Why is it SO Difficult to Ask for HELP, Guys?

Help, I need somebody…

“Won’t you please, please help me? This isn’t a plea you’re likely to hear from most men today. Particularly men in the throes of addiction.  Yet in 1965, a young mop top named John from Liverpool, melodically pleaded for help in the smash hit Help by the Beatles. A “real man” asks for help in times of trouble about as much as he asks for directions when lost. The act of asking for help (seeking counseling) to many men feels like weakness. An act of going soft when the going gets tough.  Men are supposed to be sturdy as an oak, rather than propped up or supported by others. The creed of manhood – suck it up – makes it especially hard for men to call a counselor for help.

 

Men often suffer in isolation or secrecy.

 

 

In fact, the first step in recovery, to acknowledge our powerlessness over something bigger and stronger than us, can feel like emasculation. I’m not man enough to beat this.  These men are bullied and chastised by a toxic inner voice. Man up. A real man makes it on his own.  The first step for a lot of men successful in recovery is re-envisioning their masculinity. From a toxic narrow version to a more healthy, relational and wholehearted masculinity. This version allows for acknowledging weakness, and asking for help.  Because ultimately, sacrificing your humanity, your recovery, your wellness for the sake of some twisted form of masculine performance—going it alone—not only is an outdated, toxic masculinity, it is a debilitating barrier to recovery and wholeness.

 

Help, not just anybody…

Although men may prefer to not talk about it, feelings of pain, sadness, or anxiety don’t magically dissolve with the disappearance of words.  We have three choices when it comes to feelings: we either talk about them bury them or act them out.

 

Male socialization has given men harmful mandates and practices regarding emotional health.  Just as we used to bury hazardous waste in big holes without consideration for environmental health, burying our feelings doesn’t work well for emotional health either.  When men bury feelings it eventually spills out with violence in our homes or streets. It slowly deadens emotional life—our life force. Or insidiously scars livers and explodes hearts.

 

Help, you know I need someone…

We aren’t rocks unto ourselves. Or oak trees standing alone in an open field. We are humans. We are born into relationships — it is in our design. Yet men are given the toxic message that the pinnacle of masculinity is the achievement of rugged individualism and insularity. This achievement creates intense loneliness. And angst about asking for help with untreated mental, emotional and behavioral health problems.

 

 

When I was younger, so much younger than today…

Research shows that boys are prematurely kicked off parents’ laps and shamed for crying more often than girls. This, along with other male-specific practices, sets in motion a debilitating pattern for males to want to make it on their own. And if they can’t, they hear the cacophonic voices in their head. You’re weak, a sissy, a loser, a mama’s boy.

 

The fact that women are the primary consumers of counseling services isn’t because they have more problems. It is merely because they have more permission from our society to ask for help. This whispering voice—I can’t live like this anymore, this is insanity, my life is unmanageable—is your soul crying out for healing and recovery. And asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of your humanity, an act of hope, a display of wisdom.   

 

Here I never needed anybody’s help in any way…

Yet men will ask for certain kinds of help. Perhaps to improve their golf swing or investment portfolio. Why? Because no one questions their manhood.  Remember when society questioned a female’s womanhood? When she pursued a degree and worked outside the home? The societal landscape has changed for women in the last 50 years. The emotional landscape for men needs to change.  The 21st-century evolutionary pulse is requiring fit males to explore their inner landscape. To know and manage feelings and thoughts while relating to others.  The worn out masculine trope—a man is a rock, an island, a sturdy oak—is giving way to new and openhearted masculinities. These allow for strength in community and connection rather than in isolation.

 

But now these days are gone; I’m not so self-assured…

 

Men can change and evolve too. They can become cross-trained, learn the language of emotions, talk about them, ask for help, and hang onto their masculinity all at the same time.  Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of maturity, humanity, and smart emotional fitness. Yes, there is professional help for men too, when they are feeling down, lonely, or confused.

 

To man-up, sometimes, is to wise-up—ask for help!

 

Randy Flood, MA LLP is the co-founder and director of the Men's Resource Center of West Michigan, where he is the principal therapist in providing individual and group psychotherapy. Randy holds a master's degree in counseling psychology from Western Michigan University and has spent his career creating and developing specialized clinical services that address men’s issues. These include anger management, fathering assistance, sexual addiction recovery, and general personal growth counseling. Prior to co-founding the Men's Resource Center of West Michigan, Randy worked at the Domestic Violence Program for Men in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and founded the Men’s Program at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Grand Rapids.