As a man, what do you think defines success?
What does it take to be successful in life?
A lot of men have similar answers: hard work, a good job, working your way up the corporate ladder, fame, and/or recognition. What is often left out of the answer to this question are things like the love of family, deep connections, self-respect, and/or a healthy sense of being.
There is an outdated belief that a man’s success depends on his money, power, and/or professional achievements. While there’s nothing wrong with these aspects of life, there is an emptiness to them. They don’t necessarily guarantee that we will be emotionally fulfilled or happy.
This emptiness is a reflection of what many men feel inside, an emptiness that stems from deep-seated feelings of sadness and shame, anger and rage, embarrassment and loneliness directed inward. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with wanting success professionally, fame, wealth and recognition. The problem lies when we attempt to use these things as a substitute for self-worth or to validate ourselves; when professional success overshadows or overcompensates for your own emotional well-being.
To use an old cliche, we wear our professional success as a mask to cover the pain we feel inside. We use power, fame and professional success as a way to prove our worth.
So, why do we do this?
Back To Where It All Begins
As adult men, we carry a lot of negative beliefs, feelings, and dysfunction from our childhoods. These ways of thinking can stem from a wide range of childhood experiences. These can be dysfunctional experiences such as a verbally or physically abusive parent, or being the child of a drug addict or alcoholic. In addition, these feelings can also come from a wide range of other experiences such as an overly-critical parent, a depressed mother, a workaholic father, divorce, and bullying. As children, we had to learn coping skills or defenses to survive this challenging time in our lives.
While a dysfunctional childhood may teach us to overcome adversity and become go-getters, it also hinders us in a variety of long-lasting and damaging ways. Left unresolved, these negative experiences cause us to internalize the belief that we are bad, not good enough, weak, less than a man or broken; in other words, they lead to shame.
Shame=I am bad
Guilt= What I did was wrong, it’s not in line with who I am because I am good.
We are driven to succeed because we’re trying to fill a void
As we become adult men, we carry the shame we were made to feel growing up, the feeling of worthlessness, that we are bad or broken, with us. Without proper therapy to address and resolve these wounds head-on, we search for ways to remedy them, to fill the void.
Many times, we decide the best way to prove to ourselves and those who hurt us growing up that we are worthy, to cover that shame, is to make ourselves feel better through external things like money, power, women, sex, expensive new cars, and lavish homes. The more material things we have, the better we should feel, right? The more successful we look on the outside, the better we should feel on the inside.
Unfortunately, this is wrong. Shame is a bottomless pit that will never be filled by external material things. Once the high you get from the new car you just bought wears off, we start to feel miserable about yourself again. This might lead you to buy a boat or plane. We drive ourselves to top that last high we had, just like a drug addict. However, in this case, it’s the high of success that’s the addiction.
Because our culture values these things, it can be difficult to get away from this mindset. The only cure is to gain a healthy sense of self-worth, to truly believe and feel we are worthy and good enough, but at the same time not better than everyone else.
Self Respect, Hard Work
Redefine what success means to you
There are plenty of highly successful professionals who are healthy people. Their success, however, isn’t defined by their power, fame, or money. It’s defined by doing what they love, the self-worth and personal confidence they feel, and the healthy relationships and deep connections they maintain.
To resolve the insecurities we have from the trauma we experienced as children, the best approach is through psychotherapy. With EMDR therapy, we can learn to love our whole selves, the good and the work-in-progress parts. At the same time, we do not lose our drive for success.
The motivation for that success, however, is different. Instead of trying to fill an emotional void, we are motivated to succeed because of intellectual curiosity, self-respect, hard work ethic, and value high-quality work.
Besides, now that we love ourselves, why would we do anything else but our best?
Once we respect ourselves, we are more capable of accepting the times we don’t succeed in a healthy way. In turn, we learn from our mistakes while still believing we are good people.
It’s time we as men redefine what success means to us. To be truly successful, we must be happy and emotionally fulfilled. We must strike a balance between professional and emotional success.
Make an appointment below and start redefining the way you view success,
As we approach 2020, I’d like you to think about your role as a man when it comes to your home life.
How much of the daily household activities do you take part in without your wife asking you to do them? This includes chores like washing the dishes, cooking, doing laundry, and going to the grocery store.
When it comes to parenting, how much time do you spend with your kids doing homework, taking or picking them up from school, sports practice, or social activities?
Take about 30 seconds to really think about this. Make a written list if you have to.
