My work over the last fifteen years as a psychotherapist treating sexual addiction has brought me into contact with men— and more men. They come to my consulting room wearing the mask of shame, humiliation, and confusion. Often, after a period of therapy, they come to recognize a common link I have witnessed among them: they are depressed.
They are empty and suffering from an illness that is hardly spoken about in relation to men. It is women who are depressed; depression occurring four times more often in the fairer sex. It is a "woman's disease."
Issues of gendered acculturation obviously come into play here. In our society, girls are socialized to be emotionally connected and expressive. The assumption being that girls asking for help is woven into the fabric of our culture. Think about how many stories celebrate the damsel in distress archetype or why mansplaining is even a thing.
Meanwhile, from early in their lives, boys are told to act on feelings - to seek relief through action rather than through connection to feelings or introspection. Psychic and emotional pain gets buried, resulting in issues related to emotional dysregulation like domestic violence, failures in intimacy, alcoholism, workaholism, and hyper-sexuality.
I believe that a collusion is taking place: Men do not speak the truth to themselves or others about the depressive emptiness they carry with them because talking about feelings is so, well, unmanly. The theme of masculine invulnerability permeates our culture. For proof, look no further than the male heroes that young men are encouraged to emulate: Robocop, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Terminator. They are all creatures literally not made of flesh and blood and certainly not (horror of horrors) feelings.
Society tells the man who is suffering from depression that he should not seek help. He must solve his problems by himself. Often, he seeks to resolve his emotional problems by turning to a substance, person, or activity to regulate his self-esteem and to ward off the depression.
In therapy, feelings motivate a person to act and give insight into himself and his life. But the depressed man does not have the same level of insight into their emotional lives as women because the culture continues to separate them from the emotional aspects of themselves.
The pain they have but are unable to feel and express stems from a disturbed relationship to the self. Depression is an illness where the self attacks the self.
This sense of self-attack could also be called shame, an uncomfortable sense of being worthless. For many men, the state of shame is itself shameful, adding to their distress and pushing them to conceal their depression from others further.
While some men have the classic symptoms of depression—feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and despair— many more experience depression as a state of numbness, emptiness, boredom, or a disorder known in psychiatry as alexithymia. Sometimes experience is not so much about feeling bad, so much as not having the capacity to feel at all. This incapacity to feel is often discussed as a sense of "emptiness" or "boredom."
Women sense these emotions (or lack of emotions) in their partners and wonder where the "romance" went. They feel that their men are shut off from their feelings and are uncommunicative.
It is not until men are freed from the cultural necessity of hiding under the mantle of manliness that men will be able to open themselves up to the healing necessary to achieve a sense of wholeness.
We are here whenever you are ready.