Here we are already, the third of five blog entries discussing some of the common misconceptions, misunderstandings, concerns and hold-ups I most frequently hear about when people are considering whether or not they should come in for counseling. And frankly men, this week is for you.
Although I rarely hear it stated so bluntly, I know it’s true: a lot of you think counseling couldn’t possibly be for you, because it’s a bunch of talking and coming to terms with your emotions. You won’t even pick up the phone to ask questions about counseling because the thought of doing even that makes you feel, well, like a pansy. Like a failure. Like a weakling. Like you can’t figure your own *$&% out, and you should be able to. Turns out counseling might not be as bad as you think. Seriously. Which leads me to the myth of the week:
MYTH #3: Counseling is for girls (aka: all you do in counseling is talk about feelings, cry, and pass the Kleenex box).
I get it. Men are fixers. I mean, I don’t get it like you do because I’m not a guy, but I think I understand at least a bit. After all, I’ve been married to a guy for nearly 8 years and I have a few other good men in my life who mean the world to me, and I see it in them—this need to “man up” and be tough. For the most part our culture still values the manly man, the man who can fix anything with a paper clip and duct tape (hello MacGyver); the man who pulls himself up by his own bootstraps and has an answer for most anything; the man who’s the emotional equivalent of a steel fortress: always at the ready, always the place of refuge for those around him who need a safe place to rest. And you never, ever, break down.
But what if all this is just a front? What if you feel like you should be able to fix anything and everything, but are in the place where you just you can’t? Or don’t want to? Or don’t have the answers you think you should? Then what? Do you just move forward, trying to act like nothing is wrong? Maybe…but chances are that if you’re honest about this, what you’re dealing with is coming out in other ways. Maybe your anger or temper is getting out of hand. Maybe you’re distancing yourself from those you love. Maybe you’re really starting to feel down about life in general, or overwhelmed at the thought of what you’re trying to handle on your own and things that once seemed easy or effortless are causing you worry or stress. And suddenly the world becomes a pretty lonely place.
So the question becomes, what’s stopping you from getting help? What’s stopping you from talking with someone who could help you make things better? Is it because you think you should be able to deal with this on your own? Is it because you feel like you’re not man enough if you have to seek the help and opinion of an outside source to work stuff out? Well, consider this:
You’re out mountain biking, go over your handlebars and break your arm. Are you going to fix it yourself? Of course not. Are you gonna ask your buddies to take you out for a beer and set the break between rounds of pool and then act like nothing happened? Probably not. So if problems arise in your life that are more internal, why put the pressure on yourself to figure it out on your own, or ask your friends to help you figure it out?
Is what’s going on in the inside of you any less important or complex than your physical health? Of course not! This is why a counselor can be a valuable resource when you’re trying to make sense of emotional, relational or mental difficulties. In fact, if you’re struggling with things internally, manifestations of these problems will come out physically in your own behaviors or your relationships, as I mentioned earlier.
In summary, I just want to assure you that counseling isn’t all about feelings. Sure, you’ll have to go there at least a little bit. You’ll have to do some self-examination and reflection to figure out how you got to where you are. You’ll have to be willing to consider that some changes can (and possibly should) be made in your life to help you get through what it is you’re up against. But, you and your counselor will also come up with an action plan, and what guy doesn’t like that? Practical tips, tools, suggestions and advice are actually a large part of the counseling process. Counseling can be very action-oriented. So bring your paper clips and your duct tape, and let’s start fixing stuff.