As a Behavioral Health Consultant in a health center, I receive calls to assist patients who experience issues around anxiety, depression, substance abuse and other behavioral health concerns. Today I received a call from a colleague who seemed alarmed when her male patient claimed that he was going through “menopause.” I was pleasantly surprised to hear this because I usually did not hear men talking about male menopause, let alone admitting to it. The fact that my colleague was alarmed by the patient’s claim says something about how it’s a lesser known topic. I was able to have a productive conversation with my colleague about this very real condition in men.
So then, what is male menopause? It is more commonly known as Andropause and it is largely related to a decrease in certain androgen hormones in men including testosterone, androstenedione and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), which is a steroid hormone. Starting at around 40 years of age, some men experience a gradual decrease of testosterone about 1% each year. Not all men have noticeable symptoms during this change and symptoms vary. The difference between menopause in women and andropause in men is that menopausal symptoms are often very apparent and relatively quick, as opposed to andropause symptoms being more gradual and sometimes subtle. Most men also do not completely lose their ability to reproduce during this time as women do.
According to Healthline.com, “symptoms of andropause may include low energy, depression or sadness, decreased motivation, lowered self-confidence, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, increased body fat, feelings of physical weakness, development of breasts, decreased bone density, erectile dysfunction, reduced libido and infertility.” Men may find it takes them longer to heal from injuries and gain weight. They may also lose sight of their direction and purpose in life. Again, not all men notice the effects of andropause.
There have been a limited number of studies done on the cause and effects of andropause. Men often are unclear about what is going on with them and sometimes fall into a depressed state believing there is something wrong with them. They often blame themselves or feel shameful about their physical and mental decline. Some men choose to keep these symptoms silence as they feel they would appear weak or broken. Men may find themselves going through a "midlife crisis" where they try to compensate or desperately hang on to their youth. This silence and shame contributes to the lack of overall information on this subject.
There are treatment options to balance out the testosterone and other hormones in the body including hormone replacement therapies. These treatments need to be managed by a doctor and are typically only for men with significantly low testosterone. According to the Food and Drug Administration a normal range of testosterone is typically 300 to 1,000 ng/dL. So a good candidate would be well below 300 ng/dL. Hormones are administered either intravenously or with a gell. There are no effective pill forms available in the United States at this time and according to the Mayo Clinic, these supplements sold are not very effective and may be dangerous. If hormone treatment is effective, it may restore some mental and physical capacities. Risk factors for these treatments may include enlarged prostate, some heart issues, blood clotting and other physical implications. This is why this process needs to be monitored closely by a doctor to see if the benefits outweigh the risks.
There are natural ways to remedy some of the symptoms of andropause and help maintain testosterone levels as well as a healthy prostate. According to prostate.net it is important to maintain an appropriate diet, a regular exercise routine and engage in stress-reducing activities to promote healthy male hormone levels. They recommend eating more fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants, healthy fats and omega 3 foods like avocados, nuts and fish and plant based proteins like quinoa and legumes. It is also important to drink a lot of water.
In Jed Diamond’s book, “Male Menopause,” he gives another perspective on this phenomenon. He views andropause as a passage into mature manhood and describes it as “the most passionate, productive and purposeful time of a man’s life...the beginning of the end.” In addition to defining andropause with historical, medical, and psychological data, he encourages men to recognize andropause as a time of self-reflection, of building a community of men around them and the importance of being the wise elder to young men. He doesn’t believe this is a time to wallow in loss but to seek opportunity for connection and teaching.
I’ve noticed in recent years that I had to pay more attention to my weight, my cholesterol levels and overall physical and mental health. When I was younger I took pride in my ability to maintain a healthy weight and energy without much effort. These days I have to push myself to eat right and exercise to have a normal BMI (Body Mass Index) and I find my vision has gotten worse. I’ve also noticed people in my life getting older or passing on, making death more of a reality. When I meet with men, including my older brothers, we sometimes talk about and compare our physical ailments and new medications we need to take. I find it very helpful knowing that I’m not alone and that this is a natural process that I’m going through. I want to make sure other men recognize and take effective action in order to minimize the effects of andropause and to live more productive lives.
There have been several times when I had to contact customer support due to problems with an order or due to my own negligence. Either way I did my best to go in with the attitude of being super friendly and with appreciation for their support. I recognized that this was just their job and why did they need to deal with another person's anger and abuse. At those times when I don’t feel I’m getting anywhere I do ask to speak to a supervisor. This is usually when I know that it was my fault and they needed to follow protocol. But, I was clear about what I expected and am humbled enough to recognize that they would be doing me a solid.
This was the case with a credit card company that was charging me 25% interest and I did not realize this after a few months that it was in effect. The first person wasn’t able to help me and I was clear that I wasn’t going to pay the accumulated interest. When I then spoke with the supervisor I started with how helpful their services were in the past and how I would like to continue to work with them but I did need this situation resolved. I did let her know what I should have done to avoid this issue and told her that I would be more careful next time. She heard me out and gave me a brief lecture about being more careful and responsible and she allowed me to pay off the card without the substantial accumulated interest. I was extremely appreciative and reiterated how supportive the company was. I didn’t need to get nasty or argue over the phone or yell out demands. We were able to be human and work together.
I have a friend who takes a different approach, which drives me nuts. He is often full-out verbally aggressive and sometimes rude, treating it like a challenge to get more. He often does come out with results, but it does seem to take a long time. I’m left feeling sorry for the poor person on the other end of the line. I imagine them going home after being abused all day by customers barking at them and taking it out on their significant others or kids.
I’ve had experience speaking with customers on the phone. As a behavioral health consultant, part of my job is working with customers in person or on the phone. These people often call me frustrated that they are not able to get the treatment they want because the service is not a covered benefit. They are often angry and determined to get what they want. I have to recognize my own defensiveness coming up, and replace it with understanding and empathy. I first let them know that I heard them and understand the problem by repeating it back to them in my own words. I then present them with different options to try and resolve the problem. If that doesn’t work and let them know that I will discuss the situation with my director and see if there are any other feasible solutions. Most often there are reasonable solutions.
Another challenge to kindness is encounters with rude people in your presence. This is not easy because you usually can’t hide your facial expressions and have little time to think before reacting. I admit that I’m not a saint, and often feel the need to say something when my ego is engaged. Most times I’m able to put things in a certain context or perspective. If it’s a rude teenagers playing loud music on the train or being foul-mouthed, I recognize it as a phase in their life. If it’s a drunk person being obnoxious I recognize a person with a problem. If I see a car weaving through other cars or cutting into traffic I know how it feels to be in a rush or to show off. In these instances I say to myself “how is my saying anything going to help the situation and will I really be heard?”
One time that I let my ego get the best of me, I had to correct myself. Parking can be very difficult in Brooklyn and when you finally find a spot it’s like gold. After circling for a while I was finally able to find a spot that was slightly covering someone’s driveway. The homeowner confronted me. While frustrated and tired, I verbally fought with him to give me a break. I was going to stick to my guns. After some time I decided to move because I didn’t want something to happen to my car. I finally found another spot a block away. As I walked passed the gentleman I apologized for my actions and extended my hand. He was receptive and we had a pleasant conversation.
One area that I feel the need to jump in is when witnessing any abusive or dangerous situation. I would do my best to be diplomatic while my adrenaline is pumping. One time I was witnessing someone being abusive towards a store clerk. My young daughter was with me and I was able to say to the lady “excuse me, my child is present.” That was enough to distract her and she moved on. The clerk later thanked me and I felt good with my deed.
When dealing with adversity I do my best to be as kind, diplomatic and patient as I can. I recognize I get more from being kind and human than when my ego is engaged and I’m being forceful. There is a lot of satisfaction in being able to connect with others, be respectful and still get what I need. I think of it as being a good person in a win-win situation.
My wife and I recently went on vacation in a very small all-inclusive hotel in Mexico. We both had an excellent time and relaxed a whole bunch. We really enjoyed spending time together but there were times that I just needed to be alone to think, reflect and do certain things for myself. I was able to allot a few hours during the vacation to smoke a cigar, read and do some writing without anyone around. My wife was also able to do her own thing and we were able to connect again afterwards.
I recently wrote a blog about the importance of taking time to think. Creating a personal space just for yourself goes along with deep thinking. Finding your own space away from the chaos of life and responsibilities can allow for creativity, centeredness and overall well being. You may want to call this your sacred space, place of tranquility, man cave or creative space. I know a gentleman who has a room in his home just for his writing and he spends a set time each day being creative. For me at home it is my balcony, where unfortunately the pigeons seemed to have claimed it as their place of tranquility as well.
There are times that you’re going to be away on holiday with the wife and children or a work conference and you’re not going to have your usual space. Even though you may tremendously enjoy spending time with the family or work, it could be beneficial for you to take a walk-about for an hour or two. Being all about the family or business may take its toll and cause frustration or a sense of feeling enclosed after a while. Much like a cat-nap, you’ll feel more rejuvenated when you have the ability to collect yourself. If you’re with your partner and children you may want to take turns to do this.
Some people may not agree with this and wonder why someone would want to spend any time away from the people they love? I get it and encourage them to spend as much quality time with family as needed. At the same time just remember that you are your own person; someone whom you also need to maintain a relationship with or connect to once in a while. You have your own dreams, personal plans, desires and talents that need to be developed. You are not merged with anyone and if you think you are, you will lose yourself.
Some of you may be part of sports teams, attend meetups or other social groups. I’m also involved in different activities outside of work and family including a men’s group. It is incredibly beneficial to be connected with others outside of your immediate circle. The main idea I want to stress here is the value of taking time to be with yourself. Your social networks should not take the place of this space.
For some this may be an uncomfortable place because the more time you have with yourself the more time you may think of regrets or harp on struggles. This can be very challenging but it is important for you not to avoid what may come, to pay attention to it and possibly handle it appropriately. It is sometimes easier to deal with the struggles of daily life than to listen to your own voice. Again, dealing with your negative thoughts by challenging them or seeking help from a therapist is an important step towards self-acceptance and freedom.
So, I encourage you to find your space of tranquility or solace and advocate for it when needed. When you spend adequate time in this space you can return to the world more relaxed, focused and more ready for challenges ahead. This may be easier said than done but do your best to try it out.
Self-Discipline, as defined on collinsdictionary.com, is the ability to control yourself and to make yourself work hard or behave in a particular way without needing anyone else to tell you what to do. In other words it about mastering yourself to get desired results.
There are so many areas in my life that I would like to improve, as I believe many of us do. In order to do so I would need to put in place specific disciplines. These disciplines would help make me a better person overall. For me these include eating right, exercising regularly and learning another language. To me these are great ideas but when I think about developing disciplines I get mentally overwhelmed and my actions (if I act at all) fall short.
When I do decide to take certain actions, I often find myself giving in to my feelings and procrastinating tendencies. I was looking into some shortcuts and quick ways of maintaining motivation and develop effective habits and I came across a book by Jocko Willink called “Discipline Equals Freedom.” In the book he makes it clear that there are no quick fixes and no short cuts. He goes on to write that there is only choice to do what is desired no matter what and to take action.
For most of us, our mind has been trained to avoid pain and to welcome pleasure. It is often an uphill battle dealing with feeling tired, overwhelmed and stressed. For some it involves physical pain or psychological conditions or even addictions. We convince ourselves to put certain actions off until these emotions subside and most times they never do.
So how then do we take on disciplines when being confronted with these mental or physical obstacles? How do we make the tough decisions to act? The answer that I came up with is asking different questions, like why is it important and what are the consequences of not taking appropriate actions in creating disciplines? By having a clear purpose and direction we maintain a certain level of motivation, maybe not enough to maintain the discipline, but it is a good start. There still needs to be the decision to just do it and act.
I always thought that it took about 60 to 90 days of being disciplined to create a habit. According to Jocko Willink, a former Navy SEAL, this is not the case. He states that it is always going to be hard and the choice to act needs to continue. The brain will not just take over the body and say, “Okay, you don’t need to worry about this being hard anymore, I’ll take it from here.” No, the struggle continues.
There may be a point when we tell ourselves that we need a break, or deserve to cut it down just a bit, or that my defined disciplines were not realistic. We also may think that we need the right people, equipment, right time to start taking action. It takes a real warrior spirit to call “bullshit” on ourselves. But, we also must not beat ourselves up because that only contributes to decreased motivation, increased procrastination and ultimately self-pity.
There does come a point when the benefits and rewards of the disciplined actions begin to show up physically and mentally. This helps with the motivation to stay on track but the temptation to falter does not go away altogether. This is why each day is a decision to act towards our disciplines, knowing that it is for our higher good and overall purpose. Battle on to victory my friends!
Many of us have very busy lives and often long lists of things to get done. I sometimes hear people say “I don’t even have time to go to the bathroom.” I start at 5 am and sometimes don’t get home until 11 at night. I find myself running in several directions throughout the day. When I do get some down time I often feel guilty that I should be doing more or being more productive. There are also times when I become so completely overwhelmed that my mind freezes on what I need to do next.
A good way to avoid becoming overloaded and to gain perspective and clarity is to allot time to just think. When you allow yourself time to intentionally think, you allow chaos and drama to decrease, your brain to get back on track and your creative strategies to start forming. This doesn’t happen right away. It takes time and discipline to train your mind. You may be distracted and flooded at first by issues that occurred during the week or even past experiences. These intrusive thoughts should subside after a while as you keep setting your intentions on creative thinking.
