Big boys don’t cry? Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 35, i.e. 76% of all suicides are male. 95% of prison population is male while boys and men themselves are often the victims of violence and (sexual) abuse. 73% of all adults, who disappear, are men. 87% of homeless people are men. Boys have worse grades in school than girls. Yet, the so-called solitary male continues to be a silent epidemic, because our male self-esteem is largely built on achievement and success. Consequently, we develop our very own strategies to ‘deal with it’: we focus on the world out there, we fall silent, become lone wolves, ig-nore and overburden our body, or we force ourselves to be purely rational all the time. When it really gets too much to bear we become violent or commit suicide…
This is what we men have learnt since we were little. During the first years of life, we experienced ourselves as a reflection of our mothers’ view. Yet, dur-ing the necessary development of our individuality we have often just learnt what we are not: Does ‘being a man’ really only mean ‘not being a girl’? What is my unique and original male self-image? What is my personal identity that is not built on cinematic heroes or commercial paragons, but instead relates to my own impulses, emotions and interests? Still, many boys lack the role-model of their own father.
We men have learnt and learnt again to see helplessness, overburdening or fear as unmanly. We experience that as our ‚personal failure‘, and we worry about losing our sense of self-worth. Instead, we are hard on ourselves. We fight even more doggedly, behave even tougher. We push ourselves even harder and improve our performance. Usually, we do not even notice how we rush to fulfil the wishes or whims of others; but in doing so, we overtax our-selves – again and again. And still, we ignore both mental and physical warning signs. The consequences are accidents, head- and back pains, slipped discs, problems with our stomach and bowels or heart and circulation, or breathing. Or we have heart attacks – or a stroke. Or we commit suicide, or mur-der. Psychologically we become more and more agitated, irritable, unable to sleep, or depressed. We experience other symptoms right through to either burnout and exhaustion or constant conflicts in our relationships and at work. Mostly, we fight those ‘obstacles within’ or tell ourselves to man up and stop whinging. Quite a few men numb their feelings of overwork and powerlessness with sex, drugs, alcohol or violence. They look on while their relationships become ever more bleak and disappointing. Their needs are not being addressed nor satisfied, conflicts remain unresolved, and lovers drift apart.
Men are confronted with a fundamental dilemma: we are supposed to be strong and unflappable – and at the same time we are to be sensitive to the needs of our partners and empathetic to their emotions. Only: how can we be perceptive and caring, when we have learnt to deny our very own feelings and needs ever since we were babies? More often than not, we were forced to disavow them, because grown-ups shamed us, ridiculed us and forbid or pun-ished our weaknesses. Or we were ‘merely’ rejected by our peers for being soft and ‘girlish’. Yet, only when we regain contact with our softer side, will we be able to truly appreciate others: children, spouses, relatives, friends and colleagues.
“I shall do so; But I must also feel it as a man.” Shakespeare’s McDuff had a quite different perspective. (Macbeth, 4th Act, 3rd Scene) Instead of ‘swallowing’ his pain, sadness, anger and suffering, this Scottish warrior would not stiffen his upper lip and carry on. He wanted to face all of his feelings – but not quietly and not alone! Somehow, he sensed that real strength comes from truly feeling one’s weakness. Closeness is built on the ability to distance oneself and joy becomes flat when suppressing sad-ness. Instead of displacing some parts of his psyche, McDuff deliberately turned towards them. Thus, he could use them as strengths and stimulation. All those feelings have always been part of us, despite the enormous amount of energy we ourselves and others spent to exorcise them. They are present in our thoughts, our emotions, our behaviour and in our physical experiencing. Only by embracing and integrating all our needs, emotions and impulses, can we become content and self-confident men:
“Men’s wish to gain acceptance, to be seen and found, which is often hidden behind well-guarded doors, should be used positively during the process of therapy. Metaphorically, there is a boy sitting behind those doors, who has been harried, battered, bruised, neglected and disappointed, who then ran away, hid himself and sulked. Yet, at the bottom of his heart he wants to be found, and finally be able to participate fully in the game of life. Ultimately, the aim of puerile hide and seek is not the concealing, but the being-found.” (Neumann / Süfke: Den Mann zur Sprache bringen, p.71)
During counselling, coaching and therapy I support fellow men, developing clarity about themselves, experiencing and integrating their feelings, needs and impulses. We men are not ‘women with a defect’. Our difficulties and problems often are like those of women – yet, frequently they are very different. For men, who want to “feel it as a man”, I offer a special ‘manly’ approach to experiencing, development and change.
For your further reading: