We live in a culture that has taught men not to talk about their feelings. Likewise, men are not even taught how to talk about their feelings. As a result, a lot of men just like you hold onto the notion that you should not have feelings, and that if you do, you should do everything possible to keep these feelings from others.
Even when men get to the point of needing to talk, they often do not have the words to express themselves, which just leads to frustration and confusion. This frustration then often leads to irritability, anxiety and what has been mislabeled as “anger problems”. In this article, I’m going to break down emotions and everything about them, in hopes of simplifying Counseling for Men.
What Exactly are Feelings?
Men have been taught that only women should have feelings. Having feelings as a man is considered a sign of weakness. But everyone has feelings. When your nervous system is stimulated, your body and brain communicate with one another to assess information. Different chemicals in the brain are released into your body, preparing it to deal with potential threats as well as potential opportunities. This is just one example of the many feelings you experience on any given day.
Fight or Flight
When confronted with someone trying to harm you, your body signals to the brain that you may need to flee the situation or fight to defend yourself. Chemicals are released into your body to prepare you, your muscles tensing, your nervous system becoming more aware of escape possibilities, your heart rate increasing to prepare for physical exertion, and adrenaline coursing into your blood. This chemical process is associated with the feeling that we call Fear.
Different Types of Feelings
Much like the feelings of Fear, each feeling is the result of a physiological process between the body and brain, often happening at an unconscious level (our brains have evolved to assess threat and respond before our thinking brain is even aware of what is happening). Feelings are real, and the result of an automatic process in the body. And everyone has them. There is no way around that.
The Benefits of Feeling
Feelings are truly our sixth sense. When your thinking brain is preoccupied with tasks, your body and “lizard brain” are constantly scanning our environments for threats and opportunities. Through this process, different chemicals and hormones are released into the body, preparing for how we might respond. Your thinking brain then analyzes these changes in the body to determine how we should react. Unfortunately, your thinking brain does not always understand the information it is receiving.
Misinterpretation of Feelings
While your thinking brain is an amazing thing, it is also quite flawed. It often misperceives the information it receives from your body. When your body experiences tension in any way (increased heart rate, tensing of muscles, heightened senses, etc), it perceives that there may be a threat lurking. Imagine a situation where you are driving to work, you experience this physiological response, and at that same time someone inadvertently cuts you off while driving.
The thinking brain analyzes the information it has and determines that this person is a threat to your wellbeing. You may become angry at this person, may even yell at them or give them the one-fingered salute, and you may create the thought that this person did this intentionally and was trying to upset you.
However, it is possible that while driving to work this morning, you are anticipating a meeting with your boss, unsure if you have done something wrong. Your physiological response (increased heart rate, tensing of muscles, heightened senses, etc) is actually preparing you for this conversation, and the driver who pulled in front of you actually just made a simple mistake and did not see you (maybe they also were thinking about the meeting they were about to have with their boss).
As a result, you may feel anger towards this person. In attributing this feeling to this situation, you have completely missed the fact that you are actually really anxious about this conversation with your boss.
As you can see from the above example, your thinking brain can take the feelings you
experience in your body and information from the outside world, and completely misunderstand what is going on, preparing you for an unnecessary fight while dismissing your need to attend to something important.
This actually happens with a lot of feelings. And because men are not taught how to analyze this process very well, you become frustrated and irritable. When anyone is frustrated and irritable, they are prone to snapping at others, or in their most intense moments, yelling or becoming aggressive with others. Men who have not learned how to assess and communicate their feelings often fall into this trap, and as a result are labeled as having “anger problems”.
The idea that men have anger problems is just a simplified explanation of a greater issue. Most men do not have anger problems. The “problem” is that you are experiencing feelings that you do not understand or cannot verbalize, which leads to frustration, which then can lead to irritability or anxiety. Feelings that are common in men that lead to this response include:
Fear Insecurity Loneliness
Helplessness Hopelessness Heartbreak
Inferiority Sadness Shame
How Talking Can Help
Talking can help, but like anything else, it requires practice and time to master. Language allows you to communicate what you experience in your body. And there are words that our culture has accepted to communicate shared experiences. While everyone’s experience of sadness is not exactly the same, all of us have some basic understanding of what someone is going through when they tell us they are sad. And we tend to respond with sympathy and support. Talking also helps organize thoughts, helps you rationally assess whether there is a threat at hand, and then signals to the body that it can relax, that there is no threat present. Your heart rate then decreases, your senses relax and your muscle tension subsides, which makes you feel better.
The Role of Therapy in this Process
So how can therapy help men better understand and communicate their feelings? Talking alone discharges tension, as noted above. This is one immediately positive result of beginning therapy. But therapy also helps develop a greater awareness of the feelings that men just like you experience, and helps pair these experiences with the appropriate labels of feelings.
Then you can better communicate with others what you are feeling, as well as what you need. We all have needs and men are no exception. Getting your needs met by others helps you feel more connected and better at building relationships, which often leads to a more satisfied life.
Counseling for Men
Yes, therapy is hard. Check out our recent blog "Why is Therapy Hard?" to get some tips on how to get through starting therapy. There are so many ways that you as a man can benefit from therapy, and just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. As a therapist that works primarily with men, I will work with you at your pace and focus on areas of work that are most important to you. I will help you access thoughts and feelings that you may have struggled, with a targeted focus on how this will help you feel better and find success within your life.
The Therapist as a Consultant
As a therapist, it is not my job to fix you. That would assume there is something wrong with you to be fixed. Rather, I will work with you in a way that respects that you are the expert in your own experience.
However, I will ask questions and inquire into how you perceive the world and how your past experiences impact your view of the world. In doing so, I will focus you in on things that you may not have noticed about yourself, and I will help you develop a language that best represents what you are experiencing.
This will help you better organize in your mind what you are experiencing, will allow you to better communicate this with the important people in your life to get your needs met, and will assist you in making important decisions for your wellbeing and future.
Talking to other men can also have a beneficial impact. By talking with others who are experiencing similar struggles, you learn that you are not alone in these experiences, you get support from those who have gone through similar situations, and you learn new ways of responding to your problems.
As I mentioned before, you also discharge energy that builds up when you suppress your thoughts and feelings. While it may seem intimidating to talk to total strangers at first, men often find it relieving to have a group of people that understand how they are feeling. Here are several reasons why Support Groups are Good for Men.
Check out our online Men’s Support Group where you can connect with other men just like you, learn skills and improve your relationships.
How We Can Help
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Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:
Here at Catalyss Counseling, we want to meet all of your counseling needs in the Denver area. Our supportive therapists provide depression counseling, therapy for caregiver stress, grief and loss therapy, stress management counseling and more. We also have specialists in trauma and PTSD, women's issues, pregnancy and postpartum depression or anxiety, pregnancy loss and miscarriage, and birth trauma. For therapists, we can also provide clinical supervision! We look forward to connecting with you to help support your journey today.
Chris Campassi, LPC, LCMHC, ACS is a therapist at Catalyss Counseling who works with adults who are going through job, family, life or personal relationship transitions to manage their stress, anxiety and loneliness. He helps them transform their lives to find meaning again and joy in the everyday things that they do. He would love to work with you! Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.