Assured Psychology | Calgary, Alberta

A perspective on men in our current culture.

A perspective on men in our current culture.

Blog entry by Virginia Sherban, MSW

I am a female therapist with a social work background who has been practicing in Canada for 19 years. I have recently engaged in a work opportunity that has allowed me the privilege to work with men more than I ever have before. Although I have worked with men many times before in different roles; it has usually been in the context of couple and family therapy, which feels a little different than doing individual therapeutic work. I decided to write about this to bring awareness to what many men are going through in our society; quietly and often alone.

What I am about to share is based on my general impressions and my own views on the themes that re-occur in my office, rather than a description of every man that I see. I view every person I meet as an individual who is completely unique; however, I cannot help but see general themes in my practice. That is what I am aiming to describe here.

I consider myself to be privileged in that if I can offer emotional safety in the therapy room (which is always my priority); I generally get to experience people at their most vulnerable state. This is usually the truest reflection of who they are and how they feel underneath the mask they often wear to “survive” the outside world.

As I learn and expand my understanding of the men I meet in my office week after week; I am deeply moved by their suffering. Men, in general, appear to have been socialized with very high expectations that have often been enforced rather harshly. Parents’ best intentions to raise boys as strong, resilient, responsible, competent and self sufficient; are often put into practice in a misguided, forceful manner. These types of parenting approaches, combined with the child’s unique sensitivities, can leave deep and complex trauma scars. Well-intended, although misguided approaches to parenting, are likely prompted by a culture which at many levels continues to promote certain values like individualism and competitiveness, rather than collaboration and relational wellness. A culture where success is measured in economic terms, and in which men are expected to be “tough”, resourceful, competent, and are not encouraged to be vulnerable or to talk about feelings or emotional pain.

The developmental or complex trauma some men have experienced, usually promotes feelings of deep shame. This shame is fueled by perceptions that they cannot meet others’ and/ or their own expectations, which seems to promote a belief that they are never “good enough”. These feelings often carry with them the behavioral tendency to more easily move into “fight, flight or freeze” responses later in life, which translate into intense expressions of emotions like anger, or withdrawing behaviors.

Combined with the difficulty in communicating other emotions and showing vulnerability, men’s responses to their partners and families, often end up alienating loved ones which is the opposite of what most men intend to do. They often opt for silence, since their efforts to communicate can leave them feeling misunderstood, lonely, unappreciated, and undervalued.

These grown men, often remind me of the young vulnerable boys I have worked with in the past at The Alberta Children’s Hospital. Boys who desperately strive for parental approval while their behaviors are being misunderstood by their parents, and often treated with punishment rather than understanding and empathy.

In making those connections, my realization of men’s suffering and my empathy towards them has greatly increased. I wish nothing more than for men to feel more loved, connected, and valued for who they are, and for the gifts they bring to society.

I have also been struck by how hard men work to be better at every level, and especially in interpersonal relationships. Yet, they often lack the skills to realize the outcomes they hope for. Skill building is something I often do with men, to support their ability to communicate in ways that others can actually hear and understand them. I am always amazed when they openly and vulnerably ask for help to understand and please their partners, in a way that feels at times desperate. This urgency and desperation are often based on the fact that many men appear to have very small social circles. Their partners and nuclear families are at times, the only meaningful connections they have.

Based on traditionally prescribed masculine roles, and their natural need and desire to fit into society; men often accept work and life conditions that are extreme, and that challenge their physical and emotional well being in ways that may lead to illness, injury, or at times a shortened life expectancy. In my office, many men talk about doing so without complaining and with pride; having a strong desire to support those they love in the best way they know how.

I would also like to bring light to the fact that as society continues to change and become more egalitarian, many continue to hold a rather negative and stereotypical view of men. This is understandable in the context of an extensive history of patriarchal societies and male domination that oppressed so many. Never the less, thanks to the efforts of many different groups which strive for fairness, equality and dignity; society at large is changing, and men in general are also changing. I have personally noticed this more prominently in the younger generations who have incorporated these more balanced, fair and egalitarian views of people and society. I have spoken to many men though, who feel that despite their kindness and efforts to be the best person they can be, they feel like “they are still the bad guy”. At times; they feel unfairly discriminated against, or misunderstood. Even if not feeling discriminated against, many are struggling to understand how to create a space for themselves in society, and find a voice that does not hurt, diminish, or appears unfair to anyone else.

To summarize; this enlightening experience is making me realize how misunderstood men often are, and how many assumptions are made about the meaning of their behaviors. After living in a patriarchal world for so long and having experienced the negative sides of it, many of us may have developed views of masculinity that continue to negatively color the way we perceive men. This likely contributes to many of them feeling misunderstood, alienated; and not understanding where or how to fit into our current society without hurting or alienating anyone else.

It is in approaching every human being with an open mind, without judgement, with curiosity, and very aware of our biases; that we may actually begin to truly see men, and that we may re-integrate them into our society in a way that welcomes them, promotes their emotional healing; and recognizes the incredible gifts and sacrifices they offer, which are often misunderstood or go unnoticed.

For additional information or other questions please connect with a mental health
professional of your choice, or in Alberta you may contact Health Link (811) to
be connected to mental health support. 

Virginia Sherban, MSW