BiblioTherapy | The men on my couch by Brandy Engler & David Rensin

I’ve first heard of this book from two of my colleagues, in two different contexts but in the same day, so I thought it might be a good sign to look into it. I have to admit it, I was intrigued by its title. If you are curious to know more about the book, you can read its official description.

When Dr. Brandy Engler opened her sex therapy practice for women in Manhattan, she got a big surprise. Most of the calls were from men. They wanted to talk about relationships, sex and the ever present question: what is love?

The Men on My Couch is not a book of maxims about men. Dr. Engler and David Rensin move beyond facile conclusions and pejorative generalizations to arrive at a unique psychology of sex that will inevitably cause readers to reconsider their ideas about sex, love and men.

Before leaving you with some of the excerpts from this book, I would like to tell you about one thing that I really liked about it – the human and personal perspective from which dr. Brandy Engler approaches the topic of human sexuality, particularly men sexuality. She takes issues like womanizing, pornography, prostitutes, sex addiction and she puts them in a wider perspective, the one of the complex functioning psyche. There is no place for shallow generalization, prejudices or sexism.

She leads with empathy and compassion, both in her role as a therapist, but also while looking back at herself. I appreciate raw examples of authenticity, especially in my line of work. I think it may be easy for us, therapists, to fall in the trap of the superior specialist in human behavior and address issues from far away, up in some ivory tower. That is definitely not the case in this book. Dr. Brandy Engler beautifully shares her challenges while trying to make sense of both her own, personal, romantic path and the conclusions she reaches in her office, during the work as a therapist.

I am going to leave you here with some excerpts that I liked. If you are curious about it, I invite you to read it for yourself.

They really didn’t trust in love ; they saw it as an illusion at best and a constraint at worst .

the opposite of self – love, it’s being trapped inside one’s self .

I believed that so much adult love came packaged in protective layers , and I wanted to take the risk to be completely open, to forgo that fearful need for safety and to fully experience our feelings.

Growth involves exposure to anxiety.

I’m reminded of the movie Runaway Bride. Julia Roberts’s character always orders her eggs the same way as the guy she’s with. Then she realizes she’s never been authentic, which is part of why she always runs away. So eventually she cooks a whole assortment of egg dishes and sits down to taste them all and discover what she actually likes. That’s starting from the beginning 

Who initiates sex is a loaded issue. It brings up a bunch of questions all at once: Am I desirable? Am I loved or not? Who is needier? Who has more emotional control?

Vulnerability. All these men seemed caught between their need for love and their fear of love.

Many people live out their relationships in some balance between their need for love and their fear of it . But to clarify , it’s not really fear of love . Nobody is really terrified of love . Love is great . It is more accurately a fear of losing love .

We all love the feeling of love , that warm euphoric state , but love is not simply one feeling. Nor is it easy. Along with the joy comes difficult emotions like anger, boredom, hurt. Then there is the formidable and inevitable avalanche of fear: of rejection, of disappointment, of losing yourself, of abandonment, of being found out as really unlovable.

How we all play games with intimacy. We move in close, then move away, opening and closing rhythmically, like a jellyfish expanding and contracting as it glides through the ocean. With humans, both partners do this dance, and if they’re lucky, they achieve some sort of harmony .

I believe sexual behavior has meaning. It talks to us. Sex is a blank canvas on which people paint their inner psychological worlds. The canvas can be covered with expressions of love and joy and celebration . Or it can become a giