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Men Are Struggling to Find Themselves, Psychologist Says

January 15, 1986|MIKE GRANBERRY | Times Staff Writer

ENCINITAS — Men seem to be walking a tightrope these days.

On one hand, they're given models like Alan Alda and Phil Donahue, those oh-so-sensitive media darlings. On the other, they're staring straight in the face of Rambos and commandoes, Libyan hit men, space-walking astronauts and, of course, those lovable Chicago Bears.

Men don't much know who they are anymore, or what in the name of "Dress for Success" they're supposed to be. It's as though they've given up "their center," in the words of North County psychologist Ken Druck.

Druck is a ruggedly handsome, red-haired father of two girls, ages 11 and 8 1/2. He's also the author of "The Secrets Men Keep: Breaking the Silence Barrier," a book that seems to be touching a nerve nationwide or at least rattling the cages of a zoo full of male psyches.

Druck is a ruggedly handsome, red-haired father of two girls, ages 11 and 8 1/2. He's also the author of "The Secrets Men Keep: Breaking the Silence Barrier," a book that seems to be touching a nerve nationwide or at least rattling the cages of a zoo full of male psyches.

Druck, 36, is "doing" all the big talk shows--"Hour Magazine," "The Donahue Show" and "Sally Jessy Raphael." What he considers just as important, if not more so, are his nationwide seminars, "Alive and Male."

"Alive and Male" brings to a common forum men from all walks of life, in towns and cities all over the country. Druck has learned some amazing things, he says, and from those bits of knowledge sprang the framework of "The Secrets Men Keep."

As Druck writes in the book, "Men no longer know what it means to be a man." Sylvester Stallone may be saying the same thing, but he has a different idea.

Men who cling to images of "Rambo" and "Commando" are not much different from workaholics in three-piece suits, Druck said. All are confused, "beaten up and desensitized," he said, from having been "over-scrutinized" by a society prepped on the women's movement.

Men are in crisis, he said, (as are women) but rather than being on the forefront of peril, Druck sees "opportunities for exploration"--a chance for men to free themselves from the shackles of secrets and learn to master the "language of emotion." It's a language, he said, that most never speak.

In their web of confusion, men are learning that the old ways weren't right: "We learned that such traits as toughness, rationality, aggression, competitiveness, self-reliance and control over our emotions were positive for men, whereas tenderness, emotional sensitivity, dependence, openness to experience and vulnerability were negative."

Men are having to re-learn, Druck said, if only to survive: "Compared with women, we men die younger, suffer a greater incidence of fatal diseases (cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, pneumonia and heart disease) as well as more migraines, ulcers and alcoholism, commit suicide more often and cope less effectively with stress."

Men are finding that openness is better than crying in beer, numbing themselves behind hours of televised sport or, Druck said, wallowing in images of reversion.

Stallone's "Rambo" is a flashback to "something familiar and safe, a reflection," Druck said, "of male insecurities. . . . A lot of men are searching, I think, for the answer: 'How can I validate myself? How can I ever redeem myself for what I've become?' "

Men are frightened, he said, and the secrets they keep are as rampant as whispers at a high-school dance. They keep secrets about fathers (the men who shape the man they become), their children, their wives and, of course, deep dark secrets about their oh-so-mysterious sex lives.

Getting a man to be truly honest about sex, in a context other than conquest, is, Druck said, next to impossible.

But the men at Druck's seminars often find themselves saying they don't always want sex, even with a wonderful partner. They share fears of sexual dysfunction--telling others that impotence, premature ejaculation, et al , are easier to cope with through a no-secrets approach. Most of all, they learn to trust other men, he said, sharing things that go far beyond locker-room or office small talk.

Druck often zeroes in on men needing men as a topic of utmost concern. "Rarely do we see the context," he said, "of two men getting together in a higher-risk higher-payoff situation, where they enjoy being together simply because they enjoy one another's company. It doesn't have to be a ballgame or a beer for men to legitimize affection with each other. There are many more levels of contact. Once men realize those and get in touch with those, their lives are richer, deeper, happier."

One of the ways men getting closer to men brings a payoff, he said, is in their relationships with women. Conventional liaisons, in Druck's words, mean men rarely relate well to men. They high-five and slap backs, he said, but when a need comes for intimate understanding, they turn, almost reflexively, to women.

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