Looking Inside “The Man Box”
By: Demet Çek, Ph.D. | May 6, 2022
Coauthored by Demet Çek, Ph.D. and Rochelle Perper, Ph.D.
“Speaking for my gender, there are two qualities that define most men: we seldom like to ask for help, and we do not like to talk about our feelings. Combining the two – asking for help about our feelings – is the ultimate affront to many men’s masculinity.” – Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men’s Health Watch
Men learn from a young age that the social cost of not fitting into the “Man Box” can be high. The so-called “Man Box” is a structure of prescribed attitudes and beliefs about what it means to be “a real man.” It discourages stereotypical feminine behaviors, and promotes a drive to seek success and status, to display toughness, confidence, and self-reliance, and to act aggressively. While some of these attributes may be helpful in some situations, it’s impossible to fit neatly into the box and men are harmed by the pressure to meet these expectations.
It is important to note that the Man Box does not include qualities that are essential to build a life of meaning and vitality. For example, the importance of making deep connections with others, as well as qualities like empathy, compassion, love, self-awareness, and the willingness to ask for help. Boys seldom have modeling for what it looks like to ask for help and are discouraged when they do.
The idea that men should be able to “tough it out” and ignore their emotions is a lead contributing factor to men’s mental, and physical health concerns.
Despite the need, men are far less likely to seek professional therapy than women. It takes strength to stand up to stereotypes of traditional masculinity and ask for help. Remember, there are lots of ways to be a man because there are lots of ways to be human.
Why Men Should See a Therapist
Men are affected by chronic stressors, negative events, and painful life transitions like everyone else and are more likely to suffer alone. Men are 2.5 times more likely than women to have alcohol use disorder, twice as likely to die from drug overdoses, 4 times more likely to complete suicide, and 4 times more likely to get arrested for violent crimes. On average, men die 5.3 years younger than women. While we don’t know how much avoidance of help seeking contributes to these statistics, outcome studies show that men benefit significantly from working with a trained professional therapist and experience an increase in overall health and well-being. They find relief from their symptoms and are equipped with newfound tools and strategies to address their problems. Therapy is provided in a confidential environment where you are invited to express yourself freely without judgment.
When Men Should See a Therapist
Therapy is helpful when you are confronted with a situation that you don’t yet have the tools and strategies to address. A trained, professional San Diego Psychologist will help you develop the skills you need to confront these challenges.
If you are facing a major life transition, including loss of a relationship, changes in your career, entering a new relationship, fatherhood, health problems, aging, or loss, therapy can help.
Feelings of depression or anxiety such as prolonged sadness, preoccupying worry, lack of energy, intrusive thoughts, and a constant feeling of stress are reasons to seek professional therapy. However, depression and anxiety might look slightly different for men, and are thus easily overlooked. For example, many men experience the following:
- Lack of enjoyment in activities
- Decreased sex drive or hypersexuality
- Problems with anger
- Strained relationships
- Alcohol or substance-use problems
- Trouble sleeping
- Health concerns
- Being a “workaholic”
- Feeling burned out and empty
- Constant inexplicable tiredness
- Difficulty making everyday decisions
Overcoming Obstacles to Seeking Help
Follow the steps below to overcome the obstacles that men experience when seeking therapy:
1. Get out of your Comfort Zone! Join a Men’s Group: A compliment to individual therapy, or as a stand-alone support, a Men’s Group will give you the chance to connect with other men who more or less “get it.” Knowing that you are not alone, and learning from one another is an incredibly powerful experience, especially for men who are not as practiced in nurturing deep and meaningful relationships. Learn more about the Men’s Group at Therapy Changes.
2. Work with a therapist specializing in Men’s Issues: Finding a therapist that specializes in working with men, has training in the areas that you are seeking assistance, and who utilizes strengths-based and action-oriented techniques will help you make the most out of your therapy. Taking the time to know How Therapy Works and What to Expect will help prepare you for the experience.
3. Focus on the Benefits: Talking with a therapist feels awkward for most people at first. It takes time to Get Comfortable with Being a Beginner. Don’t give up! You will be tempted to think about what you don’t like about therapy. Challenge yourself to shift your attention to the benefits of the experience and applaud yourself for having the courage to try something new. If you aren’t getting everything you need from your therapy, talk to your therapist about your experience. Your therapist will work with you to make the changes you need to be successful.
Take the First Step!
At Therapy Changes, we know it isn’t easy reaching out for help, especially if you are coming to therapy for the first time. We honor the courage that it takes to take the first step.
You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
The worst that can happen is that you learn something new about yourself and experience the satisfaction of overcoming your ambivalence and trying something new.