Updated: Aug 20, 2021
As a psychotherapist and fellow human, I am concerned about the emotional health of men. Men seeing me for therapy are disconnected from their feeling state, and struggling mightily in their relationships. Work sucks, they have few friends with whom they can be their authentic selves, their partnered relationships are struggling and they have no idea how to make things better. The thing is, I KNOW this is not limited to men seeking therapy. As a matter of fact, my clients are in a forward position to their buddies who aren't in therapy. My clients at least know something is off, are willing to try to get some answers and make changes in their lives.
So, this blog post is my first attempt to reach an audience broader than my office with the goal of helping more men realize they can be happier and more successful in relationships if they are willing to take emotional risks. Emotional risks result in growth...the development of a permanent emotional pathway that gives us the chance to feel the feeling we are feeling, recognize we are feeling it and communicate what we are feeling it. The risk is the hurt that we may feel by exploring the roots of our limited emotional capacity, coming to terms with how the messages we received as children about our feelings and how those messages have impacted our ability to feel a wide range of feelings. The risk may also materialize in the form of realizing we have been hurting people around us we care about.
YOU are the hero of this story. My goal for you is to be free of the emotional hang-ups that are getting in the way of you being truly happy, and others being truly happy to be with you. Imagine that for a minute...no more building walls...no more pretending to feel one way when you really feel another...no more telling others to do as you do, not as you say. Imagine YOU, communicating authentically, transparently, directly. Imagine you knowing what your feelings are, and communicating them with ownership. Imagine a connected relationship where you feel close and understood. Imagine the peace in that.
You see, the people with whom we have relationships are constantly reading us. Nonverbal communication has been estimated to be 80% of all interactions we have with others. If the people around us know the feeling we are having, and why we are feeling it, they can respond appropriately. Many men make the assumption that if they are not talking, others don't know what they are thinking. They're right, but that leaves anyone near us with one option...they must guess. Guessing is not good because guesses are frequently wrong. The assumptions others are making because we are not communicating, if wrong, must be undone/corrected before we can communicate what we were actually feeling. Men are great at leaving blanks for others to fill in with worst case scenario.
To communicate our feelings we must first know what we are feeling and to figure that out, we need to have access to our feeling state. Our feeling state is emotional and physical. One can impact the other. If we are tired, or hungry, we might also be angry or frustrated or nervous. If our back hurts, we may feel depressed, hopeless or sad. Many men, as boys, were taught to ignore both physical and emotional sensations. Sadness was wrong, a disappointment to the adults around us and a reason for them to give us "something to cry about." Who wants to disappoint? Nobody I have ever met! We received messages as children that indicated feeling certain emotions was not masculine, so we just bottled them up and denied them. Why can't so many men easily express sadness? We are practiced at avoiding sadness as if it is a plague that will result in our penises falling off to be replaced by vaginas. So, we over rely on feelings like frustration and anger as a way of expressing something. This is super confusing to people around us. They misperceive what is happening, internalize our anger and feel less close to us.
Being a Present Dude means being aware and in the moment. Five minutes ago is gone and five minutes from now hasn't happened yet. Both are equally out of our control. The only moment we have any control over is the one we are in. The hope is that by living in the now and being more in touch with ourselves without the limitations of gendered expectations, we can be healthier, happier and more content. This is my hope for you as we begin this process together.