On this track, we'll look at
ten rules that sustain shame in your depressed male clients.
the male, depression carries so much of a burden of shame that it is hidden--sometimes
so well it fools those who have it. Depression and the resulting shame often masquerade
as drinking and lashing out at others, and subverts relationships.
Ten Rules that Sustain Shame
These rules, compiled by Everingham, surface again and again in the lives of depressed
men because shame is a major factor in many cases of depression. Basically, these
rules are habitual shaming acts that evoke natural, but often shielded, feelings
of shame. This will sound familiar to you, but we'll also look at particular ways
to break these rules and, consequently, stop the cycle of shame. Now let's look
at the ten rules the sustain shame and depression in your male client.
have found oftentimes males who feel shame feel the need to be in control of all behavior, interactions, and feelings. Understanding
this underlying desire for control is key to understanding each rule on Everingham's
list. Power struggles result from a man needing to control his emotions and the
situation in general. I feel most male clients can never fully eliminate power
struggles, and exercising control is perhaps part of the vitality and masculinity within a man. But if a man feels ashamed of competing for control, which can lead
to depression, he can help by being honest and open about his feelings of needing
Rule 2: Blame
Another rule that
shaming men follow is to blame somebody, including themselves, if something goes
wrong. They never blame the shame-generating system or their rules, although that
would be more appropriate. Either taking on too much or too little can cause shame,
either through feelings of inadequacy or feelings of "innocence."
men will blame themselves for war, crime, "patriarchy," or sexism. Whenever
you hear this, consider pointing it out to your client, thus helping your client
to explore whether that blame is warranted. In cases where my male client seems
to blame others, I ask him to use more "I-messages," rather than "you-messages"
Rule 3: Perfectionism
Shame is generated when men always are, do and "feel" right. They don't
try if it means they might make a mistake, and they justify everything. They are
often over-competitive and are either trying to cover up a perceived deficiency
or believe that a mistake will mean the "end of the world." It may be
that men who are perfectionists withhold feelings, especially in men's groups.
When I see this in my depressed shame-based clients, I like to tell the client,"You don't have to be right. You just have to be honest." Are there
some clients that you can say this to?
Rule 4: Incompleteness
I find depressed shame-based male clients are easily shamed if they feel incomplete
in some way, like if they haven't resolved disagreements with others, especially
their partners. When they keep feuds and resentments going, not daring to confront
the problem, I tell my clients to again start with being honest. It may take awhile
to completely resolve the issue because more superficial problems may first divert
attention from the real issues. I find clients experience a sense of relief when
they realize they don't have to give up themselves in order to be loved.
As we've discussed, many men easily deny feelings, needs
and desires, both their own and those of others. They especially deny feelings
they consider "inappropriate," like sadness or fear, and they'll deny
even the obvious. They may feel the only "acceptable" emotion is anger.
But when they dissociate from their feelings in this way, an inherent shame sets
in. Just letting them know that their feelings are legitimate can help them open
up and explore all of their feelings.
Rule 6: No Talk.
In addition to control, blame, perfectionism, incompleteness and denial is Rule
6. No Talk.
Related to the concept of denial, men might bottle up their feelings
and hide secrets with a strict code of silence. So you agree your clients keep
quiet on personal secrets, taboo subjects, and resentments. Particularly, men
are often too humiliated to talk about money, insecurities about their body, anger
towards women, feelings of superiority or, conversely, intimidation, addictions,
or disappointments. Do you agree? I find the best way to crack the shell is to
let them know their feelings are "okay" and "acceptable."
I have found shame is generated when men deny
their feelings by disguising them. They'll "spin" the shameful incident
around and distort it in the process. They try to avert their focus from the shameful
part and focus attention instead on the positive part. While to an extent, this
is a healthy practice, it's important for men to truly recognize when they feel
Otherwise, as you are aware, disqualification will only maintain the status
quo so he doesn't have to confront the serious, shameful content. In our society,
men are so accustomed to disqualification in the media, politics, the law, and
so on, that we forget something is being disguised. Once again, honesty is the
most effective way to begin breaking down this shame-perpetuating rule.
Sometimes, male clients create shame by being unreliable or untrustworthy. They don't act in a predictable way, keeping the people they
love guessing about their actions. Consequently, they begin to expect the same
unreliability from others. And others begin to distance themselves, afraid of
his reactions to certain mistakes. He feels shame because he isn't close to anyone,
when what he really needs is intimacy. Often, he is unreliable even to himself
and doesn't view himself as a good friend. If have found client confrontation
seems to help in many of these cases. Hopefully, if he perceives someone else
or himself as unreliable, he can call it out and begin to change it.
9: Not Allowing the Five Freedoms
The five freedoms I'm referring
to are the power to perceive, to think and interpret, to feel, to want and choose,
and the power to imagine. Shamed men don't allow their children, or often their
partners these freedoms. And just as important, they often don't allow them for
themselves. Often, the rule of perfectionism prevents these freedoms from being
fully expressed. Personal confrontation, independent of control, is the best way
to introduce the freedoms back into depressed men's lives. If they stop feeling
the shame of being themselves and of causing hurt to other people, they can feel
these freedoms again.
Rule 10: Moral Intimidation
Too often, men shame by assuming the right to decide what and who are right, appropriate,
enlightened, professional, mature, humane, or politically correct. They might
enforce moral authority with shaming threats, rhetorical questions, or name-calling.
And depressed men can either be the perpetrators or the object of this shame-reinforcing
rule. They'll either judge other people's values and drive them away or feel naturally shamed by having their own values frowned upon.
As you know,
everyone follows these shaming rules from time to time. The trick is to recognize when shamed, depressed male clients are following these rules. They can then begin
to break them.
Think of a male client you are currently treating
who feels shame. Does he exhibit the shaming rules of control, blame, perfectionism,
incompleteness, denial, no talk, disqualification, unreliability, not allowing
the five freedoms, and moral intimidation? Would it be beneficial to talk about
any of these with him? Would it be beneficial to play this portion of track one
in a session with this client?
In the next track, we will discuss
the "Shame Release" technique.
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.
Kim, S., Thibodeau, R., & Jorgensen, R. S. (2011). Shame, guilt, and depressive symptoms: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 137(1), 68–96.
Reilly, E. D., Rochlen, A. B., & Awad, G. H. (2014). Men’s self-compassion and self-esteem: The moderating roles of shame and masculine norm adherence. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 15(1), 22–28.
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