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Self-Empathy regarding Male Depression
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In the last section, we discussed counterdependence.
As you know, it's necessary to change thought processes and feelings before you
can change behavior.
In this section, we will talk about self-empathy as it
relates to male depression. I have found the major changes for men to focus on
are developing empathy for the self and accepting responsibility for changing
♦ Three Steps to become More Emotionally Aware
Carl, a 40-year-old high school teacher was
withdrawing emotionally from his wife, Jean, and three children. Jean had
filed for divorce. In one session, I described the process of becoming more emotionally
aware in three steps.
Step # 1 - Recognize Emotions
First, I told Carl to try to recognize his emotions and
understand how his destructive, distant behavior didn't reflect what he felt inside.
Step # 2 - Notice Negative Effects of Masculine Conditioning
Second, I asked him, "What do you think are the negative effects of masculine
conditioning?" Carl paused for a long time and finally said, "I guess
I don't ever want to talk about how I'm feeling." I then asked him, "Is
that something you wanted to learn?" As you can guess, Carl said, "No,
but I don't want to lose my kids." I told him it was important to recognize
the negative effects of masculine conditioning and realize that his own behavior
was a result of what he had learned, not what he wanted to learn.
Step # 3 - Learn how to Express Feelings
several sessions, I told Carl that he could learn how to express himself without
separating from his emotions or acting in destructive ways. "This includes,"
I told him, "identifying your feelings and sharing them with others, like
your wife Jean and even your children."
Have you found,
like I, that if you ask a man, "How do you feel?" he often doesn't
answer the question. He might act confused, say he doesn't know, or begin to tell
me what he thinks. As you know, men have a hard time recognizing their own feelings
because of masculine socialization. Instead, feelings often get expressed either
physically, through pain or illness, or through destructive behavior, like violence
or isolation. Obviously, Carl chose isolation.
♦ Technique: Feelings
Think of a male client you are treating who had difficulty
recognizing his feelings. What kind of intervention did you use? An effective
technique I found is using a "feelings word list." Carl told me about
a recent tragic incident at school. One of his students had committed suicide
in the bathroom of the high school during the period when he should have been
in Carl's class. Following the incident, Carl had become even more disconnected
and withdrawn from his family.
When I asked him to describe his feelings to me,
he answered, "Well, lately I have been meaning to get out and throw the football
around with my two sons." As you can see, the response he gave was not a
feeling, but merely a thought perhaps used to disguise or avoid having to discuss
To help Carl to discuss his feelings about the
student's suicide, I offered Carl a list of feeling words like "mad, sad,
glad, and afraid." I asked him to "try them on" to see if one seemed
to fit. I told Carl, "Many people consider these four feelings of 'mad, sad,
glad, and afraid' to be the basic emotions from which all others stem. But if
they don't work, feel free to add to the list. What's important is that you learn
what the feelings 'feel' like. Then you can begin to name what is going on inside."
♦ Technique: Story Retelling
Another tactic I often
use with a client like Carl is to encourage storytelling. Men tell stories all
the time to friends, family members, and co-workers. Usually, though, they focus
on the events of the story. The next time you ask your client to tell a story,
encourage him to focus on the emotions he experienced rather than just the incident
itself. After Carl shared a story at the beginning of the session about some upsetting
national playoff game results in which he felt powerful emotions, I suggested
that he tell someone else. I told Carl it didn't matter who he told the story
to, the key is that he is learning to express himself to others.
used the feelings list and story retelling as a foundation of change regarding
empathy for the self. I find it helpful to encourage clients to give themselves
a break. I once told Rob, a depressed client, that his destructive behavior was
not entirely his fault; that it was the result of what he learned from his family
Rob was relieved. "I always felt I was entirely to blame for
how I am." He was more understanding toward himself, recognizing that he could
make mistakes, learn from them, and change. I then reminded Rob that it was entirely
up to him to make a change. Once he had given himself a break of empathy, he was
motivated to learn how to identify his emotions and alter his behavior. Do you
have a client who needs to give himself a break and explore empathy?
Rob identified his feelings and empathized with himself, he could then begin to
better understand how to empathize with others. As you know, compassion for others
only comes after he feels compassion for himself and has some idea regarding his
Could the tools of a feelings list and story
retelling be of benefit to assist your client in developing empathy for themselves,
which may lead to empathy for others? In the next section, we will discuss homophobia
and relating to other men.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cole, B. P., & Davidson, M. M. (2019). Exploring men’s perceptions about male depression. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 20(4), 459–466.
Davis, H., & Turner, M. J. (2019). The use of rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) to increase the self-determined motivation and psychological well-being of triathletes. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology. Advance online publication.
Dyar, C., Feinstein, B. A., Zimmerman, A. R., Newcomb, M. E., Mustanski, B., & Whitton, S. W. (2020). Dimensions of sexual orientation and rates of intimate partner violence among young sexual minority individuals assigned female at birth: The role of perceived partner jealousy. Psychology of Violence, 10(4), 411–421
Joeng, J. R., & Turner, S. L. (2015). Mediators between self-criticism and depression: Fear of compassion, self-compassion, and importance to others. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 62(3), 453–463.
Rappaport, L. M., Moskowitz, D. S., & D'Antono, B. (2017). Depression symptoms moderate the association between emotion and communal behavior. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 64(3), 269–279.
Whittle, E. L., Fogarty, A. S., Tugendrajch, S., Player, M. J., Christensen, H., Wilhelm, K., Hadzi-Pavlovic, D., & Proudfoot, J. (2015). Men, depression, and coping: Are we on the right path? Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 16(4), 426–438.
A feelings list and story retelling are two interventions that can
facilitate what "growth point" in your client? To select and enter your answer go to .