Why Men Suffer
By Joyce & Barry Vissell
I recently finished leading an online men’s retreat. Although I long to lead an in-person retreat, it was surprisingly powerful. Every one of us got deeply vulnerable and, because of this, shared a profound love and brotherhood. There emerged a kind of kaleidoscope of men’s issues, each one of us speaking a fundamental issue that was very relatable to all of us. Each one of us shared pieces of the puzzle of why men suffer.
Of course, most of what I will share can apply to women as well. But many of these issues are particularly relevant to men. What follows are not, of course, all the ways men suffer, just a sampling.
1. “I’m not good enough!” So many men suffer with this belief. So many of us have been told this in our formative years by often angry parents, teachers, older siblings, or friends. Something we have done did not live up to the expected standards of someone else. But how could it? We were children, just learning skills. No way we could get it right the first time or times. We needed to hear, “Nice try,” or “Let me help you with that,” not “You’ll never amount to anything” or “Can’t you do anything right?” Even though we know better, so many of us still carry this “not good enough” message deep in our souls. But we’re more than good enough. We are not our actions. We are blessed beings. We are not human doings. We are human beings! We are light in human form.
2. “I’m afraid of rejection!” So many men are afraid to take initiative, especially in our relationships. We may look big and strong on the outside, but inside we are too often scared of being rejected, not understood, or even mocked. So we often don’t take the risk to offer our love, to appreciate a loved one, initiate something special, or give the world our creative gifts. Okay, we can’t please everyone, that is true. But take some risks with others and find out that, more often than not, your gift will be welcomed.
3. “I’m not successful enough!” “By this time in my life, I should have accomplished my goals, and felt better about my life.” Often, this is about money, as if having more money means I’m more successful. But, as the saying goes, when I’m dying, will I wish I had more money? Or will I wish I’d given my relationships more loving attention? Our real success in life is measured by how much we have loved and been loved.
4. “I’m too critical!” True, we may be too critical of others, holding them to some higher standard. But this is always because we are too critical of ourselves. So let’s do the harder work, and look inside ourselves to the ways we put ourselves down. Here’s a wonderful practice that Joyce learned one day from our first spiritual teacher, Leo Buscaglia (https://sharedheart.org/a-lesson-from-leo-buscaglia-the-art-of-forgiving-your-mistakes/ for the full story): Whenever you make a mistake of any size, put your arms around yourself, hug yourself, and say these words using your name, “______, you just made a mistake, but you’re still beautiful and worthy of love.”
5. “I’m not man enough!” Usually, that means I’m not strong enough, decisive enough, but often it means I’m not sexual enough. As men, we have often grown up with the illusion that men always need to be strong. The word “virile” has historically only been applied to men with strength and a strong sex drive. Several of the men in the retreat have been through prostate cancer, and are alive because of treatment, but have mostly lost their sexual function. For most men, sexual virility is the definition of manhood. But I beg to differ. The real definition of manhood is kindness, generosity, and forgiveness. This is my new definition of virility!
6. “I’m failing as a dad!” Sadly, a lot of fathers feel this, especially fathers who work full-time in jobs that rob them of energy, so when they can be with their children, they are just too tired. Then there are dads of grown children. Here’s a secret: children of any age still need your love, your appreciation, to know that you’re proud of them, and (the big one), that you need their love too.
7. “I don’t feel enough!” For many men, their “go to” emotion is anger, but anger (sometimes hidden in “frustration” or “irritability”) is a surface emotion, a cover for a wide range of emotions underneath. Yes, men also feel fear, sadness, shame, and many others. Like I said, in the men’s retreat, it was the expression of our vulnerabilities that opened everyone’s heart. It is your undefended vulnerability that makes you most attractive to others. Try it and see.
8. “I’m messed up because of physical violence.” Yes, many of us men have experienced physical violence while growing up. I certainly have. And many of us have some degree of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). I do. Sometimes, I fantasize about some imminent act of violence about to happen to me. Does it happen? No. Is there a stress response in my mind and body? Of course. Do I let it stop me in my tracks? Sometimes it has. When it does, I feel the feelings, including the fear, recognize the PTSD response, and then take a deep breath.
9. “I’m living on autopilot.” Yes, life can become predictable, even boring, without doing the deeper work on yourself. Too many men feel like robots, going through the motions of life, and not really living their lives. But you can do something about that. You can take more risks in your relationships, and find ways to improve your health. You can find a good therapist, a men’s retreat, a class, anything. Shake things up by changing your pattern, your schedules.
10. “What’s the point of life anyway.” Each of us has a purpose here on earth, a gift to give, and love to give and receive. It’s worth anything to find out your unique purpose. I invite you to open to a spiritual dimension, no matter how old you are. Learn to meditate and pray. Find your place in the Cosmos. You can celebrate your life any time, any place.
A Free Gift for You
We would love to give you a free gift, our new audio album of sacred songs and chants, available for download at SharedHeart.org, or to listen on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGml4FDMDyI&feature=youtu.be
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are passionate about conscious relationship and personal-spiritual growth. They are the authors of 9 books and a new free audio album of sacred songs and chants. Call 831-684-2130 for further information on counseling sessions by phone, on-line, or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.