It gets even more complicated for men from dysfunctional families, with one parent who is absent or withdrawn and another who is well-meaning but overbearing or controlling. It is difficult for a man to find a “voice” if he lacks male role-models to emulate
What does it mean to be authentically masculine these days? Many of the male clients I see these days are wondering how they can be “emotionally available” while still “manly,” sensitive yet self-sufficient, confident but not egotistical, and so on. Stereotypes don’t help: from the macho action hero to the buffoonish dad to the man-boy who refuses to grow up, it’s hard for men to find their “voice” without being cartoonish or self-consciously “ironic”.
Contrary to myth, men are just as emotional as women (ever been to a sporting event?) though these emotions manifest differently and have different cultural “rules.” It’s ok to be desperate for sex, as many stand-up comedians remind us, but not ok to “whine” about the demands of fatherhood, work or family. Men want and need to bond with other men, without getting too sensitive or sentimental.
It gets even more complicated for men from dysfunctional families, with one parent who is absent or withdrawn and another who is well-meaning but overbearing or controlling. It is difficult for a man to find a “voice” if he lacks male role-models to emulate; often I encounter men who know how not to be, having grown up with fathers who mistreated women, drank too much, worked too much or not enough, and so on.
Many of the men I see have complicated relationships with their mothers as a result of such fatherly absence. Often this results in confusion over relationships with women, resulting in a love/hate complex that can be hard to untangle. For instance, in a family where a son becomes a surrogate partner to a lonely mother, the son learns that being separate and autonomous is threatening to mom, and thus develops confusion over “independence,” wavering between isolation and over-reliance on women. It is not that they won’t become more self-supportive, or less isolated…it’s that they can’t and have never been shown how. This confusion leads to self-doubt and overwhelm, leading some men to turn to porn, alcohol, work or other ways of soothing soulful turbulence.
I work closely with men who struggle with these and related issues, who are seeking their “voice” in more satisfying relationships and careers, in a way that is authentically unique to who they are, or who they turn out to be after a journey of self-discovery. Shame and self-loathing slowly evaporates as they come to understand themselves in a new way, without necessarily “blaming” or coming to hate their caregivers (or having permission to do so if such feelings were never “allowed”.) The essential factor for men is in learning that whatever shameful “flaws” they bear are not their fault, but are the result of circumstances that were unfortunate for all involved.
Though many men fear that exploring feelings is “girly” or more of a female activity, I’m here to tell you it is not for the faint of heart. I’ve worked with military men who told me the scariest “enemies” are one’s own inner demons and fears. Courage is an inside job. If you want your life to change, or if it has to change to be free of self-destruction and painful isolation, asking for “help” is probably the ballsiest thing you can do.