Intentional thinking doesn’t have to be in a meditative state or trance. You can think while sitting or walking around. There may be certain places that inspire positive and productive thoughts. There also could be books, lectures, songs or actions that motivate creative thinking. You have to figure out what or where it is that stimulates this type of thinking. You also may have to remove yourself from certain locations as they can be distracting or even toxic.
One major reason for taking the time to think is to enhance your most important tool which is your creative mind. Stephen Covey calls it sharpening the saw. A quote from Abraham Lincoln that illustrates this well is, ”Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." Taking time to collect your thoughts and thinking creatively and strategically could enhance productivity during the week. This is especially true when it comes to big meetings, projects or other major decisions.
It is said that Warren Buffet, the billionaire investor and CEO, has spent 80 percent of his career reading and thinking. Some strategist take a few hours during the week while others devote a whole day to thinking. Within those hours or days they break it down to intentionally focusing on certain subjects or tasks including prioritizing what needs to get done, planning meetings or interactions, or just visualizing the big picture. Another strategy is having a pad and paper with you during your thinking time in order to jot down the ideas or whatever comes up.
So the next time you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed or just need to plan, consider taking some time to think. Figure out a way that you will not be distracted by anyone else or anything. Be prepared with something to write the ideas on. It is not recommended that you use your phone or electronic device as they themselves can be distracting and set you off course. You can transfer any ideas or thoughts that come up on your electronic device at another time. Taking time for yourself is time investing in your success.
In Howard Thurman’s book “The Inward Journey- Meditations on the Spiritual Quest,” he speaks about the decision to act and how it energizes a person and shapes their personality. We often start out “drifting along” without any sense of direction, purpose or passion. Then something happens that shifts us. He describes it as “something very simple and inconsequential in itself but it stabs awake, it alarms, it disturbs.” It is at this time we get out of our comfort zone and take the necessary steps to act in a way that is passionate, purposeful and energizing.
We make billions of decisions in our lives, in fact, according to Cornell University research, we make about 35,000 decision a day. The decisions we made or decided not to make in our lives brought us to where we are today, including where we live, who we are with, who our friends are, where we go to school, our employment, career path, marriage and children. Good or bad we are constantly making decisions that affect our lives.
The focus of this blog is on decisive actions. We often have great ideas in our heads but there are fears that weigh us down giving us reasons not to act. I’m not talking about those decisions that would be destructive or hurtful, but the ones that would propel us forward. Our body and mind are designed to keep us safe from possible danger. When our mind screams out, “are you sure you want to do this, it might not work!” it is doing its job. It is our job to motivate ourselves to take decisive action anyway, especially when it is in our higher interest.
Sometimes we feel stuck or paralyzed in our mind because we are not sure what actions to take. We also may feel that we might hurt someone else in the process. We don’t trust ourselves that we are going to make the right decision. I often see this in my practice when someone is deciding to take the next steps in a good relationship or even ending a bad one. One person is waiting on the other to be the decisive one. I have a friend who has been working at a dead end job for months. He felt that the job was not challenging or utilizing his full potential. He finally decided to take action in finding a job that was more rewarding, challenging and one that makes a difference for others. Indecisiveness can lead to procrastination, avoidance and eventually resentment. Even worse it could keep you in a failing relationship or soul draining job.
When my wife and I decided on having children, I knew we needed more of an income to be able to raise the child the way we wanted. I soon sprang into action, first buying myself a fedora hat and then applying to several jobs. Shortly after I landed a position in a hospital that was more money and better benefits. I knew that my wife and future child were counting on me, which was enough motivation to take action.
Another reason people don’t take decisive action is that they feel they don’t have enough information or knowledge. It is good to evaluate your options, but there is a point when it becomes obsessive, time-consuming and sometimes costly. It is necessary to take a decisive risk at times. Once a decision is made there can be some adjustments, lessons and even victories. If we decide not to take the risk, we may regret it later on. A gentleman that I work with told me he stopped smoking for a week and wanted to remain smoke free. He tried to quit a few times in the past. When asked the reason for quitting this time he said that he runs out of breath very easily and that his boss glares at him when he comes back from smoke breaks. This man made a decision that he’s had enough and came to me to support him in this endeavor. There is always a catalyst that fuels the desire to decide to take needed actions.
So, how do we know what decisive actions to take and how do we gather the energy to push forward? It starts with asking ourselves questions about why must we take decisive action. These questions include: what is the purpose of taking this action; what will be the consequences of being indecisive; what is the grander vision or who else would benefit from the action taken; and finally, whom can I reach out to for support?
When we get that feeling in our gut and start getting frustrated with where we are, we know it’s time for change and we need to take the next steps. When we are at the crossroads of change it can be a scary place. At times we need to make the hard decisions today in order for our lives to be a little easier and fulfilling in the future.
“Without mental health there can be no true physical health”- Dr Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO)
Not too many people recognize the link between mental health and medical condition. Some do not want to acknowledge mental health issues. As a behavioral health consultant in a health center, I see first-hand how medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease can affect a person's mental well-being and visa-versa. I mostly get called into the medical examination room after a person is seen by their cardiologist. The person often complains about having rapid heart rate, chest pressure or difficulty breathing. Others have issues with alcohol, smoking, have poor compliance with medications or have difficulty regulating their diabetes, blood pressure or thyroid.
Sometimes it is hard to determine when physical pains are medical or are a direct result of stress. When people experience panic attack symptoms they often report tightness in their chest, difficulty breathing, numbness and/or a flood of worry. They report feeling like they are “having a heart attack!” Yes, when someone is having a heart attack, aka myocardial infarction (MI), they have similar symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pressures and a feeling of impending doom. Tests, including an EKG or sonogram, are needed in order to rule out medical irregularities like obstructions. When medically clear, people often opt for anxiety medications alone to deal with their overactive amygdala, which is the fight or flight part of the brain, instead of addressing it in therapy.
When someone has had a heart attack or heart related surgeries, their mental health issues can intensified. People are often traumatized by these life threatening experiences which can increase their anxiety or stress. This may occur when they feel any abnormal sensation in their body believing it being another heart attack coming. This may result in multiple doctor visits or even isolation due to the fear of leaving the home.
Diabetes mellitus is a deregulation of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Too much glucose can result in nervousness, anxiety and confusion and too little sugar can result in being sad, irritable and have poor concentration. On top of the mood swings associated with diabetes, it can also be frustrating having to monitor levels frequently. Research has indicated that those with type II diabetes are twice as likely to become depressed. When someone is clinically depressed they may find it harder to motivate themself to monitor their levels, take medication or to keep up with their medical appointments possibly leading to worse mood swings. This can lead to a vicious cycle of increased illness.
