The Truth About Men and Tears

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Raw, Masculine Emotion: The Truth About Men and Tears

By Adam Nisenson, AMFT, CSAT-C

Raw, Masculine Emotion: The Truth About Men and Tears

By: Adam Nisenson, AMFT, CSAT-C

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before—more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.”

–Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

“Boys don’t cry.” How many times has this stereotypical, patriarchal notion been reinforced throughout your life? Parents, coaches, society at large—the concept that a man expressing his emotions or exposing the slightest sign of vulnerability, pain, or sadness is tantamount to weakness is one that seems to endure. It’s bombarded into our psyche throughout our lives; a lie that somehow remains ingrained in our culture and the idea of masculine identity; The Big Lie, reinforced time and again from childhood through adulthood and beyond. The reality is that it takes a great amount of strength to be open in moments of grief and pain. To share our sorrows and vulnerabilities with those we love is to gift them with our respect. To trust and allow them to support and console us at our most vulnerable is not only ok, but essential to living our healthiest, most authentic life.

The Most Human of Emotional Responses

In 2017, following the birth of his fraternal twins, actor George Clooney admitted to the Daily Mail during the Toronto Film Festival that he cried roughly four times a day. It’s not an entirely shocking concept. Parenthood—new parenthood in particular—is an awe-inspiring, terrifying jolt just violent enough to reduce even the greatest among us to rubble. Consider attempting to maintain some semblance of normalcy (eating, dressing, contributing to society) while literally learning to keep a brand-new human being alive. All while chronically sleep-deprived. Add to this the profound and spiritual understanding that you – you! – created human life and “New Parent Cries Often” hardly seems like particularly headline-worthy news.  

But headlines it did make, with every publication from Harper’s Bazaar to Metro picking up the “story” and roaring to the heavens about Clooney’s somehow shocking admission. Had Clooney’s wife—had any other woman—revealed that they cried often during the stresses of new parenthood and there would have been no news to report. Women crying is seen as a normal expression of emotion. Men crying is seen as an aberration, a bold admission of weakness. Which is, of course, nonsense.

A Manly Cry

Science and our body’s own natural response system tells us that crying is normal, healthy, and necessary. But culture and the concept of a masculine identity continue to insist that strong men don’t cry, while many parents continue to raise their sons to cry solely in private—if at all. History, however, sides with the criers.

While women’s tears have often been associated with emotional weakness, up until quite recently getting misty-eyed was perfectly acceptable for men. Literature and history alike are filled with the tales of warriors, heroes, and lovers who were revered and respected despite often openly expressing their emotions—and yes, that means crying. Japanese samurai often sobbed during epic battles, and Abraham Lincoln was known to cry during his speeches. The hero of Chretien de Troyes’ round table fame, none other than Lancelot, was known to weep whenever he missed his true love and was adored all the more as a character and warrior knight by readers for it. And the Bible is chock full of examples of everyone from kings and entire cities to Jesus himself crying for all to see.

So… where did all the tears go? Regardless of the shift in “masculinity,” our bodies and minds were not designed to swallow and withhold emotion.

The Science of Tears

Of course, we’re not Samurais, so stopping in the middle of battle or a crisis situation for a good cry doesn’t make much sense. There are certain times when opting for stoicism is the better choice and the fact that in modern society men outnumber women in areas like law enforcement, public safety, and military personnel has certainly contributed to the rise in the image of an unemotional, detached, hero persona that so many have come to associate with a “real” man. Luckily, after years of berating men for expressing their grief, joy, or pain through tears, there seems to be a slight shift towards returning to see men’s tears as a sign of masculine strength.

But even setting the emotional value side, there are genuine, documented health and biochemical benefits to having a cry, as well. For starters, while you might feel a distinct difference between tears of sadness and those of joy, your body rarely makes a distinction. Intense situations of any kind can trigger responses (like the famed fight or flight instinct) in us. Tears act as a type of pressure valve, releasing an excess of stress hormones, including cortisol. Left unchecked and constantly suppressed, chronically elevated levels of these hormones can wreak havoc on your mood and disposition. That sense of relief and calm you feel after a good hard cry is in major part due to this hormonal release.

Those mood-elevating benefits are especially important when you consider than men are less likely than women to seek help for depression than the opposite sex—and three to four times more likely to commit suicide. Emotional suppression can manifest itself in other physical symptoms as well, including anxiety, acute pain, muscle soreness, chronic headaches, sexual dysfunction, gastrointestinal distress, eating disorders, alcoholism, and drug abuse.

Developing enough trust to accept that you won’t be judged for expressing your feelings and vulnerabilities can be a scary, sometimes trying experience. But learning that not only do real men cry, but they embrace the fullness of all their emotions—and share them with those they love—is an essential step towards living an authentic life from the heart.

 
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Adam Nisenson is a therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah where he specializes in men’s issues and sex addiction. He is certified co-leader in the ManKind Project and is also the Executive Director of the Jung Society of Utah. The EFT Clinic is thrilled to have Adam on our team. Email Adam (adam[@]theeftclinic.com) or call The EFT Clinic today to set an appointment with Adam!

Please Fix My Kid

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Please Fix My Kid

By Ben Kroff, MFTI

Please Fix My Kid

When our cars aren’t working well or something is broken, we are fortunate to be able to simply drop the car off at the mechanic and let them solve the problem; they do their mechanic magic and call us when it’s all fixed and ready to go. It would be AWESOME if we could drop our kids off at therapy, let the therapist do their thing and have them call us when our child is ready to listen, cooperate, get out of bed, go to school, get good grades, treat their siblings better and make better choices.  

Unfortunately, kid problems are more complex than car problems. When a child starts exhibiting symptoms of distress, whether they are behavioral, emotional or psychological, we need to step back and take a look at the bigger picture. What is happening in their home environment, social circle, or academic setting? When our child is displaying problem behaviors, it is a sign that something in their environment needs to change. Just as pain in our bodies are signals that we need to change something, if your child is in pain, or if they are causing you pain, it is a sign that something in his or her environment needs to change. Often this change is not something that the child alone is going to be able to accomplish, even with the help of a qualified therapist. The child is part of a larger system that is impacting his or her mental health. The best chance for successful change will be found when working with the child’s most significant relationships.

When waiting for our car to be serviced we can enjoy flipping through magazines, scrolling through Facebook or even eating popcorn in the waiting room; if you are taking your child to therapy and are enjoying quiet time in the waiting room or running errands during their session I would invite you to reconsider how this time is spent. If the therapist hasn’t invited you into the room, ask if you can join. There is much to be gained in joining your child in their pain, in seeking to support and understand and be involved in their recovery. Maybe not every session will be appropriate for family members to join and your child and their therapist can identify those times, but more often than not great work can be done by bringing the child’s significant relationships—like their relationship with their parents—into the therapy office together.

Ultimately, healing comes through nurturing connection. If your therapist has not offered this approach or doesn’t feel comfortable with involving more of the family in therapy, you may want to look into switching your child to a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). These therapists are trained in therapeutic models that incorporate this larger, systemic family approach. At the EFT Clinic many of our clinicians are LMFT’s and all of our therapists have been trained in relational Emotionally Focused Therapy. We look forward to helping you and your loved ones.

Ben Kroff is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern at The EFT Clinic and is currently accepting new clients. To schedule an appointment with Ben or any of our many experienced therapists, call our office at 385-695-5949.

Breaking Relational Conflict

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Breaking Relational Conflict

By Danielle Thurman, LAMFT

Breaking Relational Conflict

The more time I spend as a therapist the more I realize that our lives all look pretty similar. Where we all struggle is in learning to cope with the emotions behind what is happening in our lives. My goal as a therapist is to help clients use their emotions to create secure connection. When we feel loved, safe, and secure in our relationships, we are more resilient and are better able to cope with the hard times.

Every relationship has patterns where connection and disconnection occur. No matter what is happening on the outside, these patterns look pretty similar from interaction to interaction. For example, one partner is angry, the other partner shuts down. The first partner then gets louder, the second partner leaves. This is called the pursue-withdraw cycle. Most, if not all, relationships have these patterns. These patterns come from learned experiences that tell us we are not safe or that vulnerability isn’t allowed. It can also be passed down from generation to generation due to trauma. When the cycle is present, often times these conversations spiral out of control.

