Lately I've become more attune to the masculine culture we subconsciously enforce. Culturally we project certain expectations of men - for them to be strong, tough and decisive. With that an unspoken rule been created: to be strong you can't be weak. To be tough you can't show vulnerability. To be decisive means not to falter or waver. How can we ask this of men while also expecting to have healthy relationships and a healthy society?
Que Kelsey Mech. Kelsey is the author of Man Enough and is a certified counsellor and trauma therapist. If I met her today I think we would instantly click given our professional backgrounds. But we actually met nearly 10 years ago! And instead of our careers in health and wellness we bonded over working as interns in San Fransisco.
While chatting with Kelsey we delved into the inspirations behind her book, Man Enough, and the often neglected topic of how toxic masculinity is perpetuated in society.
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
My name is Kelsey. I’m a certified counsellor and trauma therapist based in Victoria, BC. I run a private counselling practice there, and I also offer coaching online. I’m also trained in EMDR which is used to more efficiently process and work through trauma. I also run programs for frontline workers who are involved in supporting individuals struggling with homelessness and addictions. I offer groups, workshops and trainings to help them cope with the trauma-exposed nature of their jobs.
When I’m not working, you can probably find me curled up with a book, cooking food, mountain biking, exploring the beautiful island we call home with my partner, or curled up on the couch embracing coziness as a lifestyle. I’m an introvert, but I love deeply connecting with other women, and the work I do with my own clients truly lights me up. You can also often find me over on Instagram @kelseymech
What drew you to write Man Enough?
Most of the training I did for my Masters in Counselling Psychology was in trauma, and in particular, throughout my Masters and after, I worked as a therapist at the Men's Trauma Centre in my community. I worked a lot with men who had experienced significant childhood emotional, verbal, physical and sexual abuse. I was confronted with the unique challenge men face in exploring these topics: the narrative that in our society it's weak for men to express vulnerability and show emotions. I began researching this heavily and wrote Man Enough as my final Masters project to address and shed light on the ways toxic masculinity shows up and how we all can do a better job of supporting the men in our lives.
In what ways can women support the men in our lives to be able to express emotional vulnerability in a safe and positive way?
I address this in detail in the e-book, but it boils down to being really present, non-judgmental, validating and avoiding any shaming language. Too often women end up perpetuating the masculine ideals in our society - the idea that boys don't cry, or the notion that men should be able to just toughen up. Sometimes we can fall into the trap of just wanting a "strong" man. But that's so dangerous, because it fails to create space for men to be emotional. They need that space too, and they need opportunities to be vulnerable, especially if they have trauma in their pasts.
What does a culture that *doesn’t* support emotional vulnerability in men look like?
It can be pretty toxic. There is so much rhetoric, and rightly so, around violence from men perpetrated toward women. I'm so grateful this has been the focus of so much media lately, and really honour modern feminism and the #MeToo movement for much of that. But, if we aren't careful, some of the rhetoric around this can end up just demonizing men and further distancing them. When we create spaces for men to safely process emotions instead of being forced to bottle them up and fit into a stereotype of what it means to be a man, we also offer them alternatives to acting out. Anger and the need for power and control is often fueled by fear, sadness or shame. When we address what is really going on underneath, and we create healthy and supportive spaces for men to open up, and when we teach boys how to be vulnerable and find meaningful ways to cope with their emotions, we create a less violent world overall.
What is the most common concern for men growing up in a society where they are groomed to “Man Up”?
I can't speak for men, and I'm sure many individuals have unique experiences of this. Whether or not this resonates for everyone, over and over again in the research we hear that being seen as strong, brave, courageous, powerful, in control all become important. There is a lot of fear around being seen as weak, and unfortunately the "man up" narrative sends the message that emotional expression equates to weakness.
There is a lot of poetry in your book - is this something that was inspired by your therapy sessions with clients? Why did you choose to include it?
To be honest, I love writing poetry so a part of it was to feed that passion of mine. But I also think that poetry and fictional writing can allow a portal into understanding that can't be achieved with other types of language. Most of the poetry in the e-book is inspired by stories of clients, either collectively or specific individuals I have worked with. I wanted to offer it as a way of inspiring empathy and understanding at a different level in the reader.
There was one poem in particular that stopped me cold in my tracks why do you think this theme shows up so commonly for people?
I was born with the words I am sorry
I hear this sort of narrative a lot with survivors of child abuse and neglect in particular. They often end up growing up feeling unwanted, or like they can never do anything right, and it can lead to this belief that they aren't worthy of existing. It's deeply painful. And so often in my practice I see adults who are still struggling with old wounds from childhood that made them feel this way. We also live in a society that puts so much pressure and demand on individuals to do, achieve, succeed, excel, and when we can't live up to those expectations we often feel shame and unworthiness. I'm all for breaking down all of these norms and expectations and instead focusing on just embracing the beauty and enoughness we all have to offer the world.
Where can men get the professional help they need? Are there particular resources you recommend?
I might be biased, but counselling is never a bad idea, especially if you're running up against any of these themes. I would really recommend looking into qualified counsellors in your area. Make sure you find someone who meets the standards of certification for your state, province or country. "The Mask You Live In" is also a fabulous documentary that explores these themes in more depth. I would highly recommend anyone give it a watch!
Are there a few go to ways a man can ask for help if they’re apprehensive?
I wrote Man Enough because I think it is important that we all play a role in ensuring there is enough space and safety in our relationships with men for them to open up. It shouldn't all be on them. But, being authentic, real and genuine is always key. I would say - start small. If you want to share with someone close to you, you don't have to tell them everything about what happened. It can be as simple as, "I'm struggling. Would you be open to talking to me about this, and just listening?" I also always encourage people to get really clear about what they are asking for. For example, do you just want to be heard? Do you want specific support? What would feel good for you? And then to get clear about articulating that. And if you're seeking professional help from a counsellor, make sure to find someone who is a good fit for you. It's okay to try out a few people before you find the right one.
If any of the readers are interested in reading Man Enough, where can they download a copy of your E-Book?
Oooh thank you for asking. You can download it from my online shop at: http://www.kelseymech.com/the-shop I appreciate any donations and contributions financially in exchange for the work I put into researching and writing it, but I also don't want that to be a barrier for folks. If you can't afford to contribute, you can also download it from that link free of charge. I'll also continue to offer resources on my Instagram (@kelseymech) and via my email letters, which you can also sign up for on my website!