FAQs: Unsure About Therapy?
Isn't therapy feminizing to men?
One of the concerns I hear from some men is that if they do therapy they will be asked to become more like women and will lose their masculinity. While part of therapy involves learning to re-own feelings that you may have disowned and have spent your life trying to outrun, and part asks you to be more aware of, and considerate of other people's feelings (e.g., your partner's), and both of these are associated with the feminine, the main aspect of therapy for most men is helping them to grow up. On balance, this tends to make men more masculine, not less. Which is more masculine? A little boy? Or, an adult man? Let’s look at some of the characteristics of boys and contrast those to the characteristics of mature men.
Characteristics of a Man
Characteristics of a Boy
|Can stand on his own.||Needs a mommy (wife?) for support.|
|Ego fully developed. Does what is right without obsessing about how others see him.||Ego not fully developed. Is overly concerned with how others see him.|
|Can make and keep commitments.||Needs parents or parental figures to help him keep commitments.|
|In relationships is a whole person.||Is needy in relationships because he feels like half a person, who needs the other person to complete himself.|
|Is emotionally stable and can negotiate when he doesn’t get his way.||Throws angry temper tantrums or pouts when he doesn’t get his way.|
|Is not threatened by others’ view of his masculinity.||Is scared to death the other boys will think he’s a sissy.|
|Can show tender feelings.||Must put up stone castle walls around himself to avoid appearance of weakness. Stone walls help contain grief and feelings but also don’t let good feelings in or out either.|
|Has flexible large boundaries which are very strong.||Has small hard boundaries which are very brittle.|
|Cares about the rest of the world.||Wants the rest of the world to care about him.|
|Capable of feeling nuanced shades of grey in emotions.||Capable of feeling only in black and white, fully on or fully off, feelings.|
|Protects and defends those he loves.||Will throw others under the bus to get what he wants.|
|Motto: I will patiently work towards what I want until I have earned it.||Motto: I want what I want, when I want it…NOW!!!|
To be fully human and fully alive we have to embrace both the masculine and the feminine characteristics in ourselves. To cut off either of these makes us less whole, less mature, and more needy for a mate who will fill in our voids. That demand causes us to unconsciously resent our partner because they have something we don't and that we need. It also makes our partners resent us. It makes us vulnerable that they might take it away from us and leave us in deep need. We therefore have to be very controlling in our relationship to make sure they don't leave us high and dry. So, owning and embracing a small amount of feminine, while growing the masculine even more, does not feminize us men, it makes us more whole, less vulnerable, and more mature.
Haven’t we just become a nation of victims? My sister did therapy and now she just blames my parents for everything. She takes responsibility for nothing. Aren’t you therapists to blame for this?
Many people were legitimately victimized and they need to get out of denial and see what this has done to their lives. They need to grieve the loss that they suffered, and receive a measure of sympathy from their therapist. But, this is only the beginning stage of healing. They then need to look at any responsibility they may be playing in the unfolding of their personal drama. They also need to look at what traits within themselves, if any, continue attracting victimization. This is not to say that, for instance, a child who was molested is in any way responsible for that act. But, many people who were victimized in childhood will find that a similar drama continues to repeat itself in adult life. They may be doing behaviors and thinking thoughts that attract additional victimization. This is in an unconscious effort to master the helplessness of the original trauma. Here there is a need to discharge the energy that is blocked in the original trauma, and those that have come after, then to find a new sense of empowerment within. From this new empowered self, one finds strength and protection and eventually forgiveness, which is the ultimate secret in getting rid of long term effects of victimization.
This all is a delicate process of negotiating the twists and turns of very dangerous whitewater rapids, which should only be undertaken with an experienced therapist. But, it should be undertaken. Many people want to hold resentments the rest of their life. This is like drinking the poison and expecting the other person to die. Some people want to jump to forgiveness, but they constantly find themselves being re-abused. The level of forgiveness these people find is usually surface deep, and down underneath, the rage over the unfairness still bubbles, and occasionally leaks out inappropriately, usually as controlling behavior, in today’s relationships. Some people start the process of doing the recovery work but leave it in the middle. This is quite dangerous, and the therapist should do everything possible to pull them back in and help them to see the process through.
The end result of a good therapy process is that the memories of the original hurt will not be eradicated altogether, but they won’t hold the energy that causes them to take over our lives. The end result will be compassion and forgiveness, not blame. The bonus in all this is that in the end we are able to have compassion for, and forgiveness for, ourselves when we come up short of our own ideals.
How can just talking about my problems make a difference?
Remember the old child’s saying, sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me? What a pack of lies! Words may be the most powerful force in the Universe. “And, God said let there be light, and there was light.” God creates with words. Man, being made in God’s image, also creates with words. In 1215, the Magna Carta declared that people had some rights beyond the king’s reach and that due process of law should be afforded. In 1776, Thomas Jefferson so eloquently wrote that all men are created equal. In 1787 James Madison wrote our Constitution which was amended to enumerate those rights. All great changes in human consciousness start with an idea, and that idea is communicated between people with words. Words have the power to oppress and words have the power to heal.
In therapy we listen carefully to the words our clients use to describe their lives and their situations. Sometimes directly and sometimes hidden in those words are the clues that allow us to trace back the ideas and ideals that a person holds about themselves and the world. Through bringing those ideas to awareness we are able to challenge those that are working at cross purposes to a person’s well being and plant new seeds which can grow to replace those ideas that are no longer working for them.
I was taught by a very wise supervisor to look beyond a person’s words alone. For, words can mislead. They can also deceive. Look at their actions, for their actions reveal how they really feel. This apparent dichotomy is resolved when we get our clients to use the words that express their true beliefs, ideals, and longings for the purpose of connecting with others and sharing a more perfect world, rather than to manipulate and personally enrich themselves at the expense of others. Just as I look for corroborating evidence from people’s behaviors, I ask clients not to believe anything I say without first trying it on and finding a way within themselves to establish that what I am saying is true. The last thing I want is a bunch of groupies running around quoting me with no real understanding of what I am trying to tell them. I want my words to help clients discover truths within themselves which are grounded in their reality and can be spoken forth into the world as their own truths.
I like to spend some amount of time with clients looking at the traits, attitudes, and admonitions with which they were raised. These personal characteristics went in as easily as the language you speak. Effortlessly you absorbed ideas from the environment around you through words. Most of what you took in serves you extremely well. But, a few of those obsolete ideas are still making trouble for you.
Yes, words are extremely powerful, and we use them as a healing force in the world of therapy.
Don’t therapists just repeat back to me everything I say, and then say, “tell me more?”
If that’s your image of therapy, you are in for a delightful surprise. Therapists do start their training by learning active listening. As part of active listening one does repeat back the essence of what one is hearing to check out if they understand what you are saying. But, therapy goes far deeper than this. Have you ever experienced what it is like to be really ‘gotten’ by someone else? When someone completely understands us it is so validating and so connecting. Because an experienced therapist has not only theoretical understanding but also years of practice at understanding how humans develop, and how they get into conflicts, and how fears and anxieties develop, they can see where you are in your life and elicit from you where you want to go. Then they help you find a roadmap to get there. Along the way you can expect to pick up a great deal of wisdom and learn to have more compassion for yourself and for others. Because they are engaged with you in a ‘therapeutic relationship’ rather than a personal one, they don’t expect the conditional payback of admiration or ego stroking that a lover or parent may come to expect.