Over four decades in practice, I have noted that the greater percentage, by far, of my clientele are female. I have often pondered this gender imbalance. One theory is that males harbour the delusion of invulnerability, the strong, independent species, being splendidly endowed creatures who require no assistance in maintaining sustained health and wellbeing.
However another possibility might be that males – and I am generalising – are potentially socialised in the direction of stoic , isolated independence and consequently may tend to suppress their inner needs, translating a need as a weakness, rather than as a necessary attribute. Hence they may miss signs of impending health problems, be they physical, emotional or mental, and just soldier on, year in, year out. I cannot deny that I identified somewhat in this fashion, back in my 20s and 30s.
I was indeed fortunate to be able to become aware of this and yes, the light of awareness did arrive in the guise of illness and relationship breakdowns in earlier times. Inside such experiences are where we find out a lot about ourselves. In the counselling world, we refer to these learning times as ‘extra-therapeutic’, meaning they occur outside of the therapy room.
I discovered over time that my identity was in fact a malleable commodity, capable of change. As I adjusted my sense of self, I became more self-accepting and realised not only my vast potential, but also my limitations and vulnerabilities. Then I was able to reach out to and make use of the expertise of others, in diverse fields of therapeutic care, thus pursueing my own journey of self-awareness that included self-care. I became more switched on to my physical body (feedback), emotional world and feelings.
Males can easily embed themselves inside static, stereotypical behaviours such as the silent, soldiering-on type, the independent guy, the strong, invulnerable one and the emotion-proof survivor.
These roles tend to involve admirable and worthy characteristics such as reliability, dependability and strength, which are surely wonderful attributes. But there is a need to balance such parts of one’s identity with self-preserving, sensitive, internal feedback, be it from the body, mind, or emotions. Guys, we need to tap into and respond to our personal landscapes, to become more thorough ‘internal environmentalists’.
The need to self-care is ramped up of course by the inexorable, unforgiving ageing process. By the time one reaches the mid-forties, it becomes apparent that this male musculature, these changing moods, fluctuating energy reserves, blood pressure, organs and vessels are going to require a new level of attention, awareness and maintenance. The importance of joint and muscle care becomes obvious after one has incurred say, an injury, which impairs mobility. Its easy to take mobility for granted until you experience back or joint pain. The limitations it places on everyday life and the dependency it creates are as challenging as the experience of pain.
Diet becomes more critical, exercise must be carefully chosen to suit each individual’s needs and de-stressing strategies are essential survival gear.
Men benefit greatly by accessing a deep sense of themselves, so as to navigate necessary life transitions, milestones of identity change.
Down the track there will be a time when the nest is empty, or when retirement beckons. To healthily traverse the various role redundancies of a lifetime demands self-awareness.
It is certainly fulfilling and satisfying to pride ourselves on being assets to our families, through bread-winning and being the go-to person. But, guys, did you ever stop and think about the full extent of being a role model for your kids? What habits and behaviours would you like to pass on to the young in regards looking after one-self? Youngsters are learning from us from day one. Lets show them a balance between dedication to external activity in the world and essential self awareness and maintenance.
Women are often our role models in this regard. Our challenge is to integrate this self-care attitude into the daily lives of men.
Lets care for the heart as much as the He-man!
In good health and high spirits,