When I tell people that I’m a mindset and self-awareness coach for men, there are two standard responses I receive. And by standard, I mean that I will get them at least 95 per cent of the time. The first usually centres around the question, “why only men?”, which while understandable, frequently means me having to restrain myself from replying, “well, why not?”
I knew when I first made the decision to focus my practice on men people would inevitably ask why I was not directing my attention towards inspiring other women. I was also aware that if I was to say I worked with young people or, another group with more obvious needs, people might show admiration and that my choice would instantly resonate with them. A woman working with men however shakes a person’s model of the world and so an explanation is almost always in order.
Aside from the initial “why only men?” response, there is a second I routinely hear, which I’m unable to rationalise quite so easily and, maybe naively, it’s the reaction I was least expecting. It goes something like this: “Oh men are so simple, it’s the women you want to target. They’re the ones that need help.”
Yes, in some quarters men are labelled as simple creatures with minimal needs that barely traverse the arenas of sex, food or sport.
This is a belief that is widely promoted and accepted even by those who should know better. It is also the very reason so many of my clients have waited so long before raising their hands and admitting that they need help, that they have other things on their minds, things they would like to discuss, to improve or gain better perspective on. This surface level appraisal of manhood, which stamps it as simple usually exists only in comparison to how women function and is often perpetuated by both sexes. While it may seem like a quick and harmless generalisation, if we wish in these moments to downplay our sensitivities as human beings, it’s important we at least be aware we’re doing it, because collectively it does in fact cause a lot of harm.
Men’s needs are not fewer or less complicated than women’s, they are different.
And being different does not equate to non-existence. I concur that if we must keep score cards between the sexes, there are some general differences in how each will view or respond to the same challenge, but the conclusion that what lays beneath this phenomena is ocean-deep women and sink-shallow men must be re-evaluated.
Aside from the flippant generalisations that neatly bury any useful analysis of a situation, there is a real consequence of our constant over simplification of masculinity and what it means to be a man. The biggest misconception, within my field of work at least, is that it is not seen as normal for men to need mental or emotional support. We only need look within our immediate social circles and society at large for examples of this. In the UK the rates of male suicide are significantly higher than those of women, while campaigns against cancer, rape and domestic abuse have historically been predominantly more female oriented and when they’re not it’s such a statement that the concept behind the campaign rather than the issue itself is what we talk about. People have become so used to watching men self-medicate with drink, drugs or sex that we are no longer as swift to even realise when the shift over into self-harm occurs. And what’s worse is that much of this behaviour quickly becomes the norm, something that a particular friend, lover or father does, just how they deal with things.
Anxiety, emotional distress, business problems, relationship worries, pressures of fatherhood – these are subjects that are all very real and alive within our men today. With the rise of the metrosexual and the whole mindfulness revolution, one would be forgiven for assuming that the problem is not so great, and that any men really wanting to talk or do self-work would do so. But it’s not as cut and dry as this. A huge number of the men I meet still equate self-expression with weakness, or letting go with losing it. The perception of weakness is a real barrier to change and consequences can manifest in ways that those closest to these men would not even imagine. While I am not a counsellor, a large proportion of my sessions are about giving men the opportunity to speak about things they have never felt able to express and to explore thoughts or experiences they have literally never been able to discuss.
Just as coaches for women promote self-empowerment and the fabulousness of feminine energy, so do I promote the magnificence of the masculine. Coaching men is not just about making them better business people or public speakers – their issues can and do run far, far deeper than this. From insomniac CEOs, men struggling with weight issues, anxiety and phobias to the fear of death or the search of fulfilment, the list goes on. Contrary to popular belief, there are some women out here who reject the idea that females are all abundantly complicated and men woefully simple. I urge us to be more vocal and pro-active in speaking out against the over-simplification of men.
So to answer the question, why do I coach men only, my answer is this: Because it is deeply fulfilling, fun and rewarding work. Yes, they may be slower to ask for help and their voices quieter when they do so, but when it happens there should always be a few of us there, men and women, ready and waiting to listen.
Tori Ufondu is a Mindset Coach for men, championing self-awareness and covering both the personal and professional challenges that men face.
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