Editor’s Note: Richard O’Connor, Ph.D. is the author of two noteworthy books, Undoing Perpetual Stress: The Missing Connection Between Depression, Anxiety, and 21st Century Illness and Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach you and Medication Can’t Give You. He is practicing psychotherapist with offices in New York City and Canaan, Connecticut. He has suffered from clinical depression and is a member of a depression support group.
A man and a woman both stumble over a table in a dark room. The woman says “Oh, how clumsy of me.” The man says “Who put that table there?” A little story to illustrate the generalization that women internalize and men externalize. While the sexual revolution isn’t over yet, at the end of the century the genders are still acculturated differently. Shown a picture of a crying baby and told that it’s a girl, people say “Awww, she’s so sad.” Told that it’s a boy, they say, “Oooh, he’s angry.”
So is it any wonder that men and women experience depression differently? Depression affects twenty percent of the population, but it’s much more commonly diagnosed in women. Women are taught to internalize; when something goes wrong, it’s their fault. Men externalize; it’s someone else’s fault.
Depression in men is much more likely to be expressed through action than feeling. In fact, a lot of male jerk-like behavior is a way of coping with the fears and insecurities that women experience as depression. Ghetto kids who are willing to throw their lives away if they feel disrespected aren’t that different from the arrogant driver in the Lexus who acts like he owns the road. Guys who get their macho swagger from alcohol or drugs who fall apart when they can’t get their substance-of-choice. Wife-beaters: what an expression of self-loathing, to beat up the one person in your life who’s committed to you. And of course, the boss who needs to exert power to make himself feel good. The rest of us would all be a lot better off if these guys would just feel their depression instead of making us feel it. So would they, because these life styles inevitably lead to loneliness, emptiness, and self-destruction.
So here’s my suggestion for all the men listening who have enough self-awareness to know that they’re making people they love miserable; who fear that their spouses or their employees see through the swagger and are laughing behind their backs. Go get some help. What you’re dealing with is as common as the common cold. Every macho guy has his share of insecurity and self-doubt; it’s the mature ones who face it directly.