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Why men fear therapy -
Category: News
Why men fear therapy

Several years ago, I was on a family trip, sitting on a bench with my wife in a plaza in Paris. Loaded down with shopping bags, she asked me to grab her purse and carry it over to a new spot across the plaza. That's all. Yet even though I knew I was being stupid, I couldn't do it. The 15 seconds being seen carrying a purse were beyond my capacities as a card-carrying male. My wife looked at me like I was nuts and shook her head in disgust.

So what was my problem? All I could envision were people smirking as they saw me publicly toting that damn purse, all of my hard-earned Guy Points accumulated from my half-century of being male suddenly vanishing without a trace.

Shame may be the least understood dimension of men's inner experience?by both men themselves and the people who live with them. In Affliction, Russell Banks's classic novel about the tragedy of masculinity, a ne'er-do-well named Wade Whitehouse plans a special Halloween weekend with his 11-year-old daughter, Jill, who lives with her divorced mother, Lillian. Wade's clumsy efforts to make sure Jill has a good time succeed only in making her feel anxious and out of place, and she winds up pleading with him to take her home. But instead of her distress, what stands out for him is his sense of failure: he's shamed by the fact that she's unhappy.

Eventually, still searching for a way out of the pain, Wade gets into an ugly brawl with his ex-wife and her new husband, after Jill secretly calls them to pick her up. As irrationality, belligerence, and self-destructiveness take over, Wade becomes a good man behaving badly, blinded by the specter of his own shameful failure.
Men who've experienced toxic doses of shame early in life will do anything to avoid reexperiencing it as they grow older. It can originate from family experiences, from peer experiences, or just from the culture at large. A shamed boy becomes a hypersensitive man, his radar always finely tuned to the possibility of humiliation. His reaction to slights?perceived or real?and his ever-vigilant attempts to ward them off can become a kind of phobia. Tragically, the very men who are most desperate for affection and approval are the ones who usually can't ask for it: instead, they project blame and rejection and perceive the worst in others. Sometimes the smallest signs of withdrawal of affection will trigger old wounds, and they'll suddenly lash out at those they see as slighting them, even as they're unaware of the dark feelings stirring inside them. This is a state of mind that many of us in the field call shame-o-phobia, an endemic condition throughout Guy World.


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