I have worked professionally with literally thousands of traumatized young men.
I have also worked with hundreds of traumatized girls and women. Healing male trauma successfully is a bit unique, in contrast to the work generally done with female victims of trauma. Not completely different; both genders have the same basic human physical, mental, and emotional makeup. Yet, primarily due to socialization and what I call, “gender indoctrination,” the approaches that are successful tend to be a bit different.
Perhaps you are a male trying to heal your own trauma. Or, you have a male partner, son, brother, or friend in your life that needs healing. Below are some approaches to working out trauma that I have found successful with men.
Mental Health Counseling
“Talk Therapy” is great — for many women and some men. Studies have shown that even at an early age, young girls tend to have more highly developed verbal cognition and articulation skills than male children (generally). For example, most girls have the ability to read by age five. That part of the brain does not kick in for most boys until about age seven. Hence, boys have greater “disciplinary” problems and are at an academic disadvantage in grade school. We often carry this stigma into our adult lives, even if we were able to catch up at some point with the females. Societal and familial inputs tend to reinforce those initial early years’ language skills gap we have behind girls.
Boys are more often encouraged to be physical, athletic, and to express their passion through sports rather than words. As a young boy in the 2nd grade, I was put into the “dummy class” for reading (as it was pejoratively called by my peers and family at the time.) It took me years to even think of myself as being “smart” enough to talk. Add on top of that a stuttering problem from age five to eight, being stuck in a school desk listening to a teacher tell me to be still and quiet, (and wanting to run outside) made me feel alienated around school. Specifically, as a boy, with “words.”
Want to Know What the Number One Commonality is for Men on Death Row for Murder?
Poverty? Abandonment? Prenatal drug use? No, negative, incorrect. The key common denominator is illiteracy. When I was studying for my Master’s Degree in Negotiation, Conflict Resolution, and Peacebuilding, I discovered this in the scholastic literature. I almost dropped out of the program to pursue a Master’s in Teaching English, so I could more effectively prevent violence. “Use your words!” Boys hear this all the time. Later as men, we hear it from our romantic partners.
So, IF we get around to taking 45 minutes a week out of our busy adult lives to engage in some sort of talk therapy with a professional, it feels REALLY weird. It is not just the social stigma males must uphold on our shoulders of “Not being weak,” or, “Not needing any help.” It just feels FAKE. UNCOMFORTABLE. Far too introspective. We have to talk too much about those things we do not know — our inner feelings. It can be rough.
I Always Recommend Mental Health Services and Talk Therapy to the Young Trauma Victims I Work With.
Always. But, maybe 10% (at best) follow through and actually do it. It is alien territory for many boys and men. Some of the men I have worked with do better with a female therapist, some with a male therapist. Men are often trained to see other males as potential rivals and/or enforcers (often physically through violence) of the gender dogma we are programmed with by family, our communities, and society. So some males only have experience divulging feelings to the women in their lives (usually Mom or a girlfriend). Women therapist can do amazing work with the men who have the bravery to see them.
Why Would Men Need Trauma-Informed Healing? Are They Not the Ones Committing the Trauma?
Yes, we are, thank you. Males commit 90% of the interpersonal violence across the globe. This percentage does not include institutional violence, which I would guesstimate would be 99.9% male perpetrators of government and terrorist warfare, police and correctional staff violence, and institutional policy violence.
The epidemic of violence against women is dreadfully high across the globe. 1 in 3 women in their lifetime will experience at least some form of violence from a male. This figure, which is from the World Health Organization, has not dropped in the decades since they began gathering data. I personally feel that figure it is way too low. More like 2 out of 3, or 3 out of 3, from my own anecdotal experiences in talking with female victims.
Here is The Dark, Dirty, Little Secret Men Do Not Want You to Know:
Men make up 70% of the victims of violence. Almost exclusively violence from other males. This is not to discount the growing phenomenon of female Intimate Partner Violence perpetrators. That does happen, yet numerically it is quite less than women victims, and the severity of injury is significantly lower. But know this — if you know a male, the chances that he has been a victim of violence (including sexual violence) is astronomical.
Assume your “significant other,” your son, your father, or any male you encounter has had his ass kicked (at the minimum), a gun or knife pulled on him, has been beaten by a male adult as a child, or sexually abused. You can count on that as a safe bet.
So What Should Be Done to Heal Male Trauma?
First of all, you go to the root to cure the disease, not the symptoms. Males committing 90% of violence is a symptom. 1 out of 3 women being victims of male violence is a symptom. 70% of the victims of violence being other males is a symptom.
What is the root problem? The way males are raised to belief what a respectful man truly is. This “gender indoctrination” towards unhealthy masculinity needs to be devolved, deconstructed, and replaced with healthy models of masculinity for boys and men. Period.
I sincerely believe violence against women and men could be eradicated in one quick generation if we examined and changed how we raise boys. No more school shootings (all boys shooting), no more rape (all males raping), no more gang violence, no more war. Simple.
How do we achieve that goal? A big part of how we achieve that is by healing male trauma. Only a whole, healed man can model positive manhood for boys and other men. Yet, many of us may not get healed with just talking. Our bodies commit violence. Our bodies are the receptacles of violence. Our bodies cling on a cellular level (subconscious survival memory) to the violence inflicted upon it. A powerful gateway to healing of men comes through working with and through their bodies.
What Kind of Mind-Body Therapies Work Well with Men?
I am biased and opinionated on the subject, having done a massive amount of healing through engaging in marital arts training, Qigong, and Tai Chi. These methodologies cut to the core of our bodies nervous systems, on a kinetic and subconscious level. Learning to train with another (often male) partner in learning how to fight, gives us a kinetic trigger to unleash (safely) the physical trauma of the violence stored in our bodies. Our arms, legs, or torsos bang against another male — different that the one who traumatized us. Training often empowers men (and women) to feel competent to handle the raw physicality of a violent attack — this time with a different outcome.
Doing Qigong, Tai Chi or Yoga, also brings in this physicality and kinetic dimension to our healing of male trauma. In Qigong, we slip (while in a moving meditation) into an almost subconscious state, allowing our bodies to heal and our stress to evaporate. “Stuff” comes up for my students, without talking. I have had numerous men and women just start crying as they get engaged in Qigong, because the “guard” of the conscious mind drops down. We just feel something coming, we cry or laugh, and it passes. Then we feel “clearer.” Beats drinking and drugs to cope with trauma.
Sometimes we can use healing music in the background to further enhance getting into a deeply relaxed subconscious state. This, then enhances our bodies natural healing abilities to engage; to deeply heal our physical, emotional and mental trauma. We can feel free. It is fun. And, we don’t have to talk. We just DO. We just HEAL. Men like action more than words.