Healing the male psyche - therapy as a rite of passage
The role of the male often feels like it is at crises point; feral, mostly male youths, rampage and riot on the streets and absent father figures are to blame. If they are not physically absent, then they are poor role models for working too hard or maybe for not working at all. One of the major societal shifts effecting the male psyche, just as increasing numbers of women (rightfully) claim their work place slot, is that “jobs for life” can no longer be taken for granted. This traditional gender role has been undermined, confused and men left uncertain in what they now need to do or be at different stages of their lives.
That gender role (criticised or not) sets out a clear expectation of what society expects a male to be. The roles and rules are rarely chosen by the individual and if poorly modelled by “father figures”, society will find a way to teach them – schools, reform school, soldiering, peer groups or pressure generally – the many ways in which males are shown how to be men or not if the argument is accepted that the patriarchy of the past has been undone and no longer provides the solutions to the way the new male is challenged.
The stages of those challenges have not changed, but maybe the responses need to:
- Leaving home – father less or not?
- Becoming a useful contributor to society – with or without work?
- Discovering how to be a partner/husband – what is it the other needs?
- Learning how to become a father – or sometimes with not being one?
- Coping alone, single - a parent or not?
- Growing older – continuing to be a useful elder?
These challenges (or what used to be known as rites of passage) often appear or are thrust upon the unprepared, uninitiated male, confused further by the changing expectations that society places on them. That sense of turmoil can increase when the psyche suffers from an unexpected dramatic event, such as the loss of a job, abortion, bereavement, divorce, accident or simply the kids growing up and moving independently on, leaving Dad saying, what is my purpose now?
The sad fact is that the male psyche, through social modelling, is primarily driven towards the classic archetypal male, who does not express his feelings, does not ask for help and takes a problem solving approach, aimed at putting back things as they were before. If, which given that the rest of the world has changed, that fails, coping mechanisms like aggression, anger, depression and addiction often attempt to fill the void, a spiral that is problem avoiding, not a problem solving one.
Much is written about this place of blackness, that Jung termed Nigredo. A place of despair and fear; things seem to be a confusing mass of contradictions, unfairness and hopelessness. It can be characterised by a sense of having lost his way and lost his confidence. The opposite of what is expected from him. Without the traditional rite of passage, with the recognition and support it could bring him, is it surprising that he feels alone and isolated?
This is where modern therapy can step in. The male psyche needs that sense of recognition and the opportunity to do learn and do things differently (they used to be called apprenticeships and career paths or granddad used to be respected as wise, not shut up in a home), to respond to new circumstances and challenges with a greater sense of appreciation and personal growth; to transform.
The first step in that transformation is recognition of the spiral, the courage to ask for help and the meeting of like minds. Meeting with other men, makes sense, meeting with a multi skilled counsellor and therapist makes sense. Group, workshops, development or one to one support, the isolation and fear diminish the sense of acknowledgement, recognition understanding and the chance to develop new tools and responses increases. The transformation is beyond just coping.
A great seasonal male myth would be around the traditional Santa figure, stuck in the chimney. The support should offer the immediate response of stamping out the fire, unburden his load, getting the smoke out of his lungs, the weight of his waist and helping him to find a whole new way to distribute the presents next year.
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Andrea Harrn Psychotherapist and Author of The Mood CardsMay 13th, 2011
Imi Lo: Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, Supervisor (MMH,UKCP,HCPC,MBPsS)March 29th, 2015
Keeley Townsend BA (Hons), Ad.Dip.CP with Distinction, MNCS (Acc)December 14th, 2009
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