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Mens Mental Health

The Health Epidemic of the 21st Century

The Health Epidemic of the 21st Century

Stress .png

We all know how to handle the following scenario: We get in the car and the check engine light comes on. We groan with the thought of having yet another thing to take care of. We take the car to our mechanic and have him run diagnostics to determine what’s not operating optimally. He calls us with our options, we follow his sage advice and have him perform the recommended repair, pick up our vehicle, and move on. Problem solved!

But when we sense something is “off” in our lives with our general satisfaction or mental or emotional well-being, there’s a tendency to avoid tackling the issue and instead, we often bury our heads in the sand, hoping it will pass.

This approach is not only unproductive but unhealthy for our overall health!

Stress is an emotional feeling that arises from challenging circumstances. The way our bodies process these situations is known as the stress response, AKA the “fight or flight” response. This stress response creates actual changes to our hormones, our cardiovascular and nervous system, and even our respiration. This “fight or flight” response was critical for our ancestor’s survival during their hunting and gathering days, but we don’t deal with the same situations our ancestors once did (now that’s putting things into perspective!). Nonetheless, the ability to experience stress is still a part of our genetic predisposition. And the effects of ongoing stress are believed to cause significant damage to the body.

It’s easy to identify the big stressors that can really send things out of whack - relationship or family issues, any type of loss or trauma, and work issues or deadlines. But everyday stress is just as important to identify – it often presents as restlessness, irritability, exhaustion, feeling pressured or overwhelmed, and as difficulty completing tasks. It also tends to masquerade as headaches, muscle tension, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, chest pain or as the sensation of a racing heart, loss of interest in sex, sadness, depression, withdrawal, fear, anxiety, and very commonly in men, anger. And men who get angry when stressed tend to have even higher heart rates!

We’re more prone to the effects of stress because we typically manage stress differently than women, who tend to have large social circles. Our solitary behaviors are the perfect breeding ground for stress overload – panic attacks, frequent colds and infections, chronic worrying, avoidance techniques such as drinking or doing drugs, overeating, and smoking.

Left untreated, there’s a direct correlation between stress and disease - including heart disease - and chronic gastrointestinal issues, chronic pain, male fertility, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction. It is estimated that up to 80% of men’s doctor’s visits may have a stress precursor. There’s a better way, gents!

Stress is here to stay. So, let’s change how we deal with it.

First, seek support. Talk to someone – your doctor, a friend or colleague, your spouse, partner or a family member. Just venting to someone can relieve your stress and help you see things in a whole new light.

Also, minimize what you’re taking on. Not everything is critical and needs to be done now. What can you place on the back burner to help reduce your burden, so you don’t feel so overwhelmed? It’s bloody hell to try to take on the world.

Take extra care of yourself. Be active. Do what you can to manage your anger. Exercising, taking time for meditation, and spending time in nature can reduce your stress and will improve your sleep. When stressful times occur, ensure you are increasing your downtime and pleasurable activities to help balance things out.

Look, no one has ever triumphed over stress by going down the rabbit hole of isolation.

Spending time with your support network is critical when you’re stressed, even though it’s instinctive to want to withdraw. Try to stay connected more than ever. Isolation only compounds the situation.

When stress strikes, you need to be at the top of your game. Adopt these winning habits so you can begin to manage your stress, instead of allowing it to manage you.

Need more help with this issue? You’re not alone. Let’s connect for a complimentary, 20-minute phone consultation. Book through my website, Facebook page, or call 512-470-6976. There’s help in your corner, mate!


Research Citations:

Lupis, S., Lerman, M., Wolf, J. (2014) Coping anger responses to psychosocial stress predict heart rate and cortisol stress responses in men and women. Accessed: https://doi-org.ezproxy.stedwards.edu/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.07.004

The American Institute of Stress (2019) How to tell when a man is stressed. Accessed: https://www.stress.org/how-to-tell-when-a-man-is-stressed

The American Institute of Stress (2019) Stress Effects. Accessed: https://www.stress.org/stress-effects

Webmd.com How Stress Affects your Health. Accessed: https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/what-is-stress#1

Men & the Problem with Being Problem Solvers

Men & the Problem with Being Problem Solvers

Simon Niblock, MA, LMFT

He: Damn it, just let me help you! You keep going on and on about this and you don’t seem to want to do anything about it!

