There has ever been a voice in my head that whispers to me that I cannot share my pain, my sadness, my mistakes, or my fears. This same voice shouts at me that I must never show weakness. For I have learned that once people get a glimpse behind my armor of masculine invulnerability, they will never respect me again and I will never hear the end of it. This voice compels me not to seek help, even when it could improve my life, because the shame of appearing weak seems more painful than living with the problem.
My experiences with shame and vulnerability are similar to what most men in the United States face as they grow up. We are taught that we must always have emotional control. When we cried as children, our manliness was questioned. The crying boy was likely to receive a “suck it up, sissy” or “man up” rather than a “what’s wrong, buddy?” Our pain was invalidated, we were humiliated, and we learned to wear that armor to shield us from shame.
I expect that most men reading this have been told at some point to stop crying or whining and do something about it. We are trained like football players to put on our uniforms and get off the sidelines of our life and tackle our problems. We are trained, problem solvers. However, as my fellow long-term Bills fans can attest, our team cannot win if it does not have the right players, the right coaching staff, or the right chemistry (even then we need fair referees). For some of our problems, no matter how hard we try to solve them on our own, we lose every season and grow more and more hopeless that our playoff drought will ever end.
Many years ago, when I could no longer dress into my football uniform, I was faced with a problem that I could not solve with any amount of effort. That voice in my head, that same voice most men are trained to internalize, told me I was not good enough unless I “manned up” and solved it on my own. I spent months struggling to maintain the armor of invulnerability and would have never considered seeking counseling. I was terrified to share my feelings or to appear weak. I felt the need to solve it all on my own, even though I was up against a Belichick/Brady-level threat and my team lacked anything resembling Josh Allen, Sean Mcdermott, or the Allen and Diggs chemistry. I did not have the tools or the support I needed to live a satisfying life and it felt like the score kept reading 56-10 each week. Worse, trying and failing to maintain the appearance of invulnerability left me drained and my armor showed increasing cracks each day. It was not until I was desperate that I agreed to try counseling and even then, that voice told me to resist it and expect it to fail. I felt like a coward and something less than what a man “should” be.
Counseling, The Bravest Decision Ever Made
In retrospect, I believe that was the bravest and strongest decision I ever made. What our society often ignores and where masculinity becomes toxic is that we live our lives without being trained for the games we end up having to play. Because we are not taught the skills we need and we are trained to have no teammates, we often show up to our life unconditioned, alone, and with no game plan. Effective counselors act as coaches and can help us learn the strategies that we need to succeed. Counseling helps us discover how to build a team who will respect us and support us when we are vulnerable and acknowledges that there are places where this will never be safe. Counseling leaves us empowered and stronger by peeling off our false armor that pretends to be invulnerable and replacing it with a true armor that is not invulnerable but is far, far more resilient. Counseling teaches us to live as men in our society while still doing what is effective for us. Counseling is a training camp for our lives that makes us stronger.
If you’re reading this and contemplating pursuing counseling and are still afraid of taking the risk of lowering your armor, I want you to know that makes sense. You have faced years of being told that seeking help or showing emotions is a weakness. Likely, you feel like counseling goes against every fiber of your being. You are likely afraid of the shame that will accompany taking this step and what others might think of you if they knew. Worse, you are probably afraid of what you might think of yourself if you take this plunge into the unfamiliar and highly discouraged territory. I want you to know that the shame you feel is painful and that pain is real but that the shame is also toxic and the fear that grows from it may be limiting your life. Imagine how much better your life could be if you had the tools to cope with life’s challenges if you discovered and learned how to follow your path, or if you did not have to always pretend to be invulnerable. Yes, you are afraid but is it not stronger to push through our fears toward our goals? In A Game of Thrones, Ned Stark tells his son Bran that the only time a man can be brave is when he is afraid.
I hope you can find the courage needed to push against that voice that tells you to never show weakness. I hope you seek help if you are stuck or hurting. I hope that you make this courageous play and that it helps you feel the strongest you have ever felt.
Chris Sova, Ph.D.
Chris knows that you are reading this now because, even though you want to feel better, think better, and do better, you are not sure how. There is no shame in not being able to solve a problem when you are doing the best you can with what you have. In fact, it’s brave to make the effort and to reach out for help. We cannot navigate and build our lives if we do not have the right map or the tools we need. With a compassionate and understanding approach, Chris will help you see how you have been doing your best but also why you are feeling stuck. He will work with you to feel safe and valued while you learn to understand and value yourself. Chris will share his expertise to help you find your own answers to who you want to be and how to get there. Chris works with individuals ages 13 and older and couples. If you want to learn more about how he can
help, please contact him to schedule a free consultation.
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