Finding Yourself as a Man
"Saging, not just Aging"
What do men really want? What are we truly seeking? How about you?
Although I work with equally as many females as male clients, I find that men tend to stress over an ongoing need to define themselves a bit more than women. I don't pretend to know all the reasons why this is so; however, through my years of working with male adolescents, college students, young adults and adults, I have observed that men tend to express the "need to define and redefine themselves" throughout their lives. The problem is that when they get stuck in the process of defining themselves or finding their identities as men, they suffer, and often their loved ones suffer alongside them. What do I mean by men defining themselves? Well, as Robert Bly once put it, "By the time a man is 35 he knows that the images of the right man, the tough man, and the true man which he received in high school do not work in life." This simple observation really says that men tend to stay in a cycle of re-defining themselves throughout their lives. Unfortunately, most men don't realize what this process of redefining themselves does to them, particularly if they don't find a balanced self-identity, which allows for self-acceptance and the flexibility to change and grow.
Men who have rigid stereotypes of how "a man should be" and those who possess an intolerance for any perceived flaws in oneself are definitely set for a life of high stress, anger, anxiety, and the chronic inability to be satisfied. This sort of attitude may even lead to depression or substance abuse. I see this evidence frequently in my office as scores of male clients have described to me about how they have been driven to achieve great things, and yet, they continue to feel restless or unsatisfied inspite of their great achievements.
As men, particularly in our younger years, we frantically followed our impulses, sometimes to self-destructive extremes in order to find ourselves. Even those painful actions of our past were motivated, at the bottom line, by a spiritual quest to find our identities--the holy grail of what it means to be a man. Looking back over the years, we pondered: What did we really seek in the things that we thought would make us happy? We worked, we strived, we thought we knew what we were doing, but what did it really accomplish? Does any of this sound familiar to you?
The problem for men is that it is hard to shed the expectations of what society or traditions dictate about our roles and purposes. We start out as young men being drawn by our urges to conquer our world. But often we get stuck in the role of athlete or modern warrior when we are meant to grow and transform into other aspects of our true selves as we mature. The failure to transition from one stage to the next can leave men trapped in the past. These men often report feelings of being unfulfilled, unhappy, or even disillusioned. The solution to this problem for men is that we are not meant to stagnate, we are meant to transition from athletes or modern warriors to mature men with sound foundations, integrity, and wholeness being true, first to ourselves and then to those whom we love. We transition from boys to men and then as we experience life, learn from the sages, and stay true to our inner selves, we transform into wisemen, mentors, or statesmen. We fulfill our purpose by sharing our experiences and the knowledge or wisdom we've gained through our journies.
One of my greatest mentors, now in his late 70's, told me, "After 50, it's not what you want to be, it is what you want to learn that becomes most valuable to a man." Although I have not reached that age yet, I have started to implement that in my life, and I have found it to be a tremendously helpful way to keep myself vibrant, connected, and useful to myself and others around me.
In summary, life for men is more about fine tuning that which is within our inner selves than conquering the external world. Yes, external possessions are nice, but internal wholeness goes on forever and makes a huge difference, not only in a man's life, but in the lives of all he meets on his journey. Daniel P. David
Noticing Life, Finding Self
All men of all ages can find inner peace and discover their true identity by first slowing down and taking note of who you are. Slowing down enough every day to let ourselves know what we are looking for gives us a much better chance of finding it. Slowing down doesn't mean giving up or giving in. It doesn't mean stopping our quest. Slowing down to notice life, to take it in, to experience life in the moment as you are living right now is a powerful way to continue your journey in order to find greater depths in yourself.
Let's consider for a moment, when you drive to work. If you take the same route each day, you soon develop a habitual pattern of driving. The problem with developing a habital pattern of driving the same roads each day is that you stop noticing the small intricate details of the world around you. You stop noticing the beauty of the planet. Instead, you may spend your time reading license plates and looking at the back of other cars more than you notice the world around you. Of course, you may argue that one should watch the road for safety reasons, but my point is that we soon develop habits that block out the real beauty of the world around us. We stop experiencing the journey, we just drive. Try this: take a new road to work tomorrow and see how much more aware you become.
Noticing the path you are on may be the first step toward finding yourself. It may mean changing your path or it may mean taking the time to notice all that is good and meaningful on your journey.
Today, you can start to become more aware of your journey in life by taking a few minutes to sit quietly and notice the wildlife around you. Ten minutes a day would be the beginning of noticing your connection to life. Breathing in deeply is one way of getting in touch with the life that is in you. Perhaps simply walking more slowly from your car to your place of work will help you to notice the life that thrives within you.
Daniel P. David
Men and the Root of Anger
Men experience anger on all levels. We can easily see men with rage, aggression, and violence, but few people recognize the other signs of anger in men, such as depression, being hard on oneself, the need to be perfect, the need to be tough, and the obsession to achieve. Whenever I spend time working with men examining their sources of anger, they are often surprised at how deep their goes into the very core of who they are and into the formation of their identities.
It is important to understand the confusion that men have with anger. First, anger most often starts in boyhood and is often confused with "power" and "strength" in young males. This confusion comes because anger "feels" powerful, especially if a boy is fearful and wants to find a way to cover up the fear with something that emboldens and energizes him. Second, the confusion about anger is further compounded by a boy's experience with angry adults, who look and feel more powerful and "threatening" in their expressions of anger; and therefore, it may be an experience that the boy will learn from and emulate in future situations to cover up his own fear, weaknesses, or shame. This is a learning problem that can lead to a boy's dependence on using anger for getting his needs met. In other words, boys can get "addicted to anger" because in a twisted way it gets instant benefits, such as: relief from unacceptable feelings (e.g., fear, shame, guilt, etc.), instant gratification of demands, or a sense of feeling powerful or invincible. This usually carries on into adult life.
Finally, anger most typically gets transformed into aggression in young males, which becomes another source of confusion, since boys in general are encouraged or rewarded for their aggression, especially in terms of sport competition. Now don't get me wrong, I like Ultimate Fighting too, but there's a big difference between fighting in the ring and fighting in the home! Some may argue that aggression in sports is a good way of channeling anger, but most men I talk with don't know how to "switch it off," especially when the anger-aggression may become triggered when the guy feels threatened.
Anger is an emotion that we all need in appropriate amounts. When I worked with Bosnian refugees, I felt angry about the war and genocide, so I used my anger to motivate myself to help refugees. Anger at social injustices, racism, or bigotry can be used to channel appropriate motivation and strategies for resolving such problems. But here's the problem with typical male anger:
1) Anger distorts reality. 2) Anger becomes a major weakness. 3) Anger may be a sign of depression. 4) Unbridled anger is destructive.
Domestic violence is a major problem in America today. It is no longer an adult male problem, more and more adolescent boys and pre-teen boys are turning to violence in the home. Helping boys appropriately deal with their anger and their need to feel empowered is something that parents and communities can facilitate. As I worked with adolescent and young adult gang members in the streets of NYC for 20 years, I found ways to help young males express their anger in healthier ways. And the key was to help them find their voice so that they could be empowered in a productive ways and so that they could get their needs met without resorting to anger and aggression.
Boys need to feel their inner strength and power and then find healthy ways of expressing it, managing it, and using it to empower them to benefit themselves and their world around them. There is a need for boys to experience male rites of passage that honor the inner male images and archetypes of the athlete, warrior, and the conqueror along with the adventurer, explorer, and pioneer, which are played out in our modern society through sports, careers, military service, business, and personal achievements.
Helping men resolve or heal their anger is something that I encourage for all men.
Men Seek Mentors and Wise Guides throughout Our Lives!
Written by: Daniel P. David, Ph.D. LMSW
There is something quite interesting about how we men develop through the years. I've observed that we never stop seeking out "wise men" to teach us how to be men and to share with us their unique insights and nuggets of wisdom, so that we can meet life's many great challenges. I've talked wtih hundreds of adult and young adult men who have expressed a yearning to find a mentor. They often recall their high school coach or a particular college professor that made an impact on them, and say, "I remember what my coach used to say to me..." as a way of calling up the strength of that particular man of inspiration, guidance, or wisdom.
Our male psyche unconsciously seeks out signs of strength, courage, success, knowledge, and wisdom in men whom we know and admire. If someone mentions a man like General Colon Powell or General David Petraeus, we are suddenly inspired to feel courageous. Our male psyche unconsciously seeks out male role models, who by their presence offer encouragement, assurance, and security. We may all have a story or two about our grandfathers, a favorite uncle, or an understanding coach that somehow spoke to our male need for understanding and validation as boys or young men.
Our modern films and television shows are full of the idealized male archetypes that symbolize the different aspects of men's identities, such as in the images of the hero, warrior, king, lover, and wiseman. We need these healthy male symbols as guide posts for our personal journeys.
