Counselling in Chichester & Bognor Regis, West Sussex

Men, Football and Open Emotions

For much of the early summer there seemed to be a division in the country with regard to what constituted general entertainment.  In case you have already forgotten it was World Cup time.

We no doubt heard very different views on this event. These will have ranged from those aficionados who were enthused by the football extravaganza streaming out from Russia through to others who were left completely unmoved by the whole spectacle.  No doubt there were many others who drifted between those two extremes.

Those contrasting emotions must have created a testing time for some families and couples as the struggle for command of the remote control ensued. It will certainly have provided a great opportunity to test those dispute resolution techniques which we will often talk about in couple counselling work!

There was perhaps another less obvious feature of the tournament that also had counselling implications.  One stereotype which is often voiced around emotions is that relating to gender. This particular labelling suggests that women are more willing to talk openly about emotions than men.  Women so the argument goes, will readily display feelings whereas men are far more reticent deliberately opting for well homed defences to keep emotions suppressed and out of sight.

As someone who always tries to maintain a focus on the individual as they present in the room, I have never been particularly comfortable with any form of stereotyping. I regard this particular variant with similar scepticism.  I am not convinced that this simplistic gender based emotional split is valid or that this labelling is really helpful in today’s world.  Just as contemporary western society looks aghast at inappropriate labelling which has impacted upon women for eons, perhaps it is also time to also look at male stereotyping with similarly critical eyes.

We are all individuals with a personal narrative. In the course of our lives we have adopted ways of being and followed behaviour patterns which reflect lessons learned from our earlier life experiences. It can therefore be argued that our particular way of responding today owes much more to our personal life narrative rather than our gender.

There is however within the current counselling world a remorseless and somewhat suffocating drive for evidence to under pin any new ideas or theories. Well perhaps the world of football can help us with regard to finding an evidence base from which to challenge this particular gender stereotyping.

Let’s look again at those pictures of celebration in Russia earlier in the summer when goals were scored for a favoured team or country; or alternatively consider the expressions of abject misery evident when a goal was conceded.  The television screens in June and July were full of images of men openly demonstrating feelings from joy to despair.

Men were quite able to show a wide breadth and depth of emotions.  Moreover this was done openly without disguise or defence.  This phenomena of either tears or exultation was also clearly transnational and across all ethnicities.

I am making particular reference to the recent world cup because of the publicity given to the tournament.  The same comment can however be made about the immediate and open reactions to significant happenings within any football match from Chester to Chichester and from Bury to Bognor Regis.  Goals are scored, games are won or lost and emotions are displayed. It happens.

Ah but I hear you say, surely this display of emotion is superficial.  It is about trivial issues such as sport rather than about those underlying emotional travails concerning events and relationships which matter so much in real life.   Yet those who are drawn deeply into the world of football will quickly dismiss such protestations.  It is precisely because there is such a deep well of feeling about the game and the fact that outcome really is felt, that such intense emotions are displayed.

One popular quote which is regrettably likely to have been a myth, is the comment attributed to the great Bill Shankly. The Liverpool manager was reported to have said that ‘football is not a matter of life or death; it is more important than that’.

In fact there is no record of Shankly ever having said this. Yet the phrase has gained such notoriety it is recognised and quoted by many throughout the footballing world.  It will certainly have resonated with some of those men whose images filled our screens from this summer’s extravaganza in Russia. For many, football really does matters. It is important and the extent of that concern is openly shown in visible displays of emotion.

So can these recordings be used as evidence to negate the suggestion that men do not readily express emotions?  I would suggest that the football experience indicates that at the very least men are capable of not just expressing feelings but also of very publicly displaying deep seated and passionate emotions. The recent images from the world cup clearly evidence that. Emotions exist and are there to be shown. It is just a case of time and place.

Well this is a line of thought and I will leave the idea with you.  The decision is yours whether to accept or reject this hypothesis. If you should want to consider a longer version of the argument then an article way back in the February 2003 edition of the BACP Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal entitled ‘Erikson or Eriksson’ and published under my byname, provided some further ideas on this theme.  Quite a few years have elapsed since I wrote that article but the argument remains the same.

And what exactly is that argument?  Well put simply my contention is that men are emotional beings as indeed are women. The important key is for the individual irrespective of gender to be able to find the right time and place to allow that emotion to be safely voiced.

This should be a secure place where emotions are encouraged. It may also benefit the client if it is a place where those emotions can then be discussed, challenged and explored in a way that feels most appropriate for that person.

For some clients male, female or couples, that place could well be in the therapy room but there can be other occasions and alternative venues. It may be an evening spent on a romantic isle, a walk in the West Sussex countryside or even that sojourn in a sports stadium one warm summers evening.

The location and time for that emotional expression may be his choice – but perhaps it can also be yours?