Opposites Attract

It’s true—in couple relationships, opposites attract. This can be a positive thing as both partners will have different strengths. These differences can also rub on each other; it’s impossible to be that close to someone and not rub raw spots somewhere. Most relationships are made of one person who is a “withdrawer” and one person who is a “pursuer”. These positions are not a bad thing. When relationships get in trouble, it is because we stay stuck in these positions with one another.

Pursuers

When a disagreement occurs, the pursuer reaches for connection by moving towards their partner. They typically like to talk about the problem and actively pursue ways to look at what’s happening right now. It is generally hard for them to take a step back or give time for things to cool down. If they don’t feel heard, they may be critical or blaming. They may also tell their partner how to change or try to nudge them towards change. The underlying reason this happens is because the pursuer feels unsafe and disconnected. Disconnection is a painful, anxiety filled, scary place. Getting back to connection is so important that their actions may feel intense to others.

Pursuers may also experience burn-out; they feel they have tried to get their partner to see what they have seen for so long that they give up. Their actions start to look like the withdrawer’s actions. It may feel like change has occurred in the relationship when really, it hasn’t. This can be when the pursuer starts moving away from the relationship. This role is often times found more in women, but can be found in both genders.

Withdrawers

While pursuers typically take the “fight” response during a triggered moment, the withdrawers take the “flight” position during disagreements. They move away from their partner or conflict by minimizing, deflecting, defending, shutting down, or walking away. The withdrawer has learned that engagement creates escalation. They move away from what’s happening in order to protect themselves and the relationship from the damage that can occur during these negative cycles.

Underneath what’s happening, the withdrawer feels intense emotion. They may feel pressure and have messages like “I’m not good enough or I will never be able to make my partner happy.” By shutting down, the withdrawer can avoid being overwhelmed by these emotions. They can also calm the situation down by not reacting while they are triggered. Men typically take this role, however this role can be found in both genders.

What does this look like?

Typically there is a honeymoon phase in the beginning of pursue-withdraw relationships. The differences between the couple are seen as strengths. The differences may also seem really exciting. This often times doesn’t last long as their communication styles are so different that the couple starts to clash. They may start saying things like “we have nothing in common”.

These interactions typically start with the pursuer seeing a problem. They confront their partner about the issue and want to fix it immediately. The withdrawer feels overwhelmed by the intensity of the emotions that come from this conversation so they shut down. The pursuer takes this personally. They may have thoughts in their mind that come up like, “My partner won’t be there for me,” or “I am not important to them.” Anxiety grows inside the pursuer and they become louder. The increase in tension will often times make it so the withdrawer will remove themselves from the situation.

One of the biggest perpetuators of these cycles is the lack of understanding of their emotions. They may also be so scared that they stay on the surface of their emotions and may not even be aware of the vulnerable emotions underneath. For example, if one partner feels angry, the primary emotion of anger is expressed. This doesn’t create connection. Underneath the anger there may be deeper feelings of fear or hurt. The fear and hurt, which could create connection if adequately expressed, is skipped over. In the end, this lack of vulnerability leaves the pursuer feeling unheard, unimportant, and lonely. The withdrawer is feeling attacked, misunderstood, and that they will never be good enough.

What to do

If you can see this cycle in your relationship, seek help. This pattern can be really tricky to spot. It is even tricker to stop without both people understanding what’s happening on a deeper level. A licensed mental health therapist who is trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy will be able to help you both see where you get stuck and how to get back to trusting, rewarding, and enduring connection faster and teach you to avoid that pattern in the future.

Dani Thurman is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at The EFT Clinic and is currently accepting new clients. To schedule an appointment with Dani or any of our many experienced therapists, call our office at 385-695-5949.

Hidden Trauma

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Hidden Trauma

Danielle Thurman, LAMFT

Hidden Trauma

Before becoming a therapist, I didn’t think I had any trauma in my life. Trauma was for people who had been through extreme experiences like an earthquake or being held at gunpoint. What I now realize is that everyone has trauma; most people, like me, don’t recognize the trauma they have experienced. Yet, it is shaping our lives. This is especially true for people who have experienced trauma as a child. It can be caused by extreme, one-time events as well as an exposure to long-term experiences in our relationships like:  

·    Emotional neglect 

·    Mental abuse

·    Physical neglect

·    Sexual abuse

·    Instability

·    Lack of safety

·    Being separated from a loved one 

·    Medical conditions

·    Violence

Trauma rewires your brain and can even cause brain damage. This leads me to a question I have been asking myself a lot lately. How do I know if it’s trauma? 