Men are often self-conscious about sounding "too soft" or "needy" or "weak," which often prevents us from just asking someone we look up to or admire, "Hey man, you want to be my mentor?" For most of us, that's too threatening to our male egos. No, instead we frequently meet for non-threatening experiences with "wise men" by going out golfing, or by watching a football or basketball game, or by spending time fishing together. These are often exclusively male events; no women are allowed! Why? Because we unconsciously use these moments to glean some nugget of other men's successes, strengths, or wisdom. These become food for our souls and help to take us to the next level of life.
When we find that "wise man" to teach us, we often go back to a time in our memories of youth and seek affirmation and validation for the past while living in the present. We most likely need some healing around a boyhood relationship with our fathers that has left old painful wounds that have been stuffed away deep down inside us. So, when we find validation, affirmation, encouragement, positive feedback from older male role models, it serves to help heal the hurts from that past father-son relationship . And, even for those of us who may have had good relationships with our fathers, it serves to bolster areas in our male self-esteem and identities that may have felt inadequate, awkward, or deficient in some area of our lives. We use wise male role models to gain sturdier footing on our particular path through life. When we get what we need, our confidence gets a boost and our self-image continues to mature. This is normal and healthy for us.
One thing to note is that a loving and caring mother can do wonders for our egos, but they can never teach boys how to be men; we get that from our fathers and from other males in our lives. Starting at adolescence, boys need their fathers to nudge them away from their mothers and lead them toward psychological and emotional independent identities. But unfortunately, young boys and young men don't always have healthy male role models to do this, which is problematic, because the street-corner thug, school bully, or the unscrupulous man becomes the substitute male image, which can lead us down a path of substance abuse, violence, unbridled anger, and rebellion. I saw this first hand as I worked with street gangs in New York City for 20 years. Young men who didn't have healthy fathers or good male role models found substitutes that led them astray and to ruin. It's often the case of the "immature boy" living in a grown man's body that will lead him through an adult life filled with unbridled adolescent behaviors (impulsive, rageful, demanding, controlling, bitter, unforgiving, spiteful, rebellious, addicted, narcissistic, temperamental, violent, selfish, manipulative, etc.).
One lesson to learn from all that I've said is that, "It's never too late to find a healthy and wise male role model(s) to help us grow and mature into the wise man that we need to become." As a therapist, I often work in a therapeutic setting with men of all ages who find emotional and mental healing as they face their past hurts and male wounds. Likewise, as a life coach, I find men are looking for that "sounding board" or "guide" to see a reflection of validation that empowers their male self-image in order to take on life's greater challenges, goals, and achievements.
If I may leave you with one piece of encouragement, seek out a few wisemen in your life. No one can meet all your needs, so finding one or more male role models as healthy examples can really boost your self-image and confidence as a man. So far, I've had 7 great mentors through my life who have given me their particular nuggets of wisdom which continue to reap benefits years later. My life has been so enriched by their examples that everyday I feel and experience overflowing gratitude and growth. And, I hope the same for you and all our brothers. ~Selah
Male Depression: A Hidden Disease
Male depression is a serious issue in America. It is probably the most incideous condition behind male aggression and self-destructive behaviors. Men express depression differently than women. Male aggression (e.g., anger, rage, self-harm, destructive behaviors, etc.) most likely stem from unaddressed depression.
After 20 years experience working with adolescent and young adult males involved with using drugs and active in deliquent behaviors, I've seen first hand that the majority were moderately to severly depressed young men. Unfortunately, males are identified for their anti-social behaviors, acting out, and deliquency and commonly labeled as "maladaptive" rather than identifying and treating the symptoms of depressions.
Male depression may be a sign of low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and repressed anger toward self or others. Male depression may also be a result of feeling like a failure or feeling inadequate.
Unfortanetly, women and children tend be the most impacted by male depression as they are often the target of angry outbursts, agression, and physical and verbal assualts. Male depression is a serious pain for all involved.
Many guys ask me, "What can I do?" My first response is to advise men to see their doctors and talk about their depression. There are many types of medications that are effective for treating male depression. Not all men need medication, but medication is helpful to those who may.
Secondly, I suggest talking to a professional therapist about your depression. Male depression is highly treatable with therapy. Most men that I see in confidence experience dramatic changes in their depression levels after a few short weeks. Of course, this depends on the individual and the depth of contributing problems.
I tell most guys that I don't believe in "therapy forever," but I do believe that if a guy wants to overcome depression, build confidence and strengthen his self-esteem, working with a skilled therapist can help him achieve recovery from depression and a new outlook on life. That's something he and his loved ones will greatly appreciate!
~Daniel P. David
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