Now, compare it with what your wife does to support your family.
Whose list was bigger, hers or yours?
What do you feel like your role should be when it comes to household duties, compared with your wife or partner?
Do you feel like you could be doing more?
Though there has been a movement away from traditional household gender roles, many men still feel like they should be the breadwinners while the women in the home should do the majority of the household chores such as cooking, cleaning, laundry and taking care of the kids.
Why you should be doing more
According to the Pew Research Center, 56% of U.S. adults with and without children, think that sharing household chores is very important to a successful marriage. Not only does this attribute to a healthier sex life in marriages, but according to another report, couples who equally split household chores are overall happier and more satisfied with their marriage.
It all comes down to fairness. When men share equally in household chores, women tend to see this as a fair balance in the relationship. When men do more than their fair share and go above and beyond what’s expected of them, women tend to be even more satisfied with their relationship.
Male resistance has halted the progress of household gender equality
In the 1980s and ‘90s, progress was being made when it came to men putting forth more effort in household duties. However, that progress began to taper off.
A New York Times opinion piece by clinical psychologist and author Darcy Lockman talks about the idea of male resistance when it comes to husbands and fathers pitching in more around the house, and that this resistance wasn’t just acted out by a certain group of men, but by most men, regardless of their social leanings.
She partially attributes this lack of parity to the way men and women generally experience unfairness. Men, she writes, typically feel fear and self-reproach when they know they are getting away with something, whereas women generally feel angry and resentful toward their husbands for taking advantage of them. For the most part, she notes, men are willing to accept feeling this way to avoid more household responsibilities. She goes on to explain that when the situation is reversed, men are a lot less tolerant in accepting this kind of behavior than women.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Obviously, this isn’t the case for all men and there are plenty of men who in fact, do just as much, if not more than their wives, in contributing to their households.
But, we still have a long way to go.
Household gender roles are changing, just not fast enough
For those of us who perhaps don’t do enough around the house to help our wives, what can we do to change our behavior?
- The first step is to admit is to acknowledge the problem.
- Then, we need to have an honest conversation about it with our loved ones.
- Together with your spouse, create a plan with clear expectations.
An Action Plan
- Take action and make it fun. If applicable, include your kids. Play music while cleaning, reward yourself and everyone else who helps with a fun evening out or a movie night.
- Keep open communication with your loved ones regarding everyone’s roles in the household and what’s expected from them.
These are the consequences if we don’t change
The problem with stereotyping household gender roles runs deeper than just household chores. It can lead to strong resentment and unhappiness in relationships, depression in women, trust issues, gender insecurities and lack of self-worth, and in extreme cases, even verbal and physical abuse.
If we choose not to change our traditional ways, we run the risk of passing down these learned behaviors to our children, continually perpetuating these gender stereotypes to the next generation.
It will also affect their self-worth in different ways. For boys, these unhealthy traditional gender stereotypes cause an increased risk in substance abuse, suicide and a shorter life expectancy than women. Girls run a greater risk for teen pregnancy, child marriage, exposure to violence, and sexually-transmitted infections.
If we continue to set the example of an imbalanced relationship with our spouses, we also increase the chances of our children developing their own dysfunctional relationships as they get older.
What can you do now?
Changing learned behaviors can be a difficult task. Sometimes, you might not be able to do it on your own. Seeking help from a professional therapist can help you recognize your behaviors and provide you with the tools to re-establish a healthy, happy relationship with your spouse.
Male loneliness is very common. How many healthy, emotionally-fulfilling friendships do you have with other men? Do you have a true best friend, another male companion who you feel comfortable enough to be at your most emotionally vulnerable?
If your answer is no, you’re not alone.
Even though many middle-aged American men are married, have families, or are in romantic relationships, they are facing a health threat bigger than cancer and smoking.
That threat is loneliness.
Millions of men, particularly in America, feel isolated and emotionally empty. They feel they have no male counterparts to turn to in times of emotional need. Regardless of our marriage or romantic relationship status, it’s vitally important to have other men we can bond with on an emotional level. So, why don’t we?
We cling to traditional male stereotypes.
When we were young, we enjoyed very fulfilling relationships with other boys, but then something happened. As we grew up, society told us that having close, male, heterosexual relationships made us more feminine and that we might be perceived as gay, which scared us.
We were told that men aren’t supposed to express their feelings, that we should show strength through being stoic and solid as a rock. However, being a rock also means being an island, as the old Simon & Garfunkel song goes.
