It's Hard Being a Man

Reflections for International Men's Day | by John Paradise

Having been asked to write something for International Men’s Day I am struck by the size of the task. So, what does International Men’s Day mean to me?  Well, I am a psychotherapist (Certified Transactional Analyst) working primarily with men in long term therapy. What do I want to say about men and my experience of being a man? It is hard being a man, really hard on the psyche or soul. Now, please do not hear this as a discount of other political and social struggles that others may experience or where difference is visible or hidden, it is not. This though, is about men and the experience of being a man.

I thought I would write about what typically brings a man to therapy with me and what I notice from working with men, and my own experience of being a man.  When men come to therapy, very often there is an archaic loneliness in the soul. A man may have experienced many years of ignoring or not knowing his self, just working hard and providing.  

We know that men have been killing themselves for years, many years. Our national suicide rates are well known to many in my profession. Men account for about 75% of all suicides, which you may know and did you know that this was much the same back in the 1930’s? Karl Menninger author of Man Against Himself wrote about men’s struggles back in 1938. There isn’t space in this article to open this subject further and I notice in my work that typically a man may be shut off from his own internal world of feeling. This doesn’t mean that men don’t have feelings, of course they do and what feelings is a man permitted to feel? 

I remember being in a development group of experienced psychotherapists. There were probably six men and about eighteen women in the group. Near the end of our week-long learning, one of the men in the group shared a part of his most vulnerable internal world with the group. What was surprising and yet familiar was the disclosure from some women in the group of how deeply unsettled they felt at this man sharing his vulnerable self. The women, whilst very empathic and understanding, also noticed how a part of them found this masculine vulnerability disturbing to their femininity.  I think something happened here whereby we got to see the cultural norms around masculinity play out. The messages that men must be strong, the importance of status to man’s psyche and the message from early in life to not show certain feelings, in other words ‘don’t feel’, all play a scripting role in the development of boys and men. I think that a great deal of psychic disturbance is created internally for a man when he experiences feelings that are not associated with ideals of hegemonic masculinity.

When a man feels he can’t cope, is overwhelmed, is feeling low and worthless these feelings are very often at a variance with internal dialogue and cultural and societal messages that will enforce feelings that he is somehow less than a man for feeling this way. In other words, if he were a ‘real man’ he’d be strong enough to cope and would not be feeling this way. 

So, I invite you to consider how you in your relationships with men, whether friend, partner, lover, father, brother or son you create the space and permission for a man to bring his internal world into relationship with you.

John Paradise

Course Venues:   Exeter   |   Poole

Certificate in Counselling