She: I’m not asking for your help! It’s not a problem that I want to fix… there’s nothing here to fix. Will you please, just for once stop offering me advice??!!! That’s not what I’m asking for!

He: I don’t get it! What on earth do you want? What am I supposed to do with that?

She: I just want you to listen! You seriously don’t get me. You don’t listen to me!!

He: AAAAHHHHHH!

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At this precise moment, he feels his head’s about to explode. Why does this conversation continue to happen over and over again? What am I doing so wrong? He cares about this woman and he really wants to help, yet it’s so aggravating that he can’t seem to convince her to resolve this dilemma. Seriously, it’s so damn simple. Why would someone want to torture themselves like that? His rumination resumes and he withdraws.

This scenario describes a familiar story that men say that they have experienced. He wants to ease his partners burden. However, his attempts to help her only create distance between them. He’s confused and even saddened by his lack of ability to help. He wants to help. He really needs to help. Yet, despite his insistence, his partner may not necessarily be interested in adopting a solution.

Which leads to the question: why do men have such an inherent need to solve problems? 

One potential consideration is that many men describe that this need comes from the idea of adhering to masculine norms, and that to be a man they need to ‘do’ something. This externally directed focus, or activity of ‘doing’ is consistent with more action-orientated approaches favored by boys and men (Rabinowitz & Cochran, 2002). Men frequently say that they feel utterly useless and unhinged if they can’t fix a problem. When men are attending to some type of responsibility, fixing, performing, or solving a dilemma, they know they belong.

We really don’t need to look too hard to identify where this strategy comes from. Right from a young age, boys adopt masculine-specific characteristics from a wide range of familial, social and cultural sources. One especially pervasive masculine narrative includes that in order ‘to be a man’, he should contribute ‘as a man’ by solving problems. An example of this includes providing comfort and safety to those that they care about. Such narratives have a tremendous impact on men, and they readily muddy the water by making it difficult to determine when and where a solution should be applied – if at all. 

Is there a problem being a problem solver?

What’s the problem with men wanting to be action-orientated or problem solvers? Typically, nothing. There’s really no problem being a problem solver, that is unless it interferes with a man’s ability to connect with the discomfort of their own internal experience or if his actions directly affect others. Men who reflect on this dynamic often discover that their motivation to advocate advice is to avoid facing their own discomfort when presented with an issue. The idea that their partner is hurt or confused, risks the potential of them having to face the monsters that lie deep beneath. 

As the old saying goes ‘necessity is the mother of all inventions’ and blokes have become very adept at developing strategies to deal with the things that await within.

What is a man to do when he perceives a problem, but cannot do anything about it? He’s left facing a conflict between what he has been taught and the reality of the situation. There is nothing that he can do, other than face the awkward discomfort. Over time he starts to call his own sense of relevance into question and eventually he experiences a crisis of masculine identity. Then all hell breaks loose.

What’s a positive way to address this dilemma?

So, what can men do when faced with the dilemma that there’s no problem to solve? Surprisingly there is actually something positive that can be done, even when there seems like there’s no opportunity to do anything. Kind of ironic really. The best place to begin is with surrendering to the idea that unless someone asks for a solution, then there is no problem to solve. This idea is going to be a bit foreign to begin with. 

It might even feel right down uncomfortable. The idea of surrendering to discomfort means acknowledging the experience and just letting it sit with you for a little while. This may require a conscious effort to place your ‘ego’ aside for a moment. Allowing yourself to say that you are on a different journey to the person you want to help, and that’s ok.

This discomfort allows you to create space for you to breath and gain some insight into your own needs. During this period of discomfort, it’s possible to connect with all sorts of personal insights. It can often provide very specific answers about why we find ourselves so deeply unsettled when presented with other people’s problems. 

Cedric and the Black Dog - Part Two

Cedric and the Black Dog - Part Two

Black Dog 2

Cedric and his black dog is a vignette that describes the experience that a lot of blokes have with depression.

Often guys say that they are followed by a black dog, or they feel like they are at the bottom of a dark bottomless shaft, or that they are an actor trying to play themselves. These descriptions highlight that depression is a very individual, subjective experience. It’s impact or severity and how long the experience might last can vary. Yet, it is pervasive, sometimes debilitating, and its symptoms can affect your thoughts, your emotions, how you act and behave, as well as your relationships. However, with the right knowledge and support, overcoming depression is very possible.

The underlying cause of depression is not completely known. However, what is understood is that it’s not necessarily a single event or experience that causes depression, rather it is the combination of a number of contributing factors that lead to its development. Other contributing personal factors such as biological or genetic vulnerability, chronic stress, medical problems, and medications, social, lifestyle and relationship challenges may also trigger depression.

Research shows that women often experience depression more than men, however, men are less adept at recognizing symptoms. Often men underplay what’s happening to them, resulting in attempts to ignore feelings of sadness, shame, hopelessness or guilt. Typically, men will allow the underlying causes of the problem to develop over a prolonged period of time, until it becomes chronic. Often, men will attempt to mask the problem via masculine behaviors of aggression, anger, and loss of control.

Men also respond to the experience of depression through increased substance use such as drinking or drug use or engaging in high-risk activities such as drink driving. Men also isolate themselves more than women when depressed, and will immerse themselves into their work or interests. Subsequently, their relationships with loved ones, friends and colleagues start to deteriorate. The unfortunate irony with this behavior is that these relationships are often critical in overcoming the problem that they are experiencing.

Over prolonged periods of struggling with depression, men begin to experience physical and neurological symptoms. Depression is associated with cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke. “Many men were not aware that physical problems such as headaches, stomach problems, and chronic pain might actually be symptoms of depression.” Chronically recurring depressive episodes also impact the formation and regulation of emotions and memory due to neuroanatomical abnormalities. This includes the areas of the brain responsible for attention/working memory, executive function, and memory recall. Brain structure actually changes because of depression.

The greatest risk for men in relation to depression is the impact of suicide. Untreated chronic depression can sometimes lead to suicidal ideation and acts of self-harm. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men die by suicide three and a half times more often than women. A contributing factor to this number is due to the extreme methods in which men choose to take their lives. In the US, firearms account for almost 50% of all suicides. White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides and the rate of suicide is highest in middle age, white men in particular.

However, due to the greater social awareness surrounding depression and its treatment, men are nowadays more open to the idea of reaching out. They are open to the feedback from friends, loved-ones, and colleagues that they are not alone and that professional help is available. While men’s willingness to help themselves has started changing, more needs to be done. Continuing research into men’s physiology, interpersonal and intrapersonal psychology to identify effective gender specific treatment options is required. Such options will drastically help men cope emotionally and physically with chronic stress or acute adverse experiences.

The potential of decreasing the likelihood of developing depression involves proactively improving the quality of lifestyle factors. These factors include good sleep patterns, healthy eating, and nutrition, as well as regular exercise and self-care habits. Improved relationship connections, such as intimate or romantic, family, social or occupational are the foundation of reducing the likelihood of developing depression. Finally, further social advocacy is needed to facilitate men seeking help and to teach everyone to recognize the signs of depression in men.

If you recognize any of these symptoms, then consider connecting with a trained, licensed mental health care professional and start a conversation.

  • A desire to withdraw;
  • Losing interest in friends and activities you used to enjoy;
  • Difficulty concentrating on things;
  • Feeling down or irritated most of the day, nearly every day;
  • Significant change in weight or change in appetite;
  • Changes in sleep patterns;
  • Changes in activity, such as speech, thinking, movement;
  • Feeling jumpy or physically agitated;
  • Fatigue or loss of energy;
  • Negative and unrealistic thoughts about guilt or feeling worthlessness; and
  • Having thoughts of death, or suicide or have a plan for suicide.

If you are struggling with any of these experiences, or are concerned about someone who is, then I invite you to have a conversation. Call me on (512) 470-6976 or schedule a free 20 min consultation to explore your options for help.

- Simon

Information and Resources on Men's depression:

Heads Up Guys: https://headsupguys.org/mens-depression/

Help Guide: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-in-men.htm

Beyond Blue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/depression/what-causes-depression

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): https://www.nami.org

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression

Cedric and the Black Dog – Part One

Cedric and the Black Dog – Part One

Black Dog 1.jpg

My name is Cedric and I have a black dog that follows me everywhere.

It’s not my dog. I don’t know where it came from, but it plodded its way into my house years ago, unannounced, uninvited, and the damn thing won’t leave. I’m not a dog person, so I don’t know why he chose me. In fact, I don’t like pets at all, but I’m sadly getting used to its presence. I refuse to give it a name, because I don’t want us to become friends. My hope is if I ignore it, it will wander off and find a new owner.

