have shifted in our current culture, the reality is, well, not much has changed. Although there is, by far, much less stigma attached to men being in touch with their feminine side, they are still expected to remain as masculine as ever, at the same time.
I doubt many men who are old enough to call themselves men were encouraged to be emotional or vulnerable as children. Even if this were the case, it may not have been as well received as one would have hoped — whether at home, or in the workplace. With all of these conflicting expectations, men often feel lost, misguided and confused about who they are, who they should be and how they should present themselves.
It’s hard to imagine, as a female, what it would be like to not feel safe or even comfortable in crying whenever I feel like it, to console friends in an affectionate manner, or to talk openly about how out of control my emotions are that day. Unfortunately, men are given the short end of the stick by continually being restricted around expressing their emotions, as well as expectations of what it means to be a man.
Human beings are emotional animals. Our emotions are the center of our basic power. When our emotions are not expressed and named, we lose the vitality of that human power. Denying emotions — particularly for men — is something that, culturally, our society has taught us to do. Men are encouraged to keep their emotions hidden, subdued and repressed. As a society, in general, we are taught to ignore our feelings, to just power through everything. The more this message is sent, the more displaying emotion is seen as a weakness. Since the last thing men, confined by those traditional values, want to be perceived as is weak, they end up being kind of stuck.
This is where the mystery of men in therapy gets a little more obvious. When men choose to become more willing to share these perceived weak parts, they also begin creating a path toward self-acceptance. Self-acceptance often involves integrating the feminine and masculine. All self-archetypes are essential parts of us. When men give up trying to avoid feelings of sadness, dependence and hopelessness—and begin to understand the role emotions play — these disowned parts are freed. Instead of continuing to feel disconnected, that freedom helps them to feel whole again.
Realizing Your Authenticity
When, as a man, you realize, it’s okay to be stoic, confident, protective and strong, and, at the same time, vulnerable, sensitive, and loving, a profound transformation can happen. You can finally embrace all of what it means to be a man, empowered to be authentic, without fear of how that will be perceived.
Choosing to love and accept yourself will begin increasing your satisfaction, not only in your relationships, but also in your career, mental wellness and everyday living. There are too many men out there with incredible capacities for greatness to continue ignoring what has been societally oppressed. The more you can become comfortable with your emotions and accept them unconditionally, the more you can allow your true self to flourish.
It takes courage to allow the pain of self-disclosing. When done within the safety of the right environment and with the right therapist, it’s worth the discomfort. It can support your healing and show you what it’s like to be comfortable in your own skin.