5 years of running OnlyDads has brought me into contact with many Dads who are struggling. Usually this involves their relationship with their children. At least this is often the presenting symptom. However, it does not take long to discover that there are often many other underlying problems and anxieties.
Our friend Frazer touches upon this ongoing subject of why men find it difficult to ask for help and support. He writes from a position of his experience of counselling men for the last ten years. He writes with a clarity that will be appreciated by many….
…First off its worth saying that there are many types of men and also, many types of help – from practical through to more personal support. Some help is easier to ask for than others.
In this article from my experience as a counsellor, I’ll be talking about emotional support.
So, who do you turn to when things are really tough?
When you are vulnerable?
Take a minute to notice who you would confide in.
There’ll be a variety of answers from no-one to a wide network of support, but there are some common threads in the male experience of being vulnerable. These start very early on.
“Boys don’t cry”
“Come on my brave little soldier”
“Don’t be a wimp”
“You’re acting like a girl”
Ring any bells?
Of course our experiences of childhood are complex and rich, but it is a rare man who did not receive messages such as these (either grossly or subtly) from parents, peers, siblings or teachers.
I witness men, in therapy, shrugging this off – often laughing hollowly about these memories – because it’s just taken as normal. It’s so embedded in our culture that we are only beginning to question it now. Boys are encouraged and rewarded for being brave, strong, competitive, competent. But what is discouraged?
Sensitivity, emotional awareness and expression, vulnerability.
These qualities don’t go away – they just go ‘underground’ into unconscious behaviour.
So we ‘ask’ for help clumsily sometimes!
Anyone familiar with:
Angry outbursts, sullen silences, blanking out in front of the telly or behind the paper, emotionally disappearing?
This is because for many men, to ask for support or to even recognise they need support often involves a strong feeling of shame and inadequacy. This is fundamental: it is a shaming experience for many men.
It is to go against how we are ‘meant to be’ and how we imagine each other are. Therefore, to cross the threshold and ask for support is an act of profound courage. It goes against a lifetime of conditioning.
That’s the nurture/conditioning argument – what about the nature argument – just how we are innately?
I think it is worth throwing in that men apply themselves to problems and challenges practically and methodically. See the problem, work it out, find the solution. Emotions and relationships are a messy, contradictory business and there are no simple solutions to difficulties in these realms. Men, more than women, expect advice and quick answers in therapy – like going to the doctors.
So the nature and nurture arguments are quite powerful when combined in beginning to explore why men find it hard to ask for certain types of help.