This dog accompanies throughout my entire day. It’s sitting there at the edge of my bed when I wake each morning. As much as I want to stay here under the covers in the hope that it will wander off, I know the moment I wake, it will be there staring at me with its dark black sullen eyes. It’s not a friendly dog. There’s no wagging tail, no lapping tongue here. It’s no fun. It doesn’t want to play, or go outside. It doesn’t like to do anything, other than mope around. This sad creature just nuzzles at me, constantly vying for attention, which I feel compelled to offer. What on earth does this useless, pathetic creature want?

This black dog is very territorial. It doesn’t like any of my friends or my family, and it certainly doesn’t get along with my boss. Keeping this a secret at work is causing me to drop the ball constantly. Occasionally, it growls at those around me with its deep throaty, guttural sound. I’ve seen it raise its hackles, and snare its sharp teeth to protect me. From time to time, it destroys my furniture and chews up my possessions. I don’t know where it acquired a taste for that. I know it means business and I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t have any intention of putting up with anyone’s shit.

It’s odd that no one has mentioned that they’ve seen me with this dog, well, at least I don’t think they have. I’m pretty sure that my family doesn’t realize that this thing constantly accompanies us, even when we take the kids to the movies. When the family’s around, it curls its tail under and sits in the corner of the room. I know, because I can see it sitting there in the corner of my eye. It’s distracting. When they leave, this black dog returns to my side. I’ve even woken from a nap, with it sitting on my chest. Do you know how hard it is to breath with a massive dog sitting on you? I thought I was going to have a damn heart attack.

I know that it’s just a matter of time until someone’s going to complain. I find myself staying at work longer, so that it can hide undetected in my office. When I’m at home, I stay alone in the garage with it for hours at end. My family shouldn’t have to put up with this uninvited guest the way I do. Sadly, that makes me feel guilty. I’ll sit there surrounded by my yard equipment, and I’ll put back a few quiet beers. When this happens, the big black dog wanders off for a while, no doubt to pester someone else. When I wake up in the morning, the damn thing’s back.

I’m not sure what to do. I honestly have no clue and I’m pretty sure that this black dog is getting bigger. Maybe I’m paying too much attention to it, but it’s presence is starting to worry me. I’m concerned that I’ll be caught out harboring this unwanted guest, before I can figure something out. I’d like to talk to someone, anyone, however I have responsibilities and I can’t let my family down. The sight of this creature makes me sick to my stomach and as a result, I can’t think straight. I can tell that this dog finds all the things that I used to enjoy doing, well, boring and dull. I look forward to those peaceful moments at night, when everyone’s asleep. I just sit there, wide awake, thinking. Thoughts just rolling around without any resolution. Just me and this this damn black dog. Someone must have trained it well.

Cedric and the Black Dog - Part Two

What the hell am I going to call this? The nature of Ambivalence.

What the hell am I going to call this? The nature of Ambivalence.

Simon Niblock, Men Couples & Family Therapy

We’ve all experienced that moment where we find ourselves at a crossroads. Which direction do we go? We weigh the options, pros and cons when faced with this choice, struggling to make a decision.

Our normal decision-making process just doesn’t seem to accommodate the situation that we face. We wax and wane, we procrastinate and on occasions, we avoid making a decision altogether. What’s even more confusing and anxiety provoking is when we notice that the way we’re behaving doesn’t align with the way that we think, our values, or our desired intentions.

We know that it’s in our best interest to do something different, but for the life of us, we cannot figure out what it is. Things simply feel discombobulated, and it begins to gnaw at us. This confusion ripples out and affects the way we interact with the world around us, including our relationships. This internal struggle, this confused state is best described as ambivalence, and it is a universal human condition.

Ambivalence is a state of simultaneous, conflicting values, needs, beliefs or feelings towards a particular scenario, person or object. It is a natural human trait to experience ambivalence. Whether it’s buying a new car or trying to determine what to wear to a job interview, a certain amount of ambivalence in our everyday life is healthy. We experience these moments simply because we are creatures of deliberation, critique, and exploration. Ambivalence is the experience that lends to our need to critically evaluate the benefits and consequences of given predicament.