People who are depressed are more likely to have health related issues. They have a tendency to self medicate by smoking, using alcohol or other drugs to numb the feelings. They also go to the doctor less frequently and are less active. Even though exercising can stimulate the brain to produce the “feel good” chemical in the brain called dopamine, they would rather use nicotine which can produce the same chemical. It is hard to motivate oneself when depressed, and easier to smoke, even though it is more costly and short-lived.
An inability to manage stress levels can lead to serious medical issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Often when people are stressed they may become “stress eaters,” not eat nutritiously or starve themselves. Stress and anxiety can also lead to poor sleeping habits that can lead to irritability and poor concentration. That is why it is important to figure out ways to self-soothe and relax. Not all relaxation techniques work for everyone so there needs to be some time and exploration to find out what works.
Our physical bodies and mental health are connected and need to be cared for. When we eat the right foods, stay hydrated and exercise regularly we not only keep the body running but also keep the mind sharp. Sometimes it is easier said than done, but it is important to figure out ways to stay on track, including involving ourselves in activities we enjoy and also forming healthy daily habits and rituals. It is also important get checked regularly by the doctor–especially men, who are more likely to avoid going to the doctor.
I was recently at a seminar called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) given by presenter Colleen Carney, Ph.D. The training was very informative and scientific and I was able to get a glimpse of what sleep specialists do. There are many assessments and assignments for someone with chronic insomnia, such as working on a sleep schedule and written recordings. This is what I learned from the course, more specifically about getting better sleep which I also use as a tool in my private practice.
According to The American Sleep Association, 50 to 70 million adults in the United States have a sleep disorder, with insomnia being the most common. Insomnia is having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Women seem to have more difficulty than men falling asleep possible due to some biological factors. The main factors that disrupt sleep including medical, medication, disruptions of circadian rhythm (ie. shift work) and environmental factors (ie. room temperature and noise). So, how do you work on getting that good night sleep when dealing with these factors?
The major concept that was presented in the seminar was the analogy of blowing up and releasing a balloon. Blowing up the balloon represented energy that was being used during day. The more energy one uses, the more inflated the balloon gets. The trick is to fill your balloon up as much as possible during the day. When the balloon is full there is more time for the balloon to deflate. The deflating here represents quality sleep time. When you take naps during the day your balloon will be less full and therefore you will have less quality sleep at night. This is often contrary to popular believe that you need to catch up on sleep by going to bed super early or getting up late.
Another misconception is that if you’re having trouble sleeping you should stay in bed until you eventually fall asleep and if you got up you would be heightening your alertness. According to experts, it is encouraged that you get out of bed, leave the bedroom and engage in something neutral (not very stimulating and not too boring) until you’re tired again. After doing so, you then return to the bedroom to take another crack at it. You should not be lying in bed struggling mentally about why you can’t get to sleep. Forcing yourself to sleep only stimulates arousal. You can definitely get caught up with frustrating thoughts which often leads to increased anxiety. One of the suggested activities to promote decreased frustration and anxiety was doing gratitude journaling. A gratitude journal promotes positive thoughts and allows the body to relax.
The bedroom should only be associated with sleep (and sometimes sex). Television or other electronics in the room are discouraged. People with trauma who may have an adverse reaction to silence could use white noise as an option. The same hold true for those who have loud neighbors or construction going on.
In the seminar they mentioned that fitbits or other sleep trackers may do more harm than good. Electronic sleep trackers are often not reliable and can make you more obsessive about your sleep and more anxious. Sleep aides like melatonin are also not very effective because they can affect the type of sleep needed. Some people like to drink alcohol before going to bed because it helps them relax and feel tired. The fact is that drinking alcohol before bed affects the kind of sleep needed to be fully rested. It is important to avoid drinking alcohol as well as coffee for at least 3 hours before bed. Strenuous exercise and dramatic movies should be avoided before bed as well.
Routines are key when dealing with insomnia. Routines can include going to bed and waking up at around the same time each day and exercising during the day (blowing up the balloon). Routine helps train your body and sets your internal clock. It is important to do winding down behaviors when going to bed which may include brushing teeth, getting into sleep clothes and reading a particular book. This helps the body and mind get into sleep mode
It is very frustrating and sometimes dangerous to not get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to having accidents and can cause medical issues. There are other sleep disorders that may require medical attention or a sleep study like sleep apnea. So to work on getting a good night's sleep you need to be patient with yourself, avoid certain stimulating behaviors and you get into a routine.
There are many men that I know both in my psychotherapy practice and in my personal life that have been through and are affected by traumatic events. These men have bravely recognized the need to address their issues head on through different therapeutic modalities, including Cognitive Processing Therapy, which helps change the thoughts and feelings associated to the trauma; Prolonged Exposure Therapy, which gradually helps bring up memories that have been avoided; and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which helps process trauma while focusing on movements of sound. One friend of mine who was traumatized while working on the grounds of 9-11 was treated effectively by Exposure Treatment which is an aspect of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy. He was assisted in returning to the site and had learned to process and manage his emotions.
One aspect of trauma that I would like to focus on is sexual abuse. This type of trauma is very painful for men to speak up about. As it is with sexually abused women, there is a shock and denial about the abuse as well as an underlying shame. Questions that often plague the mind are, “how could this happen to me?,” “how could I not see it coming?,” or “why did I not stop it?” These questions may be constant and often trigger anxiety, depression and physical pain. Sometimes the thoughts are so painful that the survivor learns to either avoid the topic altogether or unconscious store it as a way to cope. When someone suppresses these feelings and emotions long enough panic symptoms may occur.
Sexual abuse is extremely difficult for most men to talk about - even in therapy. I recently read an article on this topic by Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S called “Treating Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse.” In the article he talks about how many men feel that it is not socially acceptable to talk about being sexually abused. Some men often feel that they should just be “man enough” to deal with it or get over it. Others may feel unable to express emotions and that the only acceptable emotion is anger and not sadness or guilt. Robert Weiss even goes further to talk about how some clinicians even buy into the social norms of masculinity telling their patient’s to move on with their feelings and just accept what was done.
Addressing sexual trauma with men is a delicate process which often takes time and encouragement. Most sexual trauma in men happens in childhood or adolescence, or while incarcerated. It is already a good sign that a man asks for help with these issues but it often comes at a cost. Some of these men had already ruined close friendships or romantic relationships, or they developed physical symptoms (somatic symptoms) to a point where they have difficulty performing at work. These physical symptoms may including shortness of breath, heart palpitations, numbness, sweating or a sudden state of worry. Emotional symptoms may include sadness, listlessness, apathy or low self-esteem.
