The recent idea of "men's therapy" is based on the idea that men face different challenges, and respond to their environment in different ways from women. This idea certainly has some validity: men suffer different levels of anxiety and depression from women, for example. Men also experience different expectations in their lives.
Did you know? Suicide is over three times more likely in men than women in Ontario.
Rumours that men generally speak less than women are unfounded. According to the research, there is no appreciable difference. However, more important than quantity of communication is quality, and it is here that men traditionally struggle. Men often lack a healthy relationship with their emotions, including a lack of language to accurately describe or express them, and the means to understand the meaning of the feelings they have.
Some common issues affecting men:
In therapy, I find that most men want someone "normal" that they can speak to. Someone who won't judge, who can help them make sense of things. Someone who can speak their language, and help them get to solid ground.
The issues affecting men are actually not distinct from those affecting women, but the expression of those issues may be. Many men carry a cultural belief that they have to work everything out on their own; it often takes an act of courage to simply admit that reaching out can help.
This week, I came across an "ism" that surprised me. The word I found was "sanism" - the prejudice and discrimination against those who suffer from mental illness. Why hadn't I heard this word before, I thought? After all, I'm a psychotherapist, and the ill-treatment of those who are suffering in the sphere of mental health is hardly foreign territory.
The discovery of this word prompted me to wonder whether a kind of fatigue has set into society. Marginalized groups across the spectrum of human experience are competing hard to have their voices heard. Culture wars are setting social media on fire on a daily basis, and the news is filled with horrors. Perhaps, I thought, there's only so much space on our moral radars for isms, and "sanism" just hadn't quite made the cut, yet.
Disparate marginalized groups, though often sympathizing with the struggles they see elsewhere, spend most of their energy fighting their own particular corner. This siloed approach has made some notable gains over time, but is this fractured approach the most effective, or even the most realistic one?
Beneath the surface, the majority of these groups are attempting to overcome the same subterranean foe: othering.
Q: What is othering?
A: To view or treat another person or group in a reductive manner, and as intrinsically different from, and inferior to, the self (or group-self).
Othering makes use of projection to denigrate outsiders and scapegoats, thereby contributing to group cohesion and conformity. Othering is also closely associated with narcissism: a narcissistic group or individual will unconsciously regard others as things or uses that either contribute to narcissistic supply, or threaten the narcissist's hidden fragility.
As the word suggests, another defining characteristic of othering is an exaggeration and concentration upon difference, rather than what is held in common (our sameness). The psychological mechanism of othering includes a drastic departure from the reality that we are all, in truth, very similar. There is undoubtedly a very human irony present in the world when so many of the othered cannot themselves acknowledge the qualities they have in common. The result is a fractured resistance to a universal, deeply-rooted and ancient human trait.
We are tribal creatures. For thousands of years, human beings have depended upon living in groups in order to survive. When we exist successfully with other people, we gain a deep sense of belonging that is fundamental to human wellbeing. When we gain true acceptance, we don't have to compulsively seek attention. We can just be.
This kind of belonging is becoming rather scarce. Whether real or virtual, modern groups increasingly tend to reward a part or aspect of us that is useful, rather than our true selves. We anxiously don masks (personas) in order to fit into groups that demand such high levels of conformity that we sense our true selves are actually unwelcome.
Instead of belonging, in our modern world, we are witnessing an epidemic of loneliness, anxiety, depression and attention-seeking. When we seek help however, people are frequently asked to believe that there is a fault with them for the existence of these feelings, and are told to "take a pill" to mask, "correct" or numb themselves before being sent back into an unchanged environment.
There are glaring problems with this model. It determines that we are at fault for feeling ill at ease with the world we live in, and that only by correcting our biology can we hope to feel better. Moreover, the suggestion is that the environments we find ourselves in are benign. This is dangerous, profitable, and ill-considered thinking that ignores the role of environment in our wellbeing. When we're asked to believe that our anxiety, loneliness and depression have no meaning, other than an indication of our own faulty biology, we're in deep societal trouble!
There are a great many people these days, desperate for a sense of belonging, feverishly hunting, in one way or another, what can only truly be given. Precious time is given over to the chase for hits of admiration, where belonging is so elusive.
In this needy constuct, other people can quickly become things that either admire or disappoint us. In other words, they can become reduced to objects in a desperate game to remain afloat.
Psychotherapist, working in private practice in the Annex, Toronto.