by Ken Leeds, LMSW
The current period is a fairly confusing time for men. On one hand, men as well as women have benefitted tremendously from the ideas and impact of feminism and the other liberation movements that have emerged over the last several decades. During this period, many traditionally-accepted ideas about men, maleness and masculinity have been deeply examined, criticized and rejected. As a result of this process, it has become much clearer to men and women what men should not be. However, on the other hand, it is not at all clear what men can be or should become given the loss of these traditional ways of being - or how they can get there. As one sympathetic female observer, Hooks (2000) asks, “How can you become what you cannot yet imagine? And that vision has yet to be made fully clear by feminist thinkers, male or female.” For instance, how can men re-define and re-create themselves so that they can relinquish controlling, power-oriented attitudes and behaviors while still being able to experience themselves as active, influential forces in their personal and professional lives? How can men achieve greater access to the full range of their own emotions and not feel that they have become overly vulnerable (or perceived as weak) by those they care about? With respect to such issues as child-rearing, management of family finances, and general communication, how can men adopt a more collaborative attitude with their partners, friends and family and not feel that they are sacrificing too much of their own autonomy? Their overall predicament leaves many men with a great lingering sense of confusion about how to be and a vague sense of inner emptiness.
Compounding this general situation of men is the difficulty that they tend to have in recognizing and articulating their own inner states and especially their vulnerabilities. These limitations and the conditioning that gives rise to them have been rightly and widely elucidated by many, including Levant (2003). Many men struggle and suffer as a result of this state as they tend to experience themselves as even more isolated than they otherwise would feel. Because of this difficulty in recognizing and expressing how they feel and knowing what they actually need and want, many men have difficulty in establishing and maintaining true intimacy with others, often feel misunderstood in the relationships that they do have, and experience a pervasive sense of alienation.
As a therapist, I see many men in individual therapy and couples therapy who have at least some of these difficulties. They generally arrive having a sense that something is ‘wrong’ or is lacking in their lives. They do not know how to experience themselves in a more authentic way and do not know how to effectively express their needs, desires, and feelings to those they care about. I consider these men very fortunate to have found their way into therapy. These issues are very workable with a therapist – either in individual therapy or couples work. And I have found and witnessed that a great deal can be done to profoundly improve men’s connection to themselves and their sense of relatedness to others, thus enabling them to have a greatly expanded sense of joy and vitality and a much deeper sense of satisfaction in their lives.
Hooks, B. (2000). Feminism is for Everybody. , MA: South End Press.
Levant et al (2003). A Multicultural Investigation of Masculine Ideology and
Alexithymia, Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 4, 91-99.