Male loneliness, if not addressed, can lead to depression, and even suicide.
What can we do about male loneliness?
We all want to have people we can rely on, to trust, to be there for us when we really need them to listen. As men, just like women, it’s important that we have close confidantes of the same sex to be able to share our problems with, to confide in one another, to empathize with us. Deep down, we know this is true, even though it can be difficult to say aloud sometimes.
First, it’s okay to admit you’re lonely.
You then need to give yourself permission to have a few close male friends, men who you trust and want to be able to mutually share your emotions with on an intimate level.
Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
Having these kinds of friendships doesn’t just happen. It will take investment from both parties. We need to think of our friendships like other activities that require time and effort, like staying fit or learning a musical instrument. This requires communication like reaching out on birthdays, sending texts to check-in, or offering to chat if a friends need to vent.
Male loneliness won’t go away on its own. In fact, it’s likely to just get worse over time, manifesting itself in other ways that will affect your physical and mental health and your relationship with your spouse and family members.
It’s a leap of faith.
Like anything else, the journey to a happier and more emotionally-fulfilled life can be a difficult one, but remember, it’s not just you. For decades, we’ve been leading our lives holding on to the myth that men shouldn’t express emotion. We fear that by doing so, we might discover some deep, dark truth about ourselves we don’t want to expose. As a species, we need to learn to let go of our fears and insecurities for our own good, but it requires a leap of faith.
To take the first step, you might need the help of a therapist. Seeking help from a professional can help you uncover the fears and insecurities you have deep down that are keeping you from enjoying the fulfillment of having a close group of male friends can give you.
Learn more about me, here.
Addictions can have a devastating impact. They can have a way of destroying the lives of individuals and families. However, people with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) almost never goes down that destructive path on his own. His struggles can have a major effect on his loved ones. Luckily, there are many treatments for addictions. At Denver Men’s Therapy, our philosophy is there is no “one size fits all” treatment for SUD. This blog will discuss Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR therapy for SUD is often combined with support groups, AA or replacement behaviors.
Read more about EMDR Therapy for Men here.
There is a powerful and significant link between Men, Trauma, and addiction. Read more about Men, Trauma, and addiction in our other blog here.
How EMDR Therapy Treats Substance Use Disorder
Substance Use Disorders are often a person’s maladaptive attempt to cope with traumatic experiences. It’s often a trauma that the client might have experienced as a child or an adolescent; chronic childhood neglect or abuse, critical or distant parenting or bullying. Also, it can be a traumatic event in adulthood, such as losing a loved one, being in a war, or surviving a violent crime.
Often times, SUD’s can cause traumas. A person with SUD can lose their families who can no longer stand his substance use. Relapse can be traumatic as well. In other cases, the repeated action of using in response to a stimulus can be so powerful it develops into an addiction. SUD’s often put people in high-risk situations that expose them to trauma. Even when there are no apparent traumatic experiences surrounding the SUD, EMDR therapy can help.
Treating the Underlying Trauma: Getting to the Root of the Problem
Substance Use Disorders are often a maladaptive response to underlying, unresolved trauma. In other words, addictions are a symptom. Drugs and alcohol misuse often start out an attempt to cope; numb feelings, push away painful experiences, feel a different way or dissociate.
EMDR therapy focuses on getting to the root of the issue by resolving and reprocessing the traumas. Effective interventions such as the DeTUR protocol is often used if the substance use gets in the way of exploring and identifying trauma. As the person with SUD reprocesses these experiences, they no longer have an urge or need to use; adaptive responses replace the older maladaptive responses. They are able to use and internalize healthy adaptive ways of being in the world. It’s important to note again that EMDR therapy is one aspect of the larger treatment plan. As in most cases with EMDR therapy, symptom reduction is experienced as the traumas are reprocessed. The same is true for addictions.
If you find yourself struggling with a SUD, EMDR therapy could be perfect for you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been in treatment, or if you’ve tried many times and relapsed. Many men with SUD attempt different forms of therapy for their SUD but they never actually thoroughly addressed the trauma in its foundations. Therefore, SUD returns or changes form. EMDR therapy resolves the core issues related to SUD. There’s no better time than right now to end the SUD. So, go ahead, book an appointment, and begin your new, healthy life!
