Mens mental health
My client was 32 and full of nervous energy. Suffering from anxiety and depression for several years, he came to therapy to find ways to letting go of an extremely narcissistic parent. Although he had physically cut the parent out of his life, psychologically the toxic presence was felt daily. He was anxious over any future conflict with the parent, as punishment for not fulfilling the role assigned to him. He was also heart broken which led to him falling into a deep hole. Single and hurt, he found it hard to find the right partner as anger he felt towards parent transposed into self imposed guilt which led to his inability to love himself.

I’ve come across many variations of this client during my time as a therapist. Some are struggling with adult life; some are battling low self-esteem; the pressures of relationships; chronic worry; finding the right (any) partner; making ends meet, etc.

In particular finding true love is a huge uphill struggle with more and more men and women finding it hard to meet the right person. This could be down to the fear of making a mistake and getting hurt, it could also be a case that they are prioritizing career or financial freedom or as simple as refusing to commit to one person. The Irish Central Statistics Office stats for 2011 showed the average age for men to marry was 34.5 years (Source).

Maintaining a long term relationship seems even harder in today’s world and I hear stories of infidelity and breakups on a daily basic. CSO stats show an increase in divorce from 0.4 in 1996 to 2.4 in 2011 (Source).

Other issues men face here include:

  • Friendships

    For those fortune enough to find a good partner, your circle of friends may start shrink due to marriage/children commitments. This can in turn result in a loss of social connections and feelings of isolation. I’ve met many men who are unwilling to pick up the phone to re-connect and who chose to wallow instead.

  • Career and Emigration

    With unemployment in Ireland at 9.7% (Source), there are still few career opportunities. Emigration has been the sole option for many in recent years, but there is a rise in reports of depression in men who travel, as they again feel isolated with no support network and with huge cultural differences. For those with jobs, work can be one of highest known stressors with many working unsociable hours just to make ends meet. In addition, they face pressure to perform, dealing with difficult co-workers, work place bullying, etc. A general sense of dissatisfaction with career decisions is a common problem with many feeling like they are stuck with the path they chose.

  • Financial status and pressures

    Many start a family in this age group. This leads to added pressures such as increased financial outgoings and isn’t helped by poor economic climate and societal expectations of having the nice home, car, holiday, clothes, etc.

  • Self Esteem

    For many, the very question of what it even means to be a man conjures words like toughness, strength, responsibility and wisdom. The societal expectations men may place on themselves to define how they should feel about themselves, how they should fit in. If they don’t meet those criteria, are they not men?I personally think holding onto your self esteem for any length of period is the biggest challenge in life. Whether it’s your status, how you look physically and your ability to deal with life’s problems or dealing with toxic people; everything is finite and must be constantly worked on to build and maintain a healthy sense of self-worth.

  • Addiction issues

    A small paragraph on any form of addiction would not be near enough to do the topic the justice it deserves.Moving towards adulthood opens doors to the freedom to binge when you like. Take for example alcohol. Your relationship with drink is often informed by your parent’s relationship with drink. Poor boundaries, high levels of stress and loneliness are some of the reason alcohol can become a crutch.

  • Becoming a father

    There are no guidelines, no qualification or regulations when it comes to parenting. It is presumed every man understands the responsibly of being a father but it is the most difficult job you will ever have. One is expected to have the compassion to unconditionally love your children, to have the patience to let your child develop at their own pace and the emotional maturity to remain calm at time of high stress.Being a father brings with it a new set of problems such as a loss of freedom, the pressure of being a role model and changing priorities which means health could be neglected.

  • The pressures of buying a home

    Despite the obvious financial pressures, there are other factors to consider. The impact of cutting the apron strings from parents which can result in loneliness. This can then lead to the formations of bad habits, such as excess negative thinking, poor diet, not getting enough sleep, etc.Dealing with difficult neighbours is also a common pressure, especially if you are someone who avoid conflict at all costs. Needy/selfish family or friends crossing boundaries is also something I see regularly as a therapist and it can lead to great anxiety and a sense that there is no safe place to relax and feel secure. Note: Because of early childhood experiences, I associated fighting with deep feelings of anxiety. As a result, in my adult life any similar experience, such as the build up to a row would trigger these memories. I would do everything to avoid the subsequent feeling. I would say yes to people when I really wanted to say no. But there are times in life when you have to say ‘NO’. Whether it’s a boss, family member or partner, setting boundaries is essential and it’s important to be comfortable with uncomfortable feelings. Don’t try to not avoid the fear, anxiety, anger or guilt the conflict might provoke but embrace them so they don’t have control over you and you can stay mentally calm in times of conflict.

  • Loss/Grief

    Loss is an unavoidable reality. If you are lucky, you will have gone through the early stages of life having avoided the pain of grief. Loss is inevitable and takes many forms. It could be the loss of youth as the physical signs of aging start to appear, the loss of freedom as you settle down and the responsibilities of life take over or the loss of family members as life moves on.