We relate to ambivalence in a wide spectrum of experiences. For some individuals, identifying a source of internal conflict is relatively easy, and are able to articulate the struggles without too much difficulty. Others may simply sense that something feels misaligned, yet it can be troublesome, and right down confusing connecting with an underlying cause. Some experiences of ambivalence can be inherently unconscious. We just feel like something’s misaligned, and we can’t work out how to move forward. The effects of ambivalence can vary widely across individuals and situations.

What is important to distinguish is ambivalence is not the same as indifference. Indifference is described as a lack of sympathy, interest or concern. When it comes to forming a decision or making a choice, indifference can be mistaken as ambivalence. Just because someone is struggling to go to the gym to exercise, doesn’t mean they don’t care about their health. An individual may struggle to reach a meaningful conclusion, yet this suspension does not insinuate an indifference or a lack of desire to do something different.

The challenge with ambivalence is when it becomes chronic. Similar to being bogged down in cement, chronic ambivalence interferes with our ability to move forward, make decisions and implement change, resulting in feelings of fear, confusion, frustration, and anger. It is often experienced as familiar, repeated pattern and cycle of internal conflict, never realizing a true sense of resolution or reaching a natural conclusion. Chronic ambivalence can feel like a very real psychological obstacle.

Ambivalence leads to inconsistency in our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors which causes a disruption of congruence. Internal incongruence is experienced as stress, tension and uncertainty. ‘Psychologically uncomfortable ambivalence, also known as cognitive dissonance, can lead to avoidance, procrastination, or to deliberate attempts to resolve the ambivalence’ (Heregeld, Pligt, de Liver, 2009). This is often represented as thinking or saying one thing and then behaving in a completely conflicting manner.

Ambivalence may present itself within a relationship when opposing values, needs, beliefs or feelings are not effectively expressed or negotiated. While the foundation of most relationships consists of contrasting personal differences, discomfort may be experienced when ambivalence is avoided or unresolved. Couples often describe a lack of communication or conflict are in fact referencing an underlying cause of ambivalence. Furthermore, the discomfort or conflict that ambivalence creates is often exacerbated when an impasse occurs or an ultimatum is presented as a reaction between partners.

Overcoming ambivalence within ourselves or within our relationships is very possible. The challenge however that we often face when exploring our sense of ambivalence is the thought that we may have to, at some stage, make a deliberate conscious choice. Yes, it’s all about weighing the options and making a choice. Making a decision can represent a true dilemma for some individuals, as the act of making a choice implies that we then limit ourselves to the option which we have selected, thereby renouncing all other possibilities.

Often it is the fear of consequence, the unknown or the path least taken, that causes chronic ambivalence. We often reprimand ourselves by attempting to construe an ideal choice. Despite our intellectual debates, logical arguments and practical motives behind our decisions, the fear of making an incorrect decision and the fear of harboring regret, stop us from making any positive forward movement. Yet, by not making a decision, we remain stationary, never appreciate the potential of change or realizing the potential of an opportunity.

Focusing on resolving ambivalence requires deliberate and conscious self-exploration. Acknowledging what conflicting values, needs, beliefs or feelings are present is an ideal starting point. Understanding that no decision will ever be ideal and that every option will have its challenges and benefits. Next is to identify what fear we associate with the consequences of both the conflicting arguments, as well as the choice of maintaining the status quo. Yes, not doing anything is an active choice.

Recognizing and acknowledging our personal traits that can help overcome ambivalence is important. Personal traits or characteristics may include resourcefulness, adaptability, optimism, confidence, risk-taking, tolerance for ambiguity and initiative. ‘Research shows that certain personality traits may impact an individual’s likelihood of experiencing [or managing] ambivalence’ (Heregeld, Pligt, de Liver, 2009). These personality traits form the foundation of readiness for change.

It is often a matter of determining which value, need, belief or feeling that we find ourselves prioritizing above its counterpart, that allows us to make a decision. In decision making, regardless of what compass we adopt (think matters of the heart versus the mind), when we choose according in a manner that is congruent within ourselves, then the effects of our ambivalence are diminished.

Most importantly, take your time in making a decision. Seek counsel if you feel it is necessary, especially if you experience confusion, ongoing procrastination or even risky behavior. Offer yourself some self-compassion by recognizing that your ambivalence serves a valid and important purpose. It serves as a sign. Explore the possibility that fear may be associated with your experiences and recognize that your choices, both perfect or flawed are the most valuable lessons that you can make for yourselves.

Here are some options on how to overcome ambivalence.