It is important for a man to first bring the sexual trauma into conscious awareness by telling his story. This is a difficult process because there is so much pain and resistance. The more the man tells his story the more he is able to address its emotional aspects. This is why EMDR is effective, because it connects people to their physical presence while telling their story.
There is often an emotional story attached to survival of sexual abuse. The story may be “I am ashamed,” “I am weak,” “I can’t trust anyone,” or “I can’t get close to anyone because I will get hurt again.” So the next step is to recognize the internal emotional story connected to the abuse.
The next step in the process in dealing with sexual trauma is challenging and re-writing the emotional story. This may be connecting with that inner child (if the trauma occurred as a child) and letting him know that it wasn’t his fault and that it was not deserved. Not everyone has the same story so the conversations are all different and personal. This is also a very challenging process that takes time.
With any trauma the wounds may never go away. It is common for negative self-talk and somatic symptoms to show up from time to time. The process of therapy is not to get rid of the trauma but to get to a level of acceptance that is more manageable. There also needs to be techniques in place to calm anxiety symptoms such as breathing techniques, meditations, exercising or other stress reducing activities.
Trauma can affect anyone but men often try to conceal their pain around sexual trauma. Many men were brought up to believe that it is unmasculine to express certain feelings. The more one keep this pain inside the more it builds up. It’s important to seek professional help to start the healing process, which could be long and difficult. Recovery may not be 100 percent but the level of understanding and functioning should increase in order to live a more healthy life.
I get to my office in Brooklyn during a weekday morning after I drop off our two children at the bus. Before meeting with my first psychotherapy client, I sit silently to prepare mentally for the session. When the client arrives I greet them with a warm smile and a firm handshake. It is at this point that I am fully present. I get into a certain listening mode with my clients where I am deeply focused and not concerning myself with anything else at all. It is like something has taken over, where insights and active listening come through and I am able to lead the client to a point of healing and clarity. I am in a flow. This is extremely rewarding for me and I often come out of the session energized and content. This does not happen during every session but does occur more often than not.
I was reading a book simply called “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who is a Hungarian-American psychologist. Csikszentmihalyi has done an impressive amount of research studying the behaviors, biology, brain activity and physiology of those who have achieved levels of ‘flow’ that made them highly successful. Flow is a state where there is tremendous focus and a feeling of freedom and bliss, so much so that time and everything else ceases to exist except for the task at hand. People like Michael Jordan have called it “in the zone.”
Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as “...what we feel when we are fully alive, involved with what we do and in harmony with the environment around us.” Often flow comes about when we are engaged in the activities such as singing, dancing, sports, reading and even having an intriguing conversation with someone.
A great example of someone being in a state of flow is rock climber Alex Honnold in the documentary film “Free Solo.” Alex lives for climbing. He sleeps and eats in a van parked near Yosemite National Park so he can be close to the mountain where he practices free-solo climbing in order to perfect it. Alex planned and prepared each step of the way over several months to climb the 3,000 foot face of El Capitan in Yosemite. When he first attempted to free-solo the massive granite wall (no ropes or cables) he stopped along the way knowing that he was not in the right state of mind. Days later he was ready mentally and physically and was in the state of flow needed to achieve something no one had done before, free-solo El Capitan.
So how does one get to a state of flow? First off one need to recognize what they love to do and what brings them joy and what they are good at. Csikszentmihalyi states that “Happiness is being able to express who we are and our strengths and what we do…[that] this is what I’m supposed to do and this is what matters.” This could include something of the arts or ways in which one help others.
The next step is having clear goals in mind to focus on. These goals need to be measurable in order to know that one is getting closer to accomplishing them. Csikzamtmihaly identifies a four percent challenge to one’s skill-set so that they overcome boredom but, it is a challenge that is doable. Sometimes challenges one sets for oneself are too difficult and they set themselves up to fail. People also have a tendency to overload themselves with so many tasks and multiple goals that they become frustrated and overwhelmed. To get deeper in the flow, challenges are intended to be set over time so that they continue to grow.
When ‘in the flow’ there is a focus so intense that it surpasses the ego; there’s inner clarity, a feeling of blissfulness and a feeling of time flying by. There are no concerns or doubts and sometimes no worries of dying. Can you identify a time that you were in a state of flow? A time you were completely focused and clear about the task at hand and where time ceased to exist? It may be worth pursuing what gives you flow as it can bring increased life satisfaction and confidence.
As a husband of 12 years and a father of two children there are many challenges that I was not prepared for. Our son is now 10 years old and daughter is 8 and our biggest challenges are our daughter’s sassiness and son’s sneakiness around technology. We had some other issues along the way, including frequent tantrums, child care issues and sibling rivalry. But, the issues my wife and I are really dealing with now as they get older are more around limitations.
There are dozens of relationship and parenting books out there, but no one actually knows what to expect and how they are going to react in specific situations when it comes to family conflict. I was reading an article on how parents need to agree on how to raise their children before deciding to create a family. The article goes on to say that having these agreements minimizes arguments especially in front of the children. This is a good idea in theory, but is it realistic?
I know that my wife and I would agree that it is not healthy to argue in front of the kids, but it happens. Something we don’t see eye to eye on certain issues and we are both triggered. Our emotions get riled up and we both react in a way that is unhealthy. I am sure this is common in relationships because I hear similar scenarios in my practice and when speaking to parents.
When I speak to other men, we often share our experiences as husbands and dads and we can relate to one another. What we do not share is the same exact experiences or the same reactions. We do our best to support each other and come to a resolution around our particular issues.
There are many conflictual situations my wife and I were not expecting during the planning stage of having a family. Our son is very much into internet video game and some social media sites. My daughter talks back in a fresh and sassy manner manner when she doesn’t get her way. Even though we both recognize there should be limitations and consequences set, as parents we do not fully agree on what they look like. We both appear to stand firm in what we believe is right and we both love our children dearly. There are many conflict resolution techniques but sometimes all rational thinking goes out the window when in the conflict. I should mention that my wife and I are both therapist and have much experience working with families and children. We suffer from the human condition of not knowing everything.
So with all the advice out there, there is no easy solution or recipe on how to raise your child. There are just good models to reference if we want to correct ourselves when we screw up, and we most definitely will. I hold the position that parenting is a learning process of growth and maturity. It is important to reach out for guidance from those you respect and look up to.
One thing I know for sure is that communication is key. It is important to keep an eye on the shared vision and work on an agreement when the challenges come.
As I’ve stated in previous blogs, I am part of a men’s group that meets regularly to support each other’s goals, address issues in our lives and give back to the community. These gatherings are confidential and are a place where men can display their vulnerability without judgment and be challenged by the other men when our actions do not match up to our values or standards. The men are invested in one another’s success because when one man succeeds the whole group succeeds.
