To complement “Develop Professional Strategies: Succeed as a Male Massage Therapist” in the May 2015 issue of MASSAGE Magazine. Summary: The idea of women as nurturers and men as aggressive problem-solvers is one firmly entrenched in in the public psyche—even though empathy and compassion are more valuable qualities for men to have in today’s society. Today’s men can grow their compassion through practice and awareness.
“Women nurture. Men fix.” —Society
The most common patterns and agreed-upon roles in society have women acting in soft, nurturing, caring support roles and men acting in aggressive, firm and take-charge roles.
This common pattern was set a long time ago, yet it is breaking down. Many women are taking dominant and aggressive roles, while many men are taking nurturing and supporting roles. While this shift in gender roles takes place every day, it is still not the commonly accepted pattern. Therefore, any people who attempt these shifts, such as men who become massage therapists, can pay a price in perception.
If you’re a man in a nurturing profession, you might often be perceived as effeminate, even homosexual. If you are a woman in a take-charge role, you can be seen as bossy and masculine. These perceptions run deep in the public psyche—and they can hurt us and make us feel wrong for following our passions.
Men, especially men in the massage therapy field, sometimes encounter resistance when they start to inhabit nurturing roles. They are often told to simply practice sports and rehabilitation massage because they cannot succeed in the relaxation massage or spa markets. They are often discriminated against and perceived as unacceptable, when all they want to do is help.
The goal for the new generation of men, male massage therapists especially, is to persevere. You are not the first, and surely not the last, to cast off old roles and embrace the future. Men are only defined by these roles and perceptions if we agree to be; they hold no real value in today’s society. Our caveman ancestors fought wild beasts, so they needed vast strength and agility to survive. The more valuable skill for modern men is empathy. Manliness could be better defined nowadays as strength of compassion, rather than strength of muscle.
Compassion starts with you
Deepening your capacity for compassion is something that can greatly benefit you as a massage therapist. The first step to take, as with any emotional journey, is to accept yourself as you are, to have compassion for yourself. Take a ride through your physical and emotional landscape, seeing all there is to you, and accept it all without judgment or need for change. You are not perfect. No matter how hard you try, you will find yourself failing at things time and again. Rather than being hard on yourself for these failures, you can practice understanding and acceptance. You can practice compassion rather than self-abuse.
Compassion is a choice—one you must make every day and oftentimes, every moment. Once you have exercised your compassion muscle regularly and for some time, you will not have to put as much focus on it; compassion will simply become what you do. Some people are lucky to have parents who encouraged compassion from a young age, and are able to walk this Earth practicing compassion as easily as breathing.
Flex your compassion muscle
You can grow and refine your compassion capabilities through practice and awareness. Some ways to exercise your compassion muscle are:
- Grow a garden. Taking care of something other than yourself means you have to put your focus on that thing. Growing a garden requires numerous details and steps before you see those beautiful flowers. You must give your attention and care to the plants in order for them to grow healthy and reward you with beautiful sights and scents. If they are in need, you must provide; in order to provide, you must be aware of their needs and understand what is best for them.
- Meditate. Clearing your mind and turning your focus inward can lead you closer to being more compassionate. By clearing our minds and accepting ourselves daily we are able to view the world and people as they are, rather than through the lens of our frustrations and perceived failures.
- Smile. The simple act of smiling can have a great effect on you and those around you. By expressing your own joy, you enhance your own joy as well as the joy of others around you. Also, you are in an increased position of openness, allowing you to be with the person you are talking to, rather than immersed in your own worries.
- Look for similarities. Most people focus on the differences between themselves and others. A great strategy to help build compassion is to focus on the similarities. You can use self-talk phrases such as:
- Like myself, this person is trying to get home to see his family.
- Like myself, this person has had a long day at work.
- Like myself, this person is trying her best.
- Get a mentor. Compassion is a skill that can be learned. Help yourself by finding a compassion mentor. You do not have to meet with someone regularly in order for him to help you grow your compassion. In fact, your mentor doesn’t even have to be someone alive. Many people find reading books by compassionate people, both alive and long gone, helps them tremendously.
- Stand up for someone. Have you ever been in a situation where someone was made fun of for expressing an emotion or opinion? You can grow your compassion muscle by standing up for someone. By validating a person’s emotions or opinions out loud, you are showing compassion to that person and helping her develop a strong since of self-worth. At the same time, you are also combatting behavior that is responsible for repressing emotions and compassion.
Take small steps
If you feel you are severely lacking in compassion, it is important to start small. You simply cannot grow your compassion from the level of G.I. Joe to that of the Dalai Lama overnight. You must take small steps and be proud of yourself for every step forward you take.
Remember, showing compassion to yourself is the first and best thing you can do—and is critical to being a compassionate nurturer to others, as you are when you are providing massage therapy.
The future of manliness
Tomorrow’s manly man will be able to soothe babies, hold his grieving friends and talk about his emotions openly, all while fixing his car and watching sports, and people will accept it as normal. I hope we shall see the rise of what I call the nurturing fixer, the openly caring and comforting man who can fix not only physical pains but emotional ones, too.
Michael Ames, L.M.T., has been a massage therapist since 2003, working primarily with individual athletes as well as several professional teams and organizations. He shares his knowledge and experiences with other therapists through his continuing education business, The CE Classroom (thececlassroom.com). He wrote “Develop Professional Strategies: Succeed as a Male Massage Therapist” for MASSAGE Magazine’s May 2015 print issue.