Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Helping Men Be More Needy

Yes, the title is provocative. Purposefully so. Here’s why. helping men be more needy

I recall as a kid being perplexed when my mom played her records and I heard Barbra Streisand singing “people who need people are the luuuckiest people in the woooorrrlldd.” Aside from finding mom’s music nauseating, the idea of “needing” other people seemed like weakness and made me feel squeamish. This was only confirmed throughout teen years and young adulthood when the worst thing one could say about another person is that he/she is (aghast!) NEEDY.

Interesting, when you stop and think about it. We all have needs. How did it become so culturally important for men to be able to ‘play it cool’ and appear as if we’re above having emotional needs (i.e. for connection, validation, intimacy, support, etc.)? Practicing individual, couples and group therapy in NYC over many years has taught me clearly that denying (i.e. failing to understand, manage and meet) our own emotional needs is essentially self-neglect and thereby self-abuse.

We all have a responsibility, to ourselves and our loved ones, to identify our needs/wants and then to seek to get them met—lest we live in perpetual frustration, resentment, angst and (emotional) loneliness. And if the idea of “getting your needs met” strikes you as overly self-involved, you’ll be happy to be reminded that the best way to get your own needs met is to help others get their needs met. In other words, it is by taking the needs/wants of others (and ourselves) seriously that we cultivate mutually satisfying, reciprocal relationships. And we humans need these types of relationships just as we need oxygen.

therapy for men in NYC

There’s a particular challenge to discussing emotional needs in therapy with men because our social conditioning so often idealizes being macho, playing it cool, being detached and above it all, etc. In reality this hyper-guarded and aloof posture that men are explicitly and implicitly trained to assume turns into a private hell over time. Even though we all know that “no man is an island,” many of us men still attempt to go it alone in our emotional lives which only serves to perpetuate various kinds of life-destroying pain.

self-medicating emotional pain

And of course dealing with the emotional and existential pain, for so many men, often involves self-medication via alcohol, porn, drugs, power seeking, violence, control, video game obsessions, sports fanaticism, workaholism and more—all the things men use to numb themselves and avoid emotional authenticity with their romantic partners, friends, and family. The fact is that when we men deny/ignore/misunderstand our emotional needs, those needs turn into monsters under the bed; they become scary to us and we then become scary (i.e. unknown and unpredictable) to others.

emotional growth is a collaborative and creative process

Learning to identify, manage and talk about what we (and others!) need and want in our relationships, on an emotional level, is like learning to sing two part harmony with someone else: if you’re new to the activity it’ll feel awkward for a while. But if you stick with it, it’ll slowly become more second nature, enjoyable and enriching. I’m not saying everyone can learn to do this at the same level of skill and effectiveness, but we all can undoubtedly do it to higher levels of effectiveness and satisfaction if we get serious about carpe diem, living more fully and not letting fear and social conditioning rule our lives.

Chris Kingman lives with his wife and daughter in Park Slope, Brooklyn and has a full-time private therapy practice in Manhattan, NYC where he works with adults and couples. Follow Chris on Twitter or Facebook.

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