10 Strategies to Help Men Heal Emotionally
Guide men to happier, healthier lives with Ken Druck’s communication strategies for overcoming male barriers to emotions
For medical professionals, each case or client can present a different stage of an emotional roller coaster. Each individual's healing process is, of course, different. Each person faces unique challenges. When it comes to healing emotional wounds, men tend to process their emotions very differently than women. Female medical case managers and physical/occupational therapists, especially, can be very confused by a male client’s responses.
Men learn that anger is a good male emotion, for which we will be perceived as tough and in-control. Is it any wonder that so many men become aggressive when they're scared, sad, worried, or confused?
An emotionally distressed client or patient who has suffered a loss related to his job, health, a loved one, marriage, or money may experience difficulty with his grief, sorrow, or fear.
Signs he may be avoiding these emotions include: Putting on a happy face, an impenetrable wall of resistance, numbing with alcohol, mindless TV, excessive work, or food. Getting men the care they need and deserve to heal emotionally may take great understanding, skill, and patience. Here are a few guidelines for medical profesionals:
1. Men can be hypersensitive to anything that seems like criticism. Learn how to be an attentive, non-judgmental listener. Help lower his guard and express his innermost emotions by being a relaxed, interested listener. He feels safe and understood because it's OK to say how he really feels.
2. Avoid saying things like "It's OK to cry!" at the first sign of emotions. Do not ask "How do you feel?" Comparing your experience to his or offering unsolicited advice is also a no-no. Do not try to figure him out – or fix him – or take away his pain. Instead, give him ample time to explore and air his feelings.
3. Many men think there's something wrong with them for feeling hurt. To feel (pain), they believe, is to fail. It's a sign that they're not "handling it like a man." Trying to change, admonish, lecture, advise or "get" him to open up only activates his knee-jerk defenses. Help him take a deep breath, relax and talk about whatever is causing him pain. Then you can help him consider his options and make a solid plan.
4. Help clarify the risks and rewards of how he's dealing with his emotions (based upon what he has shared with you). Ask him open-ended questions to draw him out and help him assess his effectiveness by asking him, "How's that working for you?"
5. Explain that hurt feelings don't just go away. Nor can we wish them away. Sooner or later, the debt comes due and they come out sideways (anger, indifference, depression, addictive behavior, etc.). Displaced anger, sorrow, or fear can be disastrous to his health (i.e. high blood pressure, heart attacks, etc.) and relationships (conflict, tension, and disconnection). Learning to deal effectively with his emotions, on the other hand, can put him in a position to make good decisions, proactively communicate his needs, and be more approachable and aware of what's going on around him. It may also foster improved relationships and solving complex problems.
6. Provide him with different ways of expressing himself. Some men find it easier to communicate by writing in private before they can express emotions verbally with someone else. Ask him to describe what he's been going through in any way he finds comfortable (including poetry, music, expressive arts, etc.).
7. Catch your male client doing things right and build his confidence in his ability to help himself. Remind him of all the good things that he has done/is doing to improve his health and sense of well-being.
8. Ask him to share the story of what happened (that caused his pain). By creating a gentle narrative, he might be more able and willing to drop down into his deeper feelings about what happened. If he does, help him understand that it's OK to "lose it." When he loses the tight control over his emotions, he may find his authentic self.
9. Explain that he need not be ashamed of his deepest wounds, failures, mistakes, and transgressions – and acknowledge him for working hard to become the better version of himself. Help him see that when he communicates, particularly softer more vulnerable emotions, others will feel they have greater access to the real him and grow closer, offering caring and support.
10. Men learn to cry quietly on the inside when they are hurting. Learning emotional honesty: That it's okay to show real emotion, whether or not they ever learn to cry real tears.
Medical professionals can help men discover both the safety and the right words to work through their feelings. Empowering male clients with emotional honesty and freedom can be health-giving and life-enhancing in every imaginable way.
Ken Druck, Ph.D., is the author of The Real Rules of Life: Balancing Life's Terms with Your Own. Learn more about Ken and his book.