A Guide for Men
Physical abuse in childhood will always be a serious problem. The reason is twofold. Firs,t is because of the fact that it is underreported, not sufficiently recognized, and it often is undertreated. The second reason is its potential to harm the unprotected child throughout the lifespan. Both boys and girls, and later men and women, can struggle with the consequences of the abuse. Yet, as we will discuss in this post, men have an added obstacle to overcome.
Physical abuse has enormous traumatizing potential. When the culture’s views on what it means to be a man are added to the equation, a perfect storm is created. For men, the trauma of the abuse is often compounded by masculine gender role norms. They feel they must be strong at all times, independent, tough and never ask for help or look weak. If this problem is not addressed professionally as soon as possible, it has the potential of becoming a lifelong struggle for the survivor.
Understanding Physical Abuse in Childhood
Physical abuse is legally defined differently in different states. However, the legal definition isn’t crucial when it comes to the consequences of physical abuse. Broadly, any act by a parent, caregiver or adult that results in physical harm to the child can be considered abuse. Red marks, bruises, cuts, broken bones or muscle sprains are often physical injuries. Even when these injuries weren’t the parent’s or the caregiver’s intention, they still constitute as abuse. In fact, any time an adult uses physical intimidation that creates fear in the child or threatens this can result in trauma in the child.
The popular perception about childhood physical abuse is that it only happens to girls. However, boys also experience physical abuse. Depending on the sample, studies have found that physical abuse in families happens to 28-51% of boys. This is an extremely high number, especially if the prospect of lifelong suffering caused by it is considered. In most cases, parents are the perpetrators of physical abuse, and in the case of men, it seems that the mother transgresses more often. Also, boys who suffer physical abuse usually come from families where there’s domestic violence between adults. As we will discuss, such an environment potentially affects more than the boy in question. It can affect generations to come.
Yeah, You Grew up and Survived.
Are You Healed?
The reality is that abuse happens very often. The best-case scenario for boys who are exposed to physical violence is for them to get professional help right away, as well as their families. In cases of severe abuse with no prospect for healing the family as a whole, even removing the child from the household is considered better and safer for him. In any case, timely action in the form of psychotherapy can help the boy overcome the trauma and lead a perfectly normal life. However, this often sometimes doesn’t happen. There are many reasons, and some we’ll touch upon in the next section. As a result of this failure to get help right away, those boys often grow up to be men with a huge emotional load to carry and inadequate mechanisms to cope with it.
Scary, Confusing and Hurtful
Physical abuse is a traumatizing experience for a child. It’s a breach of trust. It makes the most essential feeling of safety crumble to pieces. Physical abuse done by the primary caregiver is especially complex. The child relies on the caregiver for safety and protection, but the caregiver is creating a violent and unpredictable environment. Because the child will still need to rely on the abusive caregiver the child for fulfilling his basic needs the child may learn to shut down or align with the abuser.
Abuse is scary, confusing and hurtful and not to mention that it can be very dangerous. In some cases, the boy develops a full-blown case of a PTSD or a post-traumatic stress disorder. Although it can be very difficult and painful, this could be a blessing in disguise, as such, cases are more easily spotted and actions to mend the damage are taken. However, there are also other instances where the child doesn’t manifest such obvious signs of abuse. These cases often have a worse prognosis.
Trauma and Addiction
Many studies have shown that if a person survives a trauma, they are at a higher risk and will be more likely to develop an addiction. Addictions don’t discriminate, and they can and do affect people of all backgrounds. However, among addicts, there are more of those who were exposed to trauma, including abuse during childhood or adolescence. Whether it is drugs or alcohol, or behavioral addictions, such as gambling or sexual addiction, physical abuse can contribute to a man becoming more prone to them. It’s not easy to pinpoint the exact mechanism of how it functions.
In essence, addictions of any sort function as self-medication. A means to dulling the emotions one finds difficult to handle. A means of avoiding internal conflicts that are often overwhelming. What a survivor of childhood physical abuse might be avoiding is his ambivalence towards the parent who committed the abuse, his feelings of being undeserving of love or, the anger.
Abuse and Anger
Many victims of physical abuse during childhood can grow up to be angry adults. Unfortunately, being exposed to aggression during formative years, especially by those who were supposed to give us love and gentle care, builds up anger. It remains to be something we don’t really know how to handle. It’s a hard thing for the victim to go through and it’s understandable that the child gradually becomes more and more furious about it. In many cases, that fury expands and everyone can provoke it, not just the abuser. Many men become aggressive, often get into fights, and are verbally and physically abusive towards the ones they love. As we will discuss, the only healthy way of dealing with this is with the professional help of a psychotherapist.
