We All Need Friends, "Lean on Me"
Lean on Me
Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long 'til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on…
We are a “go it alone” society. This is a value I heard and continue to hear many times from clients past and present. There are those who believe that it stems from the American frontier days, particularly life in the Western part of the U.S. However, this is inaccurate. The people who settled the West depended on each other and worked together to settle the frontier.
So, what does this have to do with psychology, I almost hear you ask? Many people, particularly men, cling to the ideology that they do not need anyone, that any show of emotion is a sign of weakness and that they can stand alone. “Stand-alone” is meant to solve your own problems without help from others. This type of thinking and being does not work in the context of marriage and raising children.
Do you remember “The Marlboro Man?” He personified male independence. Quite aside from the issue of smoking, the Marlboro man represented male independence, self-sufficiency and rugged independence, the quintessential cowboy of the old frontier. In other words, this man would not lean on anyone. The Marlboro man is a mythical figure that is still embraced by the American value of “go it alone.”
The fact is we need people. From the time we are born we need mothering without which we could not survive. Mothering whether it is done by the actual mother or by a surrogate, even the father, involves feeding, holding, caressing singing to, imitating and playing with the baby. Regardless of how old we come to be, we remain in need of tactile sensation including holding, cuddling, touching, and hugging. Unfortunately, I have seen many clients whose marriages or relationships are in deep trouble because there is little or no interaction between partners because of this stubborn determination to “go it alone,” not something that fits well in an intimate relationship.
Basically, many males subscribe to the notion that it is better to be self-reliant. Self-reliance carries a lot of meaning for men. It’s identified as being masculine. To these men, masculinity means that 1. Emotions are left unexpressed, 2. Any male who talks about feelings are is emotional must be gay, 3. Anything other than self-reliance is feminine and therefore means weakness.
Men pay a high price for clinging to these beliefs and attitudes. Repressing emotions can lead to depression, something males do not want to talk about but experience all too often. In addition, men have a much higher rate of successful suicide compared to women. Even the method used by these men is interesting because it represents masculinity: they use guns to shoot themselves to death. Long before suicide, there is often drinking heavily, substance abuse, outbursts of anger. In fact, it’s an interesting fact that the one emotion men have no difficulty expressing is anger, even rage.
Therein lies another problem. Men are sometimes too good at expressing rage. When they do it comes in the form of aggression, domestic abuse, child abuse, crime, and ultimately, war.
One last factor to point out is that there is an extremely high rate of divorce in the United States. While men alone are not to blame for this, they do not help. Many wives who come to me for psychotherapy complain that their husbands do not communicate. For example, if the wife wants to discuss an issue or express dissatisfaction, their husband will walk out of the room.
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