Before 2017, men consulting my practice were primarily referred out of self-described obligation to their female counterparts. However, an interesting shift has taken place this year — my practice decreased from 95% women to 85% and saw a 15% increase in men.
The main thing I have noticed with this switch-up is that my male and female clients share differently. Men tend to report their “chief concern” to me in terms of physical health — they don’t tend to verbally communicate in a holistic sense like women do. These new male clients weren’t describing anything different than what I commonly heard, i.e., sexual health concerns, fatigue, weight, metabolism and cardiovascular issues.
What came next was different though. In my initial consultation with clients I always say, “Today is really about me getting to know who you are out in the world so I can best help guide you and learn how you feel, think and assign value to your experiences and environment.”
This new group of men didn’t hold back their feelings; they knew that they were somehow affecting their physical and mental wellness but weren’t quite sure what they could do about it.
“I basically don’t know whether I’m coming or going, I feel like I can never say the right thing and feel like crap about it.”
“I feel so tired lately. I’m exhausted not knowing the right thing to say anymore given the political climate with male/female relationships.”
“My blood pressure is up because I work in an office in management — it has me worried about whether or not I’m going to say the wrong thing to my female employees.”
What they all had in common was fear about how to communicate with females. It was fantastic to hear these men self-acknowledging the direct relationship between emotional-mental wellness and physical health, but what I went on to learn is that many men, amid the triumph of women finding and expressing their voices publicly, still weren’t quite sure how to do it themselves without fear of saying the “wrong” thing.
Out of self-preservation they thought it was better to keep up the facade of the strong traditional male, unaffected by emotions and feelings — best to keep their “feeling side” tucked away or reserved only for their therapists.
Not only were men expressing that their physical ailments were connected to their emotions, but, more distinctly, they were confused about “saying the right thing” related to the women in their lives and out in the world.
“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.” — Carl Jung
Enter the classic Jungian distinction of shadow self. Jung basically asserted that a person will compartmentalize a shadow self so that they do not have to confront it. If these feelings continue to build inside due to neglect and nothing is done to rectify or transform them, they can eventually burst through a person’s psyche with far-reaching, multi-systemic results.
Let’s face it, many of us, right now, want to tell men to shut up and get over themselves. We’ve spent countless hours putting in self-care work, growing up our inner child, leading our shadow selves toward the light. But… it’s not just that men need to get over themselves, it’s that they need to acknowledge the part of themselves that was never given the tools to continue growing — and use that part of themselves as a tool to grow.
Here are some tips that can help:
GRANT PERMISSION TO FEEL
Risk consciously feeling. Give yourself permission to experience your feelings rather than avoiding, blocking or stuffing them back inside. Acknowledge these feelings and allow yourself to learn from them. Get them out of your head and onto paper, and talk with a mentor, guide or therapist. You may discover thoughts that no longer serve you or ones that are attached to old, outworn patterns — give yourself permission to let these go. Thank them for helping you to see the patterns, and express gratitude that you have the choice to let them go.
HOW ARE YOU ASSIGNING VALUE?
You are projecting your life and you are the one assigning value to the pre-existing internal information and external information coming in. How you think, feel and respond to cultural phenomena is your decision.
DITCH THE EMBARRASSMENT AND KEEP IT REAL
“Men don’t talk to each other about their feelings.” For a long time linguistics research supported this sentiment, but it was because men weren’t being given the tools to properly express themselves. So you’re talking to a therapist, but you still feel embarrassed talking with your male friends about your feelings? Guess what, everyone feels! It’s not all babes, beers and football, and, it turns out, many men actually want other male friends that they can express their feelings with. If your friends aren’t willing to get real with you, find ones that can.
Are you a man who has become part of this conversation — one that trades neglect for transparency? Help your male friends feel safe about sharing their feelings by sharing your own journey of introducing your shadow self to the light.
Men, we see you, and we love you. We think you are strong and love your masculinity. We especially love when you do the true you, and we want to hear what you have to say. And women, we don’t want to quiet our men. If this is our intention, we’re missing the point… which is to come together, emotional feely bits and all.
It’s time for us all to express our shadow selves.