As the men listen to each other's story we recognize our commonality as men to be able to deliver back from a place of understanding and heart. It’s an amazing experience to connect with another man’s pain and be able to provide him with the empathic guidance he needs. It is also incredible to be able to speak honestly with another man in order to get to the truth. Too often people don’t want to say anything that may hurt the other’s feelings. This is a space for honesty.
These types of groups are out there but are rare. Usually the groups that men form are around specific issues like substance abuse, sexual addictions or sports. Men often have difficulty connecting with other men, especially when it comes to their relationships with significant others, their family or with themselves. They feel the need to present themselves as tough or in full control. This difficulty may come from a lack of trust and men’s competitive nature. Most men find themselves alone, without support. There is no one to hold them to their own standards. These men who do it alone often fall into a doomed relationship with their partner, less productive at home and at work and sometimes get depressed and fall into an addiction.
I was recently listening to a television series by Joseph Campbell, who was an American professor of literature. He was interviewing an American poet and a leader of the men’s movement, Robert Bly. The segment was called “A Gathering of Men.” In the interview Bly speaks about how men drifted apart from one another throughout the last few centuries. Before the industrial revolution men were hunting or working side by side. Men would also bring their sons and taught them skills and other important lessons about life. In aboriginal societies boys were taken by the elders of the tribe and initiated into adulthood. There were clear definitions and roles and less confusion about who they were.
Bly goes on to point out that during the Industrial Revolution the men were taken out of the homes for long hours at a time and spent less time with the family and children. This continues to be the case today and as a result boys become lost and grow into men who isolate themselves and do not stick around.
The “me too” movement offers men an opportunity to define for ourselves what powerful masculinity is. By creating a men’s community, we honor our own masculinity and become better husbands, fathers and men.
In my work in a health center and in my private practice as a clinical social worker, I’ve worked with many people with anxiety symptoms. In the health center people often mistaken their anxiety symptoms for medical problems with either their heart, chest, head or nerves. Once cleared medically from the doctor I’m called in to assess for anxiety and offer treatment recommendations.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of American, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States, affecting 40 million adults each year, and it is twice as likely to occur in women. Anxiety can originate either genetically, in brain chemistry, in aspects of one's personality, life events, or a combination of ways.
In my private practice I mostly see people who have dealt with trauma in their lives that often manifests itself as difficulty sleeping, drugs like alcohol and marijuana, troubling relationship, difficulties at work and problems with socializing and communicating effectively.
Most of the people I see have some insight into the possible origin of their anxiety. What they don’t understand is why an event that occurred many years ago still affects them today. They have been able to intellectualize their trauma and sometimes even convince themselves that they have forgiven those who may have contributed towards the trauma. What I often tell my clients is that the adult mind may be able to intellectualize the trauma but the child mind and body remembers it. The mind and body are stuck in a fight or flight mode of that time and easily triggered by a stimulus that relates to the trauma.
So, how does one deal with these unresolved issues triggering anxiety? And how do we handle this emotional child who is acting out inside of us? This is not an easy task because it requires one to access that child and go back to the time when the trauma occurred. This can be a very uncomfortable, vulnerable and painful place. It is important to allow the child to feel the emotions that he/she needed to feel. It is also crucial for him or her to express what was needed to say at that time.
It’s hard at first to get out of the intellectual mind and connect to those emotions. The more one tells their story, the more the feelings and emotions will come up and be released from the body.
Some people need to expose themselves to certain situations or places in order retrain the body to get out of the hyperarousal state. The more one avoids certain things or places, the more the anxiety will increase and possibly manifest into something else such as fear of intimacy or being in crowded spaces.
It is important to learn ways to get through the anxiety or panic attacks as they occur. Proven methods include focusing on the breath, yoga and mindfulness meditations. There is much information or videos on Youtube to utilize. It’s just a matter of finding the right technique for you. Still, some people need medications to deal with intense bouts of anxiety or panic. But this will only provide temporary relief and often have side-effects.
Anxiety attacks, panic attacks and unresolved trauma can be very disruptive to one’s life and if it is untreated can get worse. We naturally tend to avoid things that are unpleasant and painful but it is necessary to face the pain in order to get a better handle on it. We may not ever be able to cure anxiety symptoms for good but at least we will be better able to manage the symptoms and gain a better perspective when those symptoms come.
One of my favorite books about men’s psychology is "King, Warrior, Magician, Lover" by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette. Moore and Gillette brilliantly discuss these Jungian psychological archetypes in an easy and digestible way. They go through each archetype by discussing their mature and immature forms, the shadow or darker aspects and how each archetype relates to one another. We all have aspects of these archetypes within us and it is important to recognize and notice which one is the strongest and which is lacking. We can also explore our shadow or immature side in counseling and adjust accordingly. I would like to briefly describe each of these archetypes and how we can channel them in our everyday lives.
Men often identify themselves with the warrior energy due to its tough and masculine nature. Even though men do channel the warrior spirit there is more to the mature warrior than flying swords and brute force. The warrior has a responsibility to those outside of himself to provide security and safety while not attaching to his ego or beaten down by what others think. The warrior is focused and not in his head much because that would lead to doubt, hesitation, inaction and finally in losing the battle. He focuses more on his skills, power, accuracy all while being in full control of his mind and body. He is willing to suffer to get the results he needs.
The Sadist and the Masochist
The two polar shadows of the warrior are the "Sadist" and the “Masochist.” The “Sadist” has passion for destruction, cruelty and has a hatred towards the weak. The "Masochist" is one who is a pushover and is weak until he explodes into sadistic tendencies.
Accessing the Warrior
What is it that you take a stand for or are willing to fight for? Is it your family, a cause or your own life? You're accessing the warrior when you are clear on your intentions. You know how to move forward without hesitation or doubt, whatever the consequences may be.
Today’s magicians would include computer scientists and chemical engineers among others. They are the holder of knowledge and the masters of technology. The magician uses his ability and smarts to better humanity and the world. He is the interpreter of the unseen world much like a shaman.
The shadow sides of the magician are the “Manipulator” or “Shyster” and the "Denying innocent one.” The detached and cruel manipulator withholds known information needed for other’s wellbeing. He charges heavily for the information he give which is just enough to demonstrate his superiority. The "Innocent" one wants the power and status of the magician but doesn’t want to take on the responsibilities of sharing and teaching like a true magician does. He has a lack of life energy and is afraid to be found out that he is a fraud.
Accessing the Magician
We all possess skills and the power to teach those skills to others. When we do teach others or help others figure out problems we enhance their lives. There is great power in being able to create or have insight into something. It is even more powerful when we are able to give it away.
