Misconceptions That Keep Men From Therapy
Before I begin, I want to say that this post is going to be geared toward men but it is not exclusive to men. I’ve seen most of these experiences and misconceptions being demonstrated consistently by individuals from every demographic, but in my experience they have been more prevalent in men.
1.) The first misconception is that you’re expected to be “more emotional” than you are. Often I encounter individuals who have the belief that being “emotionally healthy” means living in a role that does not make sense to them. One in which you’re not “healthy” or “well-adjusted” unless you experience some kind of intense feeling under ever circumstance. This isn’t true, but there is some nuance to this that needs to be addressed. Pent-up negative emotions like anger, frustration, sadness, etc., are not doing you any favors, and should be experienced in a healthy way. But it doesn’t mean you have to fit an emotional mold that doesn’t belong to you. The key here is authenticity. Denying your emotions will not change them, although it very often leads to not having your needs met. Similarly, trying to adopt a role with the emotions you are “supposed to” have will not meet them either. Your personality, emotions, and needs are unique to you and they should be treated as such. It is not uncommon to be unable to recognize your emotions; that’s a skill that may take time and practice.
2.) Masking refers to concealing your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and it can be automatic or intentional. For example, one of the most common experiences for men to mask is depression. Feelings of depression are often expressed as anger. As a consequence, depression is often overlooked, even by the person experiencing those feelings. Often, they’re able to identify some frustrating circumstances in their life that they can reasonably say cause them to feel angry. But if these circumstances seemingly constantly cause anger/frustration, there’s a pretty good chance that there is more at play. At the same time, some of the people reading this may be masking right now, and are fully aware that they’re doing it. They may pretend not to feel fear about the future or doubt in their self-worth, or pain at that “little thing” that “really shouldn’t matter.” I know what some of you are thinking; the 2nd misconception sounds awfully similar to the first. Fair enough- we can compromise and call it 1 and a half misconceptions so far. You may also be playing back numerous instances in which you’ve hidden what you’re going through and felt isolated because of it. If you’re reading this and it resonates with you more than you expected, that may be a sign you have been masking too much.
2.5) The next misconception is that you have to be an open book in order to be healthy. You don’t need to be open with everyone about your feelings. Your feelings and your life experiences are yours. You can keep them from whomever you want (even from your therapist) until you feel ready and safe to share (or never, if that’s your inclination). One of the more paradoxical elements of this field is that at times an attempt to make it safe to express emotion can create an unwelcome feeling of pressure to do so; as if there is a template you need to fit. It can also feel naïve, because expressing your emotions can be dangerous, but is sometimes talked about as if there is no risk. The point of this is not to pretend that there are no risks, but to make measure of risks- risks that you feel comfortable taking based on the circumstances.
3.5) The last point I want to speak to is the fear that therapy will just be a lot of talking. Mind you, talk therapy is a good thing and can be very helpful, but in my experience many people are hesitant to seek treatment because they believe that it’s going to be little more than a series of discussions, and they don’t see how that can help them. Don’t dismiss the importance of these discussions; you may be surprised by how much of a difference talking can make. However, you may also be pleasantly surprised at the range of techniques and skills available that will help you feel better and reach your goals. There is a very practical side to treatment as well.
4.5) You don’t have to do it alone. For many men (and clients in general) this belief has become somewhat of an expectation. The reasons vary and if it is true of you, I would guess that you already know that about yourself. What you may not realize is that it does not have to stay that way. Whatever unseen burden it is you carry and however long you’ve been carrying it, you don’t have to keep doing it alone.
Written by Sean Kuhns