Emotional Quicksand: The Hidden Pain of Men

Kevin Burke, LSWMichael Addis, PhD, writing in the December online issue of Atlantic magazine, reveals a life threatening problem for men. You are probably thinking…prostate cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes? These are all serious health concerns and while there is still much more to do, we have seen an increase in education and awareness.

But Dr Addis writes of a different kind of disease that can strike men. This sickness lies deep in the recesses of the male psyche that features a self inflicted shame-based silence. This silence leaves men isolated and vulnerable to choosing death rather than revealing their secret areas of pain to a family member, colleague or friend.

Cut out the BS!
Dr Addis was working in an inpatient psychiatric unit when he interviewed Patrick, a handsome successful looking man with no previous mental health history. He was surprised to read in his chart that Patrick’s son recently discovered his father sitting on a coach in his family room with a loaded gun to his head. Initially the interview skated along on a superficial level revealing little of what led Patrick to such an obvious act of despair. Fortunately Dr Addis offered some effective tough love rather than just go through the motions of the interview…“Can we be straight with each other and cut out the BS?”

Patrick revealed a series of business failures that led to an increasing disparity between his wealthy lifestyle and the reality of his financial situation which over time made it impossible to pay the mortgage for his big fancy house. Patrick’s depression increased as he kept his family and friends under the illusion that he and his business were just fine…all the time his economic and emotional prospects were in free-fall.

Dr Addis reveals:

He couldn’t face working, but he also couldn’t face telling people how bad things had gotten. Instead, he got up each morning, dressed as if he was going to work, forced a smile for his family, and either drove around the city or sat at a local coffee shop all day reading the newspaper. Eventually the depression became so overwhelming that he saw no other way out. (The Atlantic, “Invisible Men,” p. 3)

A Sniveling Little Boy
Why didn’t he share his financial difficulties and pain with friends or family?

I should have been able to handle…I fell apart and turned into a sniveling little boy… ‘Oh Mommy, please help me?’ I couldn’t let people see me like that. (“Invisible Men,” p. 4)

A Newsweek feature on male depression had this to add:

…even when they realize they have a problem, men often view asking for help as an admission of weakness – a betrayal of their male identities…. (Newsweek, “Men and Depression,” Feb 26 2007)

Clearly many men have a lot of their self esteem and identity wrapped around their professional/business life. Men learn from the schoolyard to the boardroom that revealing vulnerability and an inability to handle emotional or physical pain is a big mistake that will lead to ridicule and shame.

Being strong and working hard to provide for one’s family is an important and honorable part of male identity. However sometimes men need to share the burden of raising their families with spouse, family and friends. This idea of the solitary male hero is an entertaining and sometimes inspiring image in and adventure movie…but it is far removed from the real world and the difficulty negotiating the personal and business challenges of modern life.

Men and Abortion-Emotional Quicksand
But financial challenges are not the only emotional quicksand that can entrap men. I have found in my experience as a clinical social worker that a man’s experience of abortion can also leave him emotionally reeling without the support and information he needs to negotiate this life changing experience. Given the current abortion statistics (50 million since 1973) millions of men have been involved in some way in an abortion decision and procedure.

Regardless of one’s moral and political position on abortion, the reality is that many men experience their participation in abortion as a confusing and highly stressful experience. For those men who have ambivalence and especially those that do not support the abortion and are powerless to stop it, the aftermath can be especially devastating.

Jason Baier writes in Redeeming a Father’s Heart of his experience after being powerless to stop his partner’s abortion:

I…would often break down and cry from depression…I was angry all the time…stricken with panic attacks…No one seemed to understand or know how to deal with my loss. (Redeeming a Father’s Heart, p. 33)

Jason, like Patrick isolated and despairing, decided to take a bottle of prescribed sleeping pills and “never wake up.” Fortunately he experienced a moment of spiritual grace that held back his hand and released a deep seismic explosion of fatherly grief from the loss of his child. Strengthened by this outpouring of grief, he read Dr. Catherine Coyle’s Men and Abortion: A Path to Healing, and was now on the road to real healing and recovery. Jason now serves as president of the Fatherhood Forever Foundation and is a member of the Men and Abortion Network both offering excellent education and healing resources for men suffering after abortion.

Breaking the Deadly Silence
Dr Addis broke through the deadly superficiality and the isolating silence that nearly killed his patient Patrick. Men who have suffered the loss of a child by participating in an abortion need to a safe place of trust and acceptance but also one of truth where they can freely share their experience of abortion and find healing. As Patrick learned, men need the support and connection with others in sharing their struggles and pain. Men suffering after abortion and other areas of grief and loss learn that in sharing their weakness and getting help when suffering, they become stronger and better men and fathers. This is male strength rooted in humility and community. Men learn the life saving message that we can’t handle it all on our own, and reject the deadly isolation and the depression that takes root in loneliness and false pride.

For men like Patrick and Jason…it is truly a matter of life and death.

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