The lover is the holder of passion and spirituality. He is the one who reminds us of the joy of the journey and to take in and appreciate the present moment. He lets us know that there is both pleasure and pain in being alive. The lover demonstrates the importance of recognizing that we and the universe are all connected, to enjoy life and to embrace one another.
The shadow sides of the lover are the "Addicted" and the "Impotent". The addicted lover becomes the victim of his own sensitivity and is always searching for the ultimate and continuous "high." When the high wears off he leaves looking for renewal of his ecstasy. The Impotent Lover experiences life as unenthusiastic, boring and dead. The impotent lover soon develops learned helplessness which turns into anger and resentment towards all beauty and love.
Accessing the Lover
Much like the warrior it is important to have a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. When we have meaning we are able to get inspired and become alive. Others are often attracted to those who are positive and passionate about things in the universe. It is also important to stop and be mindful of the beauty all around us.
The reason the king is mentioned last is because he encompasses traits of all the other archetypes in a perfect balance. He has the courage and fortitude of the warrior, the ingenuity and wisdom of the magician and the enrollment in life of the lover. He is centered, calm and always in position to provide order in the midst of chaos. He acknowledges and appreciates those who contribute and in turn- they follow with his blessing.
The shadow sides of the king are the Tyrant and the Weakling. The tyrant is more like a bully, abusing his power and using his force to deal with his own lack of self-worth. He is easily offended and fragile and will defend against being vulnerable. The weakling is more passive and possesses inner turmoil. He is afraid, in constant fear of being betrayed.
Accessing the King
When one takes on a leadership role there are certain necessary traits to be successful. Most often, people follow those who show passion and demonstrate appreciation, strength, and knowledge. The leader is reflective, but not quick to become offended. The king does not claim ownership for success but shares it with others.
There is a whole lot more in the “King, Warrior, Magician, Lover” book to explore and much written on the topic. When tackling a job or wanting to better a relationship it could be helpful to access the archetype that best suits your context. It is also beneficial to notice the shadow sides we see in ourselves and others and be cautious.
My wife and I went on a date and saw the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” starring Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart at the IFC theater in Manhattan. It’s been a while since I last saw it and had forgotten how good the movie is with its multiple messages. The gist of the movie is that the main character, George, who is a good honest man, sacrifices his own dreams, desires and money to benefit his family and the community. When he feels he lost it all he contemplates suicide. He is then guided by an angel who helps him to reflect on his true worth and meaning of his life.
So what is the meaning and purpose of life? Several years ago I was fortunate enough to pick up the book “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. Dr. Frankl tells about his life in the holocaust and the struggles and unimaginable horrors that the prisoners endured. Dr. Frankl recognized that many who were able to survive, including himself, maintained a certain mindset that kept them alive. They had a will or driving force to stay alive whether it was to see loved ones again or to complete something in their life. A person’s will to live was the one thing that could not be taken away.
Most often it was not about the self at all but about others. Many of the prisoners shared their food rations, made others laugh or played games with each other to get through it all. It was not just surviving but surviving together that may have made the difference.
Viktor Frankl goes on to develop a new school of psychological thought called “Logotherapy” which is a meaning centered psychotherapy. The basic principle of “Logotherapy” is that we are purpose-driven creatures, with innate skills, talents, and interests, as well as experiences. When we lose that sense of meaning we go into an “existential vacuum” or become emotionally numb and that’s when we are overcome with guilt, pain and depression.
I was in a leadership training a while ago and they introduced something called “The World Sucks” chart that looked like a funnel shape (Image shown at the bottom of this blog). At the narrow end on the bottom was the word “you” and the most wider side on the top was “the world.” It resembled Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with basic needs on the bottom and more existential needs as you go up. The idea was that the closer one is to the “you” the more one was in the “suck-hole” or place of neediness or disparity. The key was obviously to get further away from the “suck-hole” in order to get more fulfillment out of life. I know, for myself, that when I help other people I get a sense of goodness and pride in myself. I notice my energy level rise and I want to keep up the momentum. When I just do for myself the feeling is often more short lived.
So how does one find meaning? Meaning can be discovered in multiple ways including what one does creatively, through their attitudes as well as in their experiences. I know that in my own exploration of what it means to be a man, a passion grew to work with others to find themselves. So sometimes there is meaning in suffering. In the most problematic situation there is purpose waiting to be born.
Showing up can be defined two ways. One way is physically showing up and the other is more of a way of being like confidently or begrudgingly. Both of these ways of showing up has been very important to me because I know how disappointed I get when someone says they are going to meet up or do something and then they don’t. I also know how great it feels to be around those I care about and the importance of maintaining friendships. There are life circumstance when one has to cancel, but it is important to keep in mind the other person may have cleared their schedule and may have been looking forward to it. Maybe I’m too empathetic, but I feel it is important to make sure the calendar is checked and if things happen, which they often do, I do my absolute best to figure out ways to adjust. By doing so it deepens the relationship with the other person and increases trust.
I was at a holiday party with my work colleagues and at the end of the party my former co-worker was debating whether to visit a friend who invited her to a party that same night in the neighborhood. The co-worker was tired and not fully feeling like going even though she had not seen this friend in many years. We all encouraged her to just drop by and we ended up supporting her by going to the party with her for about 5-10 minutes. The host was extremely appreciative and I was able to get another glass of wine and slice of pizza that night. She was also able to maintain the strength of that connection and it only took 5 to 10 minutes.
There are other important ways of showing up, including in ways that face your own fears and mind chatter. I recently read a good blog called “The Power or Showing Up’ by speaker, coach and author Rob Jolles, a contributor to the Huffington Post. In his blog, he speak about showing up as a way to challenge yourself and face up to your own anxiety. Jolles gives an example of having to go to a swimming competition after just getting over an extensive injury. Knowing that he wouldn't be able to be 100%, his mind was challenging him to not go. He eventually showed up and was satisfied with himself that he did. Even though he didn’t do so well in the competition, he was able to show up and conquer his mind as well as to support the other competitors.
In “The Single Biggest Thing You Can Do For Your Career: Show Up” by Hanna Brooks-Olsen, she discusses the Woody Allen quote “Showing up is 80 percent of life.” Often we do the work but are hesitant to put ourselves out there. When you show up prepared to do the work you are obviously more likely to make an impact on what you are doing and on others. Brooks-Olson notes, “in the creative sense, showing up doesn’t just mean arriving at a place — it means being prepared to put in the work, regardless of outside factors or obstacles, including your own naysaying mind.” When you place yourself to the side and sit in doubt and fear- that’s where you will stay.
So the next time a friend contacts you to make plans or there is an event that you’re involved with be prepared to show up. This is often not an easy task because life and your own mind get in the way. It is important to challenge yourself and make all efforts to make it happen. It’s not just about your time but it is also about your character, your willingness to challenge yourself, to grow and to strengthen your connection with the people you care about.
