Men and Depression The hidden realm of sorrow needing to be unearthed
Most of us we have our inner emotional wounds. These inflictions often shape who we are and how we are with others. The arrow I had inside me while growing up was the absence of my father who I’m sure had his own wounds. He left when I was around 9 years old. Growing up I had my two older brothers whom I looked up to and who looked after me. They would sometimes include me when they were with their friends until I found my own social circle. They were very influential in the music I listened to, sports I played and later on, they taught me how to shave. When they went off to do their own things I found myself seeking father figures to enhance my own identity as a man. I do have to add that my mother, an incredibly strong woman, was a great source of strength and comfort during these times.
My father’s absence didn’t fully hit me until my late teenage years. I found myself getting angry about him not reaching out or caring about what was going on with me or what I was up to. I would write letters to him without responses and with each letter I would get angrier and angrier. It wasn’t until after undergraduate school that I got a congratulatory card from him with money saying “have a drink on me.” A year or so later we received another letter from his wife saying he had throat cancer. During that time I would have very awkward small talk with him on the phone and when I was able to visit him it was too late.
There are many stories I’ve come up with of why my father did what he did so I could rationalize it in my adult mind. Living through it as a child though is a different story and the scars remain.
In my full-time employment and private practice as a psychotherapist, I work with a lot of men who are dealing with anger issues and/or addictions (substance and behavioral). Some men have been able to identify themselves as depressed and others report being angry, frustrated or are self-medicating themselves.
In a book on men and depression by Terrance Real called “I Don’t Want To Talk About It,” Real goes deep into how men often mask their pain and depression. He distinguishes between two types of depression; overt depression (an outward display of depression) and covert depression (depression kept within and hidden). The masking is often presented by being a workaholic, a substance abuser, having frequent displays of anger, being overly-confident and/or over competitiveness.
Often this depression is triggered by past trauma either from severe disciplining or emotional neglect or other traumatic events. Some boys quickly learn to shelter their feelings and emotions in order present as more tough. Boys are often encouraged to toughen up or get over it quickly because if they become too emotional they would be targets of ridicule or bullying. These young men learn to develop ways to cope and harden up by holding the sadness inside. When these young men get into their adult lives the pain often bubbles up to the surface in fits of rage, anxiety attacks or being abusive toward those perceived weaker. Many times the traumatic events become hidden from the conscious brain but the body remembers.
So what are men to do in order to deal with this pain deep within? Well, the first major step is to acknowledge that something is going on. Most people seek help when they are deep in a crisis such as a failing marriage or they are paralyzed with deep depression or anxiety, or when their drinking has gotten out of control. A powerful quote from Terrance Real gives a good description of the process that needs to occur in order to dig out of the deep wounds. “First, the covertly depressed man must walk through the fire from which he has run. He must allow the pain to surface. Then, he may resolve his hidden depression by learning about self-care and healthy esteem.” He goes on to define healthy esteem as “...the capacity to cherish oneself in the face of one’s own imperfections, not because of what one has or what one can do.”
Growing up without a father led me to do my own exploration of what it is to be a man. I have been part of men’s group for almost 15 years and I work with several men in my therapy practice. For me the wounds did not go away but I have been able to understand them and put them in perspective. I believe that once a man engages in the process of healing his wounds he may find that the wounds become a source of strength and an identity.
Please contact me at Sheric73@yahoo.com or 516-849- 2152