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In the last track, we discussed counterdependence. As you know, it's necessary to change thought processes and feelings before you can change behavior.
On this track 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 their behavior.
Three Steps to become More Emotionally Aware
Step # 2 - Notice Negative Effects of Masculine Conditioning
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.
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 his emotions.
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
I 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 and society.
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?
Once 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 own feelings.
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? On the next track, we will discuss homophobia
and relating to other men.
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