It is often within our nature to want full control when it comes to work, projects, events or even relationships. We figure that if we have complete control then the result will be exactly the way we envisioned it or have the relationship the way we want. Sometimes we go even further to say that if we leave it up to anyone else things will fail or we can’t trust anyone else to do it but ourselves. This territorial way of thinking may not work out to our advantage.
Having a plan or direction is always encouraged. It is important to know where we want to go or what we want to do. We need to be careful though of the tunnel vision of our vision. There is tremendous value in letting the reigns loose a bit to allow for even better results than we expect. When we are engage in the process and enroll others to participate in it we operate on a higher level. The results become bigger and more inclusive and we may feel more satisfied.
I was once in charge of a men’s retreat weekend to address different men’s issues. The planning process lasted a year and I was able to assemble a group of eight men to develop a powerful weekend. As the leader of this group it was my responsibility to hold the vision and context of what we wanted to accomplish over-all. As the planning progressed I recognized the importance of providing the opportunity for other groups of men to be in charge of specific topics. I trusted these men and empowered them with my vision. The events that these groups came up with were even more powerful than I would have imagined.
There were times during the process that I tried to micro-manage and strictly abide by a timeline. When I was too focused on the result I found myself getting increasingly frustrated and I was disempowering men to the point of them almost pulling out of the retreat all together. Thankfully, I received immediate feedback from the men and I was able to step back. There was also a time during the weekend when I was so focused on the time-line and exactly what I was going to say that I was feeling tremendous anxiety. I finally took the time-line and speeches I prepared and threw them away and I immediately felt a tremendous release. I was able to come from a more authentic place and the men got a lot power from that weekend.
In our relationships with our partners, siblings, parents and sometimes friends we often envision a particular relationship we want. We may feel the need for control in order to keep the person close for fear that they will leave or that chaos will come about. Frustration may come about as a result of one person demanding the attention of the other. When someone attempts to force a certain outcome in the relationship the other person may either leave or build up resentment. It’s important to have the vision in mind without having an exact result in mind or a need to control the process. This allows one to be fully present in the relationship.
I remember a few years ago thinking I wanted a closer relationship with my brother. We didn’t speak that often and I thought our conversations were a bit dry. I soon realized that I was trying too hard and was getting more in my head about our relationship. At times I was sounding more like a therapist than a brother. I had to accept that this was our relationship and that closeness would come when it did. These days when we do get together (a rare occurrence) we are organically closer because I let go.
So let’s do our best to take a step out of our heads and into our hearts and enjoy the journey of life. If we try too hard we will miss out on pleasant surprises that come along the way. Sure we will make mistakes and possibly get hurt but at least we will know we were coming from a place of heart and authenticity.
I’ve been married for almost 12 years now and can remember that intoxicated feeling of being with her. I would go out of my way to see her, call her often, and naturally do things to impress the hell out of her. I didn’t give much thought about the responsibilities of being in a long term relationship...everything just FELT right. Then I bought the ring, proposed, got married, and had two children. Welcome to reality. I wouldn’t change any of it for the world but things did change.
Often in wedding ceremonies there is the symbolic gesture of the couple taking two separately lit candles to light the one candle in the middle; two lives becoming one. Sure, two people share their lives together but they are still separate people with different backgrounds, personalities, emotional baggage, and needs. And so the picture and ideas that was created during the dating years are put to the test.
When women drag their significant other into therapy (most times it’s the woman who make the appointment and the man who is dragged in) the complaint is about not being heard, loved, or respected. On the man’s side the complaint is that “she nags too much”, she gets upset for no reason, or that she doesn’t respect his time and space or appreciate what he contributes. The conversation around needs turn into a battle for territory and their defenses go up.
There are many good therapeutic techniques for couples available including Harville Hendrix’s Imago therapy, the Gottman method, Gary Chapman’s “Love Languages”, and knowing and establishing relationship boundaries as written by author Henry Cloud in his book, “Boundaries.” There is also a lot of information on acknowledging the differences between men and women and the ways they communicate differently. These methods all have one key component- the ability to communicate one's needs to the other.
Communicating needs is not easy to do because sometimes it is difficult to define one’s own needs let alone someone else’s. Needs could be buried under years of resentment ( i.e. “he should know what my needs are!”), repressed after being shut down so many times, or mixed in with self-esteem issues (being undeserving). It seems that men have more difficulty identifying and expressing their needs. Men are often brought up to be self-reliant and think that they “do not need anything.” They sometimes try to fulfill their needs outside the relationship with either work, drugs, or other women. When your needs are not being met you’re less likely to want to respond to the other’s needs.
Some basic needs identified by Marshall Rosenberg in his book “Non-Violent Communication” include the need for autonomy, integrity, acceptance and physical nurturance. Similarly Gary Chapman identifies five “Love Languages” which include receiving gifts, quality time, words of love and affirmation, acts of service and physical touch. These authors work with couples to clearly hear each other’s needs and to practice the art of giving to one another. Usually it is just one main need the person is looking to fulfill and only one person is needed to initiate this process.
In therapy, once a couple gets past the arguing and engaging their egos, they could eventually recognize that the fighting is just a symptom of un-acknowledged needs and the past being played out. The sessions becomes a competition of who can talk the loudest or what fires to put out. It is important for the couple to hear each other and to be able to express themselves clearly and without judgment. Once a judgment is made, defensiveness comes out and listening ceases. I often tell my couples to use ‘I’ statements and to avoid using the finger pointing ‘You.’ It is also important to speak about how one felt about a situation as opposed to making a list of what the other person did. When engaging in this process it is important not to flood the other person with requests. I know for me I need small doses at a time to be able to digest.
Boundaries are also imperative for a successful long term relationship. Boundaries are one’s personal space including body, personal property (i.e. diary or phone), personal conversations, friends, family and interests. As mentioned earlier, we are still those individual candles in a relationship. If someone gets too enmeshed in the other’s space there will be a sense of crowding and a need to pull away to get back their individuality. My own boundaries include my different accounts (i.e. e-mail, personal banking, phone and social media) and my work.
So communicating needs is important as well as respecting difference and honoring boundaries. As in Imago therapy, couples need to find some time to relax and take turns expressing how they are feeling and what their needs are. A time limit may need to be set for each couple to express feelings and needs to avoid flooding and to make sure there is a turn for both people. The next part is to request feedback from the other person to make sure the message was received. Sometimes words are heard differently as we all process things differently. Finally, a couple needs to come up with solutions or compromises. Sometimes there are no solutions, so disagreements may need to be accepted or individual actions need to be taken. Being in a relationship can be hard work and it takes patience, tenderness, and dedication to maintain and possibly thrive. If both people are committed to the relationship- anything is possible.
Men and Depression