Real Men Don't Ask for Directions

by Mark Sichel, LCSW

One of the principal causes of depression is poor self-esteem. Often, our poor self-esteem is a result of unrealistic or false expectations we have of ourselves as men. It may surprise you to discover that women are not the only ones that are subjected to social stereotypes. When we fail to fit neatly into a gender stereotype, we begin to question our "manhood" and our self-esteem plummets. What are the expectations we men have of ourselves that can mire us in depression?

How many of these stereotypes do you walk around believing? Have these mistaken ideas hurt your self-esteem? How many others can you think of? How have they hurt your life and personal development? How do they interfere with your ability to enjoy loving, close, and intimate relationships?

Becoming aware of these gender stereotypes is the first step towards breaking away from them and learning to live with more realistic and manageable self expectations. It's also the first step towards knowing and feeling that it's okay to be yourself and to like yourself as you are.

When Troy*, a client, was younger, his Dad only wanted him to be a baseball player and study engineering in college. Troy, however, was fascinated by movies and wanted to be an actor for as long as he could remember. When he told this to his parents, they scoffed at him and said that acting was no job for a man. When he balked at joining the baseball team in high school, because he wanted to join the Drama Club, his parents told him he was acting like a girl. A natural athlete that needed--like all of us--his parents' approval, Troy joined the baseball team instead of the Drama Club and was even awarded a sports scholarship to a fine university. The aspiring actor inside him, however, was hurting and begging to get out. Troy sank into depression. When Troy was finally able to get into an acting class in college, and discovered he had talents in this area also, he was thrilled. Much to his parents' dismay, Troy changed majors from architecture to acting. He chose rehearsals over baseball practice and soon found himself with a part in a theater department play.

Even better than the success Troy found on the stage, was the joy he felt when his depression lifted! Finally feeling like he was himself for the first time, Troy felt free and powerful. Was Troy less of a man because he became an actor instead of an architect? Absolutely not. Did changing his major alter his sexuality? Absolutely not. Did ignoring the silly male stereotype his parents thrust upon him and following his heart instead make Troy happier? No doubt.

We men have a great deal of difficulty learning how to struggle with our depression and pain; we think it's more masculine to hit the bottle, withdraw into television, or simply deny that anything troubling is going on inside our heads, hearts, and souls. We expect ourselves to be all-powerful and all-knowing and to have a solution to any and all of life's problems. We expect ourselves to magically "know" the directions even when we're in a strange and new location. When we fall short of these ideals, we feel poorly about ourselves and can quickly sink into that lonely, painful place we call depression. Why not be happy instead of depressed? Be yourself: not some trumped up version of what a "man" is supposed to be.

*The names of all clients have been changed to protect their identities.


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