Trauma puts you into survival mode. According to renowned trauma therapist Michele Rosenthal, survival mode is initially good; the problem begins when you can’t get out of it. You begin to live your life this way. You no longer recognize who you are. You can’t experience joy. Your viewpoint of life and of others often changes as well. You go from thinking life is good to thinking the world isn’t safe. “I can’t have the life I want.” “I can’t trust others.”

Some of the signs and symptoms of trauma are:

·   Shock

·   Ruminating thoughts that you can’t get rid of.

·   Not being able to let go of memories or events.

·   A cloudy head, not being able to focus, or feeling confused.

·   Anxiety and fear

·   Mood swings

·   Guilt and shame

·   Blaming yourself 

·   Not holding others accountable

·   Withdrawing and disconnection

·   Numbness

·   Abnormal sleeping patterns (too much or too little)

·   Fatigue

·   Being on edge and waiting for things to go wrong

·   Anxiety

·   Physical pain and muscle tension

The biggest problem with trauma, according to Brené Brown, is that it takes away our ability to be vulnerable with others. Without this ability to be vulnerable, we are unable to live a happy, healthy life. We are unable to truly connect with others. We often times also find ourselves in multiple abusive relationships.

While it may seem like a lot of work to resolve past issues, the benefits are tremendous. You can see lasting results fairly quickly. Some of these benefits include:

·  Living a more fulfilling life

·  Healthier relationships

·  Recognizing and breaking harmful patterns that may seem normal

·  A better understanding of yourself

·  More fulfilling sleep

·  Mood stability

·  Less fatigue

·  Being able to be present in the moment

·  To find more joy out of life

·  Being able to move on

At The EFT Clinic, we have made it our mission to uncover hidden trauma and help our clients understand how they get stuck in their patterns and relationships. Let us help you learn to create the kind of life you deserve.

Dani Thurman is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at The EFT Clinic and is currently accepting new clients. To schedule an appointment with Dani or any of our many experienced therapists, call our office at 385-695-5949.

Romantic Love vs. Lasting Connection and Bonding

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Romantic Love vs. Lasting Connection and Bonding

Ed Peterson, LCSW, MBA

Romantic Love versus Lasting Connection and Bonding

Dr Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy, wrote in her book Hold Me Tight, “Love has an immense ability to help heal the devastating wounds that life sometimes deals us. Love also enhances our sense of connection to the larger world. Loving responsiveness is the foundation of a truly compassionate, civilized society.” 

You are so right Sue!

We long to hold on to the romantic sentiments of the early days of our relationships. We begin these relationships with the highest hopes - hopes of finding true love and connection. Then we find “that” person and we experience delicious drunk-like feelings – we feel “completed” – it feels so good. We long to hold onto this bliss - we naturally crave love and connection and when we get a taste of it (especially the passion) we are drawn to it passionately – we want it night and day.

But in this quest we are confused - we are trying to control the uncontrollable.

We think we know what we want. But we’re lost in a chemical soup that our brain loves – it’s a dopamine and oxytocin party! we’re drunk on love.

We’re flying blind toward a buzz saw - a collision course toward disappointment.

But the good news is that all is not lost! In fact, nothing is actually wrong. We are just on the predictable path from romantic love toward real love – now a real relationship can emerge. 

The trick is to be aware. Without awareness we are doomed to conclude that when the ecstatic and drug- like feelings are what we most want - we could then tragically conclude that the answer is to find a new partner, a new love – one who will bring back the magic.

But, actually, we are now at the beginning of a real relationship – a place where wisdom and sacrifice and joy and connection live - but so often we don’t see the opportunity - the grass seems greener somewhere else, with someone else.

The IRONY is that we are now actually fact-to-face with a real person who we can learn to truly love and cherish. Now true and lasting love can emerge. 


Ed Peterson is an LCSW, MBA practicing at the EFT Clinic. Would you like more from Ed? Call our office to schedule an appointment with Ed or visit www.petersonfamilytherapy.com/seminar to learn about upcoming Seminars presented by Ed and Candace Peterson.