In my personal and professional life, something that I have always excelled at is noticing patterns. Something about the concept of a message, a meaning, an insight hidden in the mess of data that life is constantly throwing at us appeals to me. I enjoy sifting through the moments of life and distilling out lessons. Psychotherapy, in many ways, is an exercise in doing the same things. We all have patterns and rules that we live our life with: getting up at certain times, liking certain foods, being attracted to certain types of people, etc. Life flows along these murky rivers of pattern for years unbeknownst to the navigator themselves. Therapy enlightens us to these patterns and helps us understand where we are (often unintentionally) moving towards, as well as what we might be desperately trying to move away from.
It’s impossible to conceptualize psychotherapy without also discussing emotions. Yes, those icky, uncomfortable, sometimes dizzying human experiences. Yes, that’s correct, human experiences. Emotions are for us all; they are what makes us human beings irrespective of age, sex, or gender. There is an unavoidable, absoluteness to the importance of emotions and the ability to cope with them in life. There is a reason human beings have struggled with fear, anger, sadness, guilt, and shame for thousands of years. It’s what makes us human, and there is an undeniable reason that we have retained the ability to feel and connect through these feelings over our history.
In today’s modern world, especially among men, the being part of what it means to be a human being has been significantly disturbed. Men are taught both directly and indirectly by society that this fundamental human experience is not for them. This has not happened without consequence, unfortunately. In my clinical work, certain patterns emerged chronically within my male clients that are impossible to ignore. Isolation, emotional suffering, disconnectedness, and the belief that this is and should be normal are pervasive obstacles. An enormous number of men feel alone, afraid, unsure, and have neither the support in life to navigate this turmoil nor the knowledge of how to go about doing this. And to add insult to injury, we criticize ourselves for not being able to do something we have never learned how to do! As if we can know how to ride a bike if we never learned how to ride one or that bikes even exist in the first place! And that it is okay, even healthy, to be able to go for a leisurely ride in the park.
Learning to cope with emotions works the same way as learning to ride a bike. It involves trial and error, and the payoff is immense. By learning how to cope with our emotions, we are learning how to navigate life to the fullest extent, to its deepest depths — not alone and emotionally isolated but in tandem with others who are experiencing the same emotions for their own reasons. This is what connects us; this is what makes us human. Missing out on the experience of feeling is missing out on an elemental piece of humanity. It is the H2 without the O. I encourage anyone reading this to pause for a moment from the rat race of life and ask yourself: Does it feel like something is missing? If the answer is yes, help figuring out what the answer might be is closer than you think.