by Len Lear
Dr. Robert Garfield, 69, who lived in Mt. Airy from 1982 to 1991, now lives in Bala Cynwyd. He will be appearing at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in West Mt. Airy on Thursday, Aug. 20, 7 p.m., to discuss his just-published book, “Breaking the Male Code; Unlocking the Power of Friendship: Overcoming Male Isolation for a Longer, Happier Life” (Gotham/Penguin, May, 2015).
Dr. Garfield, a psychiatrist who teaches in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, has been conducting group therapy sessions for men for many years with a friend, Jake Kriger, which he calls “Friendship Labs.”
The goal of those labs has been to break through what Dr. Garfield calls “Male Code,” the stunted, tough-guy behavior that prevents so many men from being able to express authentic emotional intimacy with both men and women. Following is some of the recent interview by the Local with Dr. Garfield:
How did the book come about?
When I began my professional career in Philadelphia in 1974, I was going through a rough patch in my life. I began to see that my reluctance to share the painful details of my problems was similar to my male patients, who rebelled from revealing personal, vulnerable information, even when they had a chance to ease their own suffering. I got curious about this reluctance in men (much more so than in women), found out that our traditional models of therapy weren’t as accessible to men as they needed to be.
What are the reasons for the relative lack of male emotional intimacy?
Men’s problems with emotional intimacy is not hard-wired into our brains. It’s learned from centuries, particularly the past two, of men being taught to withhold emotions, to remain silent and to lead with physical strength as a way of securing privilege and power. The consequences of NOT following this male code can be injurious — taunting, bullying, harassment, etc.
What would you recommend for a man who would like to get more in touch with his feelings but does not have either the time or money to engage in intensive therapy?
Simply making more time in one’s busy schedule to hang out with a close friend and to risk talking about important things — marriage, kids, work issues — in a real way, not superficial, can really help.
I would say that many men do not see this as a problem at all — guys who hang out in bars in hopes of a one-night stand, drink lots of beer, go hunting and fishing with the guys, go crazy when the home team scores a touchdown, whose conversation consists of sports, gossip, cable TV shows, etc. Guys who think that’s a pretty good manly life and that this emotional intimacy issue is a lot of girlie stuff. What is your reaction to that lifestyle/viewpoint?
The model you pose is a stereotype that our culture has unfortunately saddled men with. Having fun with the guys is, of course, an element that most men enjoy. I certainly do. And most men do have male friends that they do share these activities with. But past a certain point, the picture you draw is pretty thin, and most men who try to live out their lives at this superficial level are at risk for all kinds of problems.
What are “Friendship Labs?”
Friendship Labs are structured groups where men come together to share personal issues in their lives with other men. We encourage guys to open up, reveal personal information and learn to describe feelings and to support each other. We pay just as much attention to how men listen and give empathic feedback as to their sharing feelings. It’s a “lab” because guys get to explore, try out sharing in different ways than they’re used to.
Regarding therapy, can you mention some of your specific successes and failures?
Many examples are given in the book. One, I describe in the early chapters is of a university administrator who, married to a family practice doctor, refused to reveal to her that he had chest pains for three days. When he came to a group, he told the other guys. They were shocked that he hadn’t sought help and hadn’t told his wife. Two of them drove him to the local emergency room. He had irregular heartbeats, and they kept him overnight. The next day he apologized to his wife and promised he wouldn’t hold back information any more.
On the negative side, while we did well with getting our guys to open up with each other and their wives and kids, they continued to hold out with their guy friends, to keep up the Male Code distance — until we finally pushed them to try opening up with their guy friends.
How has the therapeutic view of male friendships changed over the past 40 or 50 years?
Men are looking for — and discovering — more depth in their relationships. More emotional sharing. This is a product of both desire and necessity. Guys are relieved to share things they previously had thought would be mocked or criticized and find that their guy friends welcome this.
We obviously have a huge problem in this country with men who are full of rage and aggression and strike out in the most hideous ways against innocent victims. How would you propose our society deal with this issue to prevent these horrific acts of violence from happening over and over again?
It’s important to remember that men are not naturally violent. Aggressive behavior is more connected with lack of tender nurturance for boys (cuddling, cooing, touching) and the consequent undeveloped capacity to regulate emotions, for self-soothing. Excess testosterone does not account for the differences in aggression between boys and girls (levels are similar until preadolescence). Loving guidance and contact with young boys is critical. Also beginning to disconnect violence from “normal” manhood.
How much should a father contribute to the raising of children?
Fathers’ roles are changing, again by both necessity and choice. Beyond “diaper-changing” skills, men are having to deal with the intense emotions that arise in parenting small children. It’s the best relationship training you can get! This kind of connection bonds them more closely as a family.
If you could meet and spend time with any one person on earth, who would it be?
Barack Obama. I’d so like to hear how he’s managed to carry forward the principles and goals he brought into his presidency, how he’s managed to maintain his integrity (which I believe he has) and to push for what he’s believed in.
For more information, visit www.robgarfield.com