- Address the ways that men’s socialization prevents them from connecting.The behaviors that are required of men in therapy and in recovery are contrary to what I refer to as “The Man Rules.” The Man Rules, the messages we learn as boys about how to be men, say don’t ask for help, don’t show feelings, don’t be vulnerable, don’t be weak, and whatever you do, don’t cry! And then we put men in therapeutic settings and ask – and even expect – them to do the opposite!
Create a culture of safety.
No matter how a man acts when he first comes into your treatment program—apathetic, belligerent, sarcastic, or overly enthusiastic—you should think in terms of creating a safe environment for him. Men are unlikely to tell you that they are concerned about their emotional safety, but it is something that will be on their minds— if not consciously, then subconsciously. The lens through which you view his behavior will influence the way that you respond to him, which will, in turn, help him to behave differently. The entire culture of your treatment program or practice may begin to change as everyone; including staff in the organization begins to feel safer.
Speaking of trauma…
Men are socialized not to see their experiences as trauma, and treatment providers also tend not to see their experiences as trauma. This is because at the heart of so much trauma-informed care lurks the idea of the male as perpetrator—and we don’t care about the trauma or healing of perpetrators.
Focus on relational competence
The majority of the Man Rules are not about connection. In fact, they are about disconnection – from self and from others. Men who are affected by childhood trauma have even more trouble forming and maintaining intimate relationships. This is partly due to the fact that The Man Rules they are taught as boys do not provide a context in which they can learn to value connection, intimacy, and reciprocal relationships. Interpersonal skills like cooperation, seeing another’s perspective, expressing vulnerability, sharing feelings, and empathy do not tend to be part of what boys and men are encouraged to value and practice in their daily lives. As Brené Brown has beautifully pointed out, men can never be seen—or even experience themselves—as weak at any time. That mandate lives deeply inside so many men. That makes creating and staying in truly healthy relationships quite a challenge.
Break into small groups.
Something I learned from my professional partner of many years, Rick Dauer: If you want men to open up, put them in small groups. I mean small groups, breaking the men out into sets of threes. The effect is trans-formative. Men who normally would fly under the radar or simply present as though they are less emotionally engaged will show up in a completely different way. The number three is important – two is too easily turned into a conversation and four can split into pairs or even easily leave one person out. But three? There is just something magical about that number.
Address Sex and Sexuality.
Let’s not just talk about sex but talk about sexuality – the whole thing. A large percentage of men’s relapses are directly related to sex. Men commonly struggle with not feeling comfortable engaging in sex while sober, fear of sex, discomfort with themselves sexually, pain from sexual trauma, issues with body image. And, let’s not fail to mention men’s often problematic and unhealthy use of pornography while they are in treatment. As a practitioner, it’s important that you maintain an awareness of the impact that sex and love addiction have on men and all of their relationships. The Man Rules are deeply connected to sex serving as men’s primary – if not sole – vehicle for connection and intimacy. How can we NOT spend extensive time helping men create a healthy sense of their sex and sexuality?