Furthermore, when the parent is abusive, it’s a sign that they themselves can’t handle frustration and negative emotions. If they can’t control their anger and aggression enough not to harm their boy, they didn’t learn how to handle anger appropriately. We all feel overwhelmed and sometimes resentful when we’re parents. It’s hard to handle a toddler screaming of the top of their lungs without losing one’s cool. Yet, most parents don’t go on and indulge their irritation by this. Those who are physically abusive don’t know how to cope with annoyance and fury. As such, they couldn’t possibly teach the child to do so.
Abuse and Family
There is also one other consequence of childhood physical abuse we already mentioned. Growing up in an abusive environment, especially when combined with abuse against the boy, engrains one toxic thing into the young mind – considering violence to be a legitimate way of dealing with conflicts. In other words, many men (but not all) who were raised under such conditions grow up to be abusive towards their family. Sometimes, they don’t abuse their children, but they are aggressive towards their wives.
At times, they also start to behave like their parents, and the vicious family tradition is passed onto the next generation. Some psychotherapists believe that what happens here is identification with the aggressor. In order to shield himself from devastating realization that his father might not love him in the right way, or simply to minimize the danger, the child adopts his behavior. This has a psychologically protective function at that moment. Nonetheless, it’s a maladaptive defense mechanism. The only adaptive way, as we’ll talk in the last section of this post, is to adopt healthy ways of coping with emotions and building direct and respectful relationships.
Why It Is so Difficult for Men to Overcome Consequences of Abuse
Physically harming a child is never alright, in any shape or form. Physically disciplining a child is never truly necessary and can never be justified. Many still consider spanking a child, especially a boy, innocent and acceptable. Yet, it is a scary and traumatizing experience for a boy. It also sends the message to the boy that hitting and spanking are okay. Recovering from the trauma of physical abuse for men is made especially difficult because of our culture. Male gender role presents a twofold threat in this case. The first is in minimizing the abuse itself. The second comes to play when the time comes for the survivor to get help. Let’s discuss both.
Minimizing Abuse and Getting Help
Our culture still has certain expectations of men. They shouldn’t be weak or show too many emotions. Boys are often raised to be “manly men,” to be able to bear with the harshness of life. For that reason, there still is greater tolerance towards a bit of “tough love” for boys. Of course, no one would condone physical abuse, and there’s a reason why using physical force to discipline a child is often illegal. However, many people would still turn the blind eye to smack or two when boys are misbehaving. This persevering cultural tolerance shouldn’t by any means justify using physical force against a child in any form. Yet, when the boy grows up, he himself might be inclined towards minimizing what was going on, too, for the same reason.
This leads us towards the second way in which culture makes it harder for male survivors of physical abuse to get appropriate help. First, the survivor might be leaning towards not considering what was going on to him abusive in the first place. If he does know that he was the victim of abuse, he still might not accept getting help. We discuss this often in our posts. Men are not great at seeking help in general. There’s a joke saying that Moses wandered the deserts for 40 years because he didn’t want to ask for directions. Men expect themselves to be able to handle everything on their own. When it comes to seeking psychological help, things get even worse. Admitting that he needs help in dealing with his emotions is double jeopardy. They need to admit having emotions they can’t cope with, and to admit that they don’t have control over everything. This can be very hard for many men.
Why Talking to a Psychotherapist Is a Good Idea
Psychotherapy is a very effective way of resolving issues related to childhood abuse. As you probably know by now, the consequences of the abuse won’t go away on their own. Whether they are mild, or they destroyed every aspect of your life, they put additional strain on you. You might have problems controlling your anger, which can seriously affect your professional and social life. Your family might be suffering from your outbursts. You could be suffering from emotional problems, anxiety, and depression or, you could have developed addictions. All of this might and probably does have its roots in the abuse you went through during your childhood. You could lead a much healthier and fulfilling life.
Seeking help from a professional is the sign of strength, not weakness. It shows that you’re ready and able to deal with feelings and conflicts buried a long time ago. In psychotherapy, you’ll get a chance to revisit the traumatic experience from a safe place and at the right pace. By doing so, you will overcome it. You will be able to parent yourself, in a way, and give your inner child the kind of love and care that you deserved but didn’t receive. You’ll learn healthy ways of coping with different feelings and you will have the opportunity to discuss and tackle any issue that is preventing you from leading a fully productive and happy life.