Depression and Trauma in Men: It’s Killing Us!
As men grow older, symptoms of depression increase because their ego created defenses no longer work. The defenses are often created as the direct result from some traumatic incident(s) that occurred somewhere in their life. For male trauma survivors, who are emotionally unaware and who try to keep up a good front toward others, drinking way too much, abusing pain-killers, becoming addicted to illicit drugs as well as acting out sexually either via the Internet or through affairs, is how they cope. Eventually they feel hollow, shameful and their self-esteem plummets to zero.
How do they overcome the spiral of emotional and spiritual decay that precedes physical death, often by suicide?
In western culture, men, especially baby-boomers, face a gauntlet of male ego development challenges. These include:
- Realizing one has a penis and is different from one’s mother. This traumatic break from the mother leads to intimacy problems later in life. Girls do not encounter this step in ego development.
- Lack of attachment with an absent father. The father is the typical breadwinner in the baby-boomer’s childhood home. The associated grief and pain for the longing of a father-son connection further inflames the negative feelings of separating from his mother.
- An emotionally broken boy turns into a broken man who becomes a broken father who is incapable from creating an emotional bond with his son. For some reason it’s easier for a father to become emotionally connected to his daughter than his son.
- The lack of connection with parents drives boys to compete for connection with friends outside the home. These connections are superficial and don’t last long.
These developmental challenges are how it is with most all boys, whether victims of trauma or not. But when one layers sexual, physical or verbal trauma on top of the normal stages of ego development, one finds that these boys don’t always graduate from one normal stage of development to another. In fact, some stages are completely passed by!
Two Types of Trauma
Terrence Real, author of “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” identifies two basic types of trauma: active trauma and passive trauma.
Active trauma involves direct violations of trust, including: sexual abuse, physical abuse or violence and/or the death of one or both parents.
Passive trauma are indirect breaches of trust such as: a parent not providing enough nurturing or validation to a child, not listening to a child, not spending time in activities such as reading, playing and teaching. (Think of an alcoholic parent who spends only the bare minimum time wise with their child.)
Active traumatic events may be easier to detect in therapy than passive traumatic occurrences. Often unexplained behavioral issues may be traced to a lack of good parenting rather than a specific traumatic event(s).
What Men Do – And Don’t Do
Men do not talk about trauma.
Rather than talk about trauma, men bury the event(s) and the associated emotions forever. Forever, that is, until the emotions wreck havoc in their relationships and their careers. Rather than admit they felt less than loved by their own parents, men isolate.
Men do self-medicate unexplained feelings of shame, guilt and/or not being good enough. Sometimes they come across as being superior to others when inside they still suffer from low self-esteem and often self-sabotage their relationships and self-destruct in their careers. To ease the pain the drink, get high or act out, often in sexually indiscriminate ways.
Men over the age of 30 don’t open up in group therapy unless and until they feel safe, and they do not feel safe with young men (18-26) who are often immature. Mature men feel safer in a group of their peers. They will not open up emotionally in front of women – they will compete in front of women. It’s just what men do; so don’t ask them to talk about emotions and their early childhood in front of young men and/or women while in treatment for depression. They will only tell the therapist something superficial in order to be left alone. When you hear: “I don’t know” from a man, it means: “I’m not talking to you about it.”
What Men Need in Therapy
In order to be effective in therapy men need to feel safe. But what does this mean?
- Feeling safe means having confidence and trust in the therapist.
- Feeling safe means there is no threat in the environment.
- Feeling safe means he believes he can be successful in therapy.
Factors to feel confidence and trust in the therapist include:
- Education, licensure and experience of the therapist.
- Clear therapist/client boundaries.
- A therapist that is healthier than the client.
Eliminating threats in the environment.
- Do not have young men mixed with mature men.
- Do not combine women and men in the same trauma group.
- Start the session on time and end on time.
- Maintain consistency.
- Let the client talk more than the therapist.
- If in a treatment setting, establish, maintain and keep to a schedule.
Help the client feel like he will succeed in therapy.
- Let him know that others have been successful in therapy and how they were successful. (They completed the entire process. They were open and participated in therapy.)
- Let him know how long the process takes and what he is expected to do.
- Let him know that there will be peaks and valleys emotionally and that there may be times where he will want to quit or times when he may have outbursts for no apparent reason following a therapy session.
- Let him know that individual therapy often accompanies group therapy.
- Provide outside resources such as books, videos, support groups, etc.
When men feel safe, they open up. When they open up, they get better. Listen to what they are saying and observe how they are behaving. When the two don’t match, there’s a problem.
Men who abuse alcohol, drugs, food, who act out sexually, have difficulties with intimacy, relationship problems, are slipping at work – are often victims of trauma and suffer from depression. If not treated, their self-destructive behaviors will result in severe illnesses, incarceration or premature death, even suicide.
If you are a man who suffers from depression and believes you are a victim of trauma, don’t wait – get help and treatment for depression now. Your life is worth living.
Arrowhead Lodge provides treatment for men who suffer from addiction as well as depression and other co-occurring diseases. Call today at 1-888-654-2800 for help.