Action Plan

Encouraging clients to take personal responsibility is one of the biggest challenges of being a therapist. I always work hard to make healthy interventions, to provide tools for personal growth and model healthy living by practising what I preach. Ultimately, each individual has to live their own life and be self motivated.

Increasing your circle

We’re social creatures and we weren’t designed to be alone for great amounts of time. I personally think you can’t have enough friends, however  I understand how difficult it can be to find connections with others, especially if you are introverted.

The first thing is to prioritise friendship, both new and old. Make the time to reconnect with old friends. If time is a factor, I found making an event of something small, like a football game or film is a great excuse to invite friends over. I’ve also found using free text message tools, like Whatsapp and Viber is fantastic for creating contact groups and keeping in touch with my friends.

If you are searching for new friends, the main thing is to find the right friends, with similar profiles to you (age, status location, interests). Ultimately, personality trumps over everything and here is the real challenge. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, Meetups.com, etc. mean that you have more options at your fingers than ever before and makes it easier find groups who meet up regularly with the common goal of making friends.

Finding your passion

To have success in your professional life, you first need to focus on the skillset. This can take years of development, study time but there is one secret which will drive you. You must LOVE what you do. Forget money, forget the stress, forget the respect and approval; do what you do because you feel good doing it.

What drives me is seeing change in others. To help them build the strength needed to look straight into the eye of the storm and come out a new person; calm, focused, happy, expressive, creative, optimistic, independent, and honest.

This said I understand the realities of modern living, money is our currency and we need it to live. You may need to take a job you don’t love, but you still can still find reasons to thrive, to grow and to serve others. Practising gratitude for the small things is an essential part of doing well in your job while being open to new opportunities.

Financial Planning

I’ve crossed paths with some incredibly smart people who are terrible with money. The issue is that they don’t value it, so they spend it unwisely and then end up in dire straits.

Setting and ‘keeping’ to a budget is essential to know your outgoings. Identify any bad spending patterns and making adjustments to ensure you stick within your means. If you put a yearly savings plan in place you can set a financial goal which might help keep you course and see the benefits of wise spending.

I will say one about wealth. There is a new, positive trend towards putting your well being, physical and mental health over all others possessions. Valuing your body, your time, your energy and your relationships over monetary gain will create a deeper sense of fulfilment which will serve much longer than any amount of money.

Building Self Esteem

One of my college lecturers once described self esteem to me as two words: lovability and capability.

To be lovable is to be loved for who you are NOW, as you look NOW, for your thoughts NOW and for your behaviours NOW. It’s a parent’s job, or who ever raised you, to first create a sense that you are perfect, but they can’t give what they don’t have. As adults, we need to surround ourselves with people who can value us, our opinions, our time, and our abilities. We also need to look inside to explore the thoughts that roam around our heads telling us we’re no good, that we don’t deserve love or that we’re selfish, NONE of which are the truth. Letting go of negative self-thoughts is a huge challenge but can be hugely productive in changing our self-image and how we relate to the world.

To be capable is to be able to deal with whatever situation is presented to you. The biggest fear one has is making mistakes, or rather the consequences. Making mistakes is the only way to learn. We must be able to do so freely without fear of anger, of being judged, of losing your job or of losing your family. Again, this comes back to your primary care givers, how did they react when you failed at anything, were they hard on you, did they shout, did they ignore you. We need to reflect on these experiences and decide if they are serving you now. You need to acknowledge that the person who mistreated you was wrong and start treating yourself the way you wish you were treated. Go easy on yourself despite any actions you take, you are often your own worst critic.

Look to the emotional hurt

Getting to the root of any addiction can be a deeply painful yet necessary process in healing. What feelings are you trying to avoid? What thoughts are you trying to suppress? This is work which must be done in a supportive and healthy environment, such as an addiction group or with an addiction therapist.

Alongside this work, you need to re-evaluate your bad habits. Don’t have the addictive substance in your house. Fill you day with activities so you don’t have time to relapse. Work on developing your will-power by sticking strictly to an exercise routine and nutrition plan. Have a basic and practical default plan if you feel you are going to relapse, such as contacting a friend or sponsor and getting out to a public place when you feel you are falling back in to the hole.

Preparing for Fatherhood

The truth is that responsibility, compassion, patience and emotional maturity are skills which are learnt over the course of your entire life. These are abilities which must work on EVERY day of your life. You can’t take a break and decide I’m not going to be responsible today. We all have bad days where stress takes over and we raise our voice. Realise the consequences to this behaviour and work to control the emotive rise.

The best advice I can give is this: Treat your child the way you wished you were treated; give them the encouragement, support, discipline, stability and wisdom you wished you had as a child.

As an ambassador in your house, you MUST also look after yourself, your health, your stress and your happiness and act as an example to your child.

Hope this is of some help and welcome any comments or feedback.

Take care
Karl

Written by Karl Melvin