I recently read an article outlining all of the psychological reasons why men avoid seeking medical attention. The article was from a psychology journal and it reminded me of similar discussions I have had with former clients about “why we are the way we are.” This article observed this issue from several different psychological schools of thought and focused specifically on why men won’t seek medical attention unless it is an absolute dire emergency. The gist of it was we, as men, have been raised to make things harder for ourselves largely because we do not want to appear weak. This goes back generations, centuries and ages. I want to urge us to be a bit smarter, however. At the root of this is men’s refusal to ask for help, even for minor instances.
This really came home for me when I was running therapy groups and in one of my groups I would typically ask “how many people in here stop and ask for directions if they are lost?” Keep in mind, this was a little before GPS and Google Maps and other personal navigation methods. Usually about half of the men in the group would raise their hands with knowing smiles. My next question was always “You know you’re lost, you’ve been lost for a while. Why haven’t you asked for directions?” Typically I would hear a collective “Nope” from that part of the group. Men don’t ask for directions. Taken a bit further, men don’t ask for help.
I’m all for self-reliance, independence and all that other good man stuff. However, if you know you are lost, sick, or injured, why won’t you ask for help? You already know you’re fucked up, why do you want to continue being fucked up? Is it your aim to be more fucked up? Asking for directions is not as serious as seeking medical attention, which was the thrust of the article that inspired this. Being perceived as weak or less than has been the bane of male existence since civilization became civilized. The problem with this is when legitimate need for help exists, we won’t address it. This frequently leads to the injury worsening. We are taught to suck it up, but at what cost? Is this a smart way to do things, particularly as we age?
I understand the need for resilience against the elements when we were cave dwellers, hunter gatherers, farmers, ranchers, and so on. But most of us have left our caves behind and our resilience can be focused on other endeavors. Medical attention is available, shouldn’t we use it when the need is legitimate? Longevity and quality of life are also talked about frequently these days. I have been in positions where I didn’t have medical insurance and had to do without and I understand this from personal experience. But if we do have benefits and access, why do we, as men, avoid it?
The article examined this issue from several different psychological schools of thought. The influence of peer pressure was evident, as was the influence of superiors who feel if they had to do it, then we have to do it. This is how an 8-hour workday turns into a 12-hour workday. We will injure ourselves or make ourselves sick through neglect rather than examine why we are afraid to seek aid when we need it. This seems particularly true when it is job related. Regular maintenance keeps the car on the road, no? Ignoring maintenance eventually pulls the car off the road for an extended period of time. Humans are no different in this regard.
If we were not so worried about appearing weak, we would likely be able to create many new and amazing things. At the very least we could work longer and smarter at our current jobs. We have accepted we must be stoic and grim and resolute. I have been accused of being all three of these things, sometimes for good causes, but frequently for causes less good. The article mentioned the amount of cultural pressure men are under in this very specific instance.
It seems we are in a constant state of looking over our shoulders to see if anyone is watching us to see if we “slip.” Slip in this case means showing human needs. During stressful situations we wait to see who the first one to crack will be. We don’t care so much who it is, as long as it is not us. The collective refrain here is usually “at least I’m not that guy.” We could reach out and help, but is that our typical first response?
Are we basing our concept of manhood on outdated models? Likely we are. We have access to brilliant medical technology but we refuse to use it because it will make us look weak. The longer term impact of this is our injuries or sickness gets worse because we refuse to treat it. The end result is we really do wind up weaker. We get sidelined because our ailment has reached critical mass due to being untreated. This seems pointless. Regular upkeep can bulletproof us rather than weaken us. We have found an ingenious way to keep ourselves sick, injured and compromised all under the guise of not being viewed as weak.
We know why we do this, but do we want to keep doing it? Sometimes we have to do without and it’s useful to know if we can, but this is not all day, every day. We have come to the point where admitting any sort of human limitation is seen as shameful rather than a product of being human. How can we redefine masculinity for the 21st century? Again, resiliency, strength, and resourcefulness are all qualities I value, but I feel we have been taught to misapply them. Given our reliance on technology, working smarter rather than harder should be a higher priority.
My take on this? If you need help, ask for it. This will enable you to improve more quickly and be more successful in your endeavor of choice. You want to be good? Get a coach, therapist, or teacher and ask questions. If you are injured, see a doctor. Stop seeing the need for assistance as a weakness and view it as a sign of wanting to improve. I have had to modify my own thoughts on this many times over the years due to career changes, age, and the shift in expectations that come from rolling with life’s punches. I will likely expand on this in the near future. Change the game.