A few days ago, in the weekly men’s therapy group, we spoke of trauma. I started off by explaining van der Kolk’s definition of trauma: an event or series of events that overwhelms one’s usual coping mechanism, leaving one distressed and sometimes even shattered.
Since most of the guys have been in the group for several years, it was easy for them to tell their stories of difficult times from the past, of joys and losses, of hurts and fears. And, as so often happens in the group, one man’s experience and sometime psychic pain helped other men talk about theirs. One guy had, just within the last week, learned of the death of a former lover, and so our generalized discussion focused on his loss, and of the traumatic shock that she had died so young. That discussion led other guys to speak about the deaths of their mothers and fathers, of hopeful relationships with women that had fallen apart, of lost jobs, and communities which had nurtured them in the past, and now, were no longer available to them.
The Isolation and Anxiety of Chronic Trauma
Eventually, the conversation turned to the chronic trauma these days that COVID has brought to their lives. At first, some of the men did not see COVID as a personally difficult ordeal. It was something they heard about on TV, but they hadn’t themselves been affected by it. But as we talked, sharing news of school closings, quarantine, of hospital admissions, of death, it got personal. One of the guys pointed out that the fear of COVID has now been with us for almost a year, a cloud, which hangs over our heads.
A couple of the guys pointed out that COVID just makes life harder: remembering to wear masks, using sanitizer all the time, keeping social distance. Especially the guys who are not married or partnered-up, spoke sadly of the isolation, distressed that other human beings had not been in their homes to play cards, watch a movie together, and just hang out. They admitted that the long days and evenings had become pretty painful.
Finding Inner Strength and Creating Community Through Group Counseling
As I watched the men talk, nodding to one another about the trauma of COVID, and seeing them relax as they shared common experiences, I realized that this group session was another example of how the men in the group find comforting intimacy that they don’t find anywhere else. Men discover that disclosing, rather than hiding their shared struggles, builds inner strength and creates community. This discovery breaks down the outdated notion that real men make it on their own and revisions a more balanced masculinity where being real in a trusted circle of men actually strengthens, not weakens, their capacity to make it in life.
Charlie Donaldson, MA, LLP is the co-founder of the Men’s Resource Center of West Michigan and founder of the Men’s Counseling Center of Northern Michigan in Petoskey, Michigan where he conducts online counseling and coaching, facilitates a men’s group, and sees clients.