“What’s it like as you say that?”
“I don’t know…it’s fine I guess?”
This was not a new exchange between *Robert and I, it was something that often came up in our sessions. My question only came after I had heard Robert talk about being fired from his prior job, something Robert seem to communicate with ease, even though he used emotional words.
“It makes me feel…”
Men are often really proud of these moments in therapy, having the label for what they believe is happening in therapy. And in some respects, these should be moments of pride, plenty of men struggle to even find those labels.
But more often than not, there is a critical difference when men use these words, as they often come from a certain level of awareness.
This is a chart that was created by (Klein, M. H., Mathieu-Coughlan, P., & Kiesler, D. J.) to help define the critical levels of what is termed as “activation” needed to bring about change.
Most men will hit level two, but there is a section of men that I have seen go into levels three and four, and believe that they are “done” with these issues. I had one client allude to this with the simple statement:
“They are who they are..what’s the point in talking about it?”
This statement fits solidly in level three, they were completely calm as they said it. But when I named the hopelessness that I felt when I heard that statement, they started to look at that inner door.
This level of experiential elements in therapy is so critical to explore, not only because research says this is an essential part of healing, but because it is the heart of what attachment therapy is about. (Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2016). Attachment in adulthood: structure, Dynamics, and change (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.)
And for men, to get to this level, is no easy journey. Speaking for myself, I’ll believe that I am “with” a client in something, stop, and find that really I’m only saying the words, I’m not letting myself feel it.
"Find that really I’m only saying the words, I’m not letting myself feel it...."
In attachment theory, we would call this a avoidant emotional position, I’m trying to find a way to block what is happening, even though I’m not meaning to. When men catch onto this, really catch onto it, and let themselves experience this, a “flood” often opens up. And with that flood comes two questions:
1. Am I crazy?
2. If this is how things are to be experienced, then how long will this take?
These are such important questions, not because they show how deeply our secondary attachment patterns (Attachment Theory In Practice, 2019) are within us, but also shows the awareness as to how far “behind” plenty of men can be which the research supports. Or another way of putting it, how much they are missing out on.
Working with men to help them see this, explore this, name it, and move through it is what I specialize in. O, and to answer those questions:
1. No you aren’t
2. Till you discover the felt sense of accessibility, responsiveness and emotionally engaged attachment.
*Please note that the names and details provided within this article have been changed or altered to respect confidentiality.