1.     Set some time aside for yourself to explore your dilemma. Journal your ambivalent feelings, thoughts or fears and the various scenarios in which they occur.

2.     Remind yourself that no situation is absolutely perfect and that all potential scenarios have strengths and weaknesses. Acknowledge and honor your ambivalent feelings. Be compassionate towards yourself.

3.     Take your time to make a decision. Seek guidance if needed. Remind yourself that no situation is 100% perfect and that all potential scenarios have their strengths and weaknesses.

4.     Determine your readiness for change. Identify and connect with your personal traits that support positive, well-defined change.

5.     Make a choice that is congruent with yourself and stand behind your decision.

6.     Assess your progress. Make changes if your choices no longer serve you, or if ambivalence ensues.

Cheers, Simon

References

Engle, D.E., Arkowitz, H. (2006). “Ambivalence in psychotherapy. Facilitating readiness to change” Guilford Publications Inc. New York, NY.

Hersh, T.R. (2017) Ambivalence. Retrieved from: http://www.psychological-observations.com/key-concepts/ambivalence

Leslie, I. (2017) Ambivalence is awesome. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/06/ambivalence_conflicted_feelings_cause_discomfort_and_creativity.html

Van Heregeld, F., van der Plight, J., de Liver, Y. (2009). "The agony of ambivalence and ways to resolve it: Introducing the MAID model". Personality and Social Psychology Review. 13 (1): 45–61. PMID 19144904. doi:10.1177/10888683083245

Why Do Some Friendships Last A Lifetime?

Why Do Some Friendships Last A Lifetime?

Have you ever stopped to consider why some friendships transcend space and time and can last a lifetime, yet others seem to have an expiry date and fizzle out?

Friendship is an incredibly rich experience that connects us with the world around us. The connection that friendship fosters, allows us to grow and evolve as we travel through all stages of our lives. Our friends influence us, and we influence them - hopefully in positive, fruitful and meaningful ways.

From the second that we step foot onto the playground on our first day of school, we learn the importance of establishing friendships. Our friendships often hold more significance in our lives, sometimes, on occasions, more than our own biological families.

We absorb everything from our friends - our language, our mannerisms, ideas, values, and principles, as well as the odd questionable fashion decision. As we grow much of our personality builds from the characteristics and qualities of our friendships.

In terms of cognitive and social development, it is considered that much of our personality throughout all stages of our life is mirrored, and absorbed from our compadres. “Smarter friends make us smarter; more social friends make us more outgoing; healthy friends make us more health conscious. Who they are [our friends] becomes part of us” (Fishman, 2015).

Friendship offers frequent boosts of happiness and joy, as well enhancing your sense of purpose and belonging. Positive friendships reduce stress and anxiety and improve your feelings of strength and self-esteem. When times are tough, they help cope with trauma and loss, while decreasing feelings of loneliness and isolation.

How we establish a friendship is often as unique as the person we connect with. As eloquently stated by C.S Lewis, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!” What is equally unique is the nature in which relationships evolve or dissolve over time.

So, if we’re able to experience such a significant connection with a friend in the beginning, then why do some relationships continue to enrich our lives, while others slowly fizzle out?

Unlike our relationships with parents or siblings, our friendships are especially unique because they are completely voluntary in nature. Nothing binds us within a friendship and we make an active, conscious choice to establish them.

However, as we are drawn to a friendship because of the lack of formal structure that we experience in family or romantic relationships, the ‘voluntary nature of friendship makes it subject to life's whims in a way other relationships aren't’ (Beck, 2015).

Like any other relationship, friendships need active, conscious effort to keep them flourishing. “Whether people hold onto their old friends or grow apart seems to come down to dedication and communication” (Beck, 2015). When mutual reciprocation of needs and expectations are offered in a friendship, it is very possible for it to thrive, even when time and distance is present.

Research has found that people need to feel like they are getting as much out of the friendship as they are putting in, and that that equity can predict a friendship’s continued success. This means that if the right conditions are fostered, ‘long distance’ or ‘time challenged’ relationships can pick up where they left off with incredible fluidity.

These are the moments when, after years of not seeing each other in person, your able to enjoy a four-hour marathon meal, with accompanying conversation (as well as decent wine) and feel like only an hour and a half has past.

Yet, life dramatically shapes and tests our friendships. From our adolescent years where friendships are the core of our universe, across the lifespan to our retirement years, our ability to establish and preserve friends changes dramatically. The number of friends that we have starts to decline around the age of twenty-five.

There are a plethora of reasons why friendships fizzle out, some key reasons include various life events that distract us as well as failing to nurture our relationships. Other influences include changes in personal values or worldviews over time that challenge the compatibility and subsequent reciprocation between friends.

So, I invite you to take a moment to reflect on the friendships that you have in your life. Some friendships might be chugging along happily on their path, others might need some tender love and attention, others might need to start a new chapter. Determine what’s required to foster their continued success? What’s necessary for them to survive life’s varied chapters, or even transcend space and time itself?

- Simon

References:

Fishman, T. (2015). Don't underestimate the power of friendship. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/06/07/friendship-science-human-needs-column/26633027/

Beck, J. (2015). How Friendships Change in Adulthood. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/10/how-friendships-change-over-time-in-adulthood/411466/

Bhattacharya, K., Ghosh, A., Minivans, D., Dunbar, R. I. M., & Kaski, K. (2016). Sex differences in social focus across the life cycle in humans. Royal Society Open Science, 3(4), 160097. http://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.160097

Men at Work: The changing relationship between men and their work.

Men at Work: The changing relationship between men and their work.

In a previous career of mine, a work colleague described what his influential and high paying job meant to him.

He said, “Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my job. I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years and I’m extremely grateful of what it has provided. But, it’s not my true passion.”

I was somewhat surprised by his comment. Here was an accomplished leader and businessman, who was highly respected as one of the best in his field saying that he felt ‘OK’ about his job. This guy knew his stuff, he knew people, he was respected, he was a shaker and a mover.

He elaborated, “What this job provides me is the opportunity to get up early each morning and walk out from my house onto the beach and go for a surf. It also provides me with the means to go anywhere in the world on a yearly surfing trip with my son. That’s why I’ve worked so hard, for as long as I have. That’s why I honestly do what I do”.

He continued to say that it really didn’t matter what job he did, as long as it provided him with the means to achieve the things that were really important to him. To him, his identity as a man and as a father did not hinge on what his job was, or the direction of his career path.

His comments have stuck with me for all these years. It offered a new and very refreshing perspective towards the relationship between men and their work. It highlighted for me, that as important as men view their work, there is a lot of value in recognizing that a man’s job can be a valuable part of their masculine identity; without it being their entire identity. That men have options on how they view themselves, without placing all their eggs in one basket.

A common theme described by men is the significant amount of personal meaning that they derive from their work. “Men traditionally derive a huge amount of self-esteem and gender identity, and personal happiness from their work, even more so than other environments such as their home life or social interactions” (Galinsky, 2011). However, the idea of extending their identity beyond their job, has the potential to offer an enormous amount of relief for men.

Think about the last time you met someone new for the first time. What was the first question that you ask, or were asked?

“So, tell me, what do you do…”?

This is one of those all too common, but loaded questions we ask in social environments. Asking this question satisfies our need for social comparison, but more importantly, our reply allows us to reinforce our identity - if we associate ourselves with the work we do. However, the traditional narrative of a man’s identity being tied up in their job is changing. Not unlike my own discovery while talking to my colleague, a lot of men are asking the question, ‘is there more to me than what I do as a job?’

The author, Alain de Botton, stated that “we spend most of our waking lives at work - in occupations most often chosen by our inexperienced younger selves. And yet we rarely ask ourselves how we got there or what our jobs mean to us”. His book, ‘The pleasures and sorrows of work’ explores why people do what they do. How many men, find enjoyment in their work, but often have no idea how on earth they got there?

There are a lot of men that derive tremendous happiness and satisfaction from their work. The sense of purpose, challenge, the ability to provide, a sense of inclusion and belonging and structure, not to mention the creation of bonds with other men. These are all important elements that contribute to a sense of masculinity and self.

Yet, men are now starting to realize this redefined sense of self in other ways. What they are discovering is a masculine identity that is equally enriched beyond their current thoughts of what work means to them. For example, the number of men who are changing the balance between workforce and family roles or discovering meaning and purpose in life via alternate pursuits or interests.

It is absolutely realistic for a man to question the narrative of ‘a job maketh a man’. In exploring new and exciting ingredients in life, a man can rewrite his story that contains greater meaning and depth. A man’s job is simply one of many amazing elements of who he is - and who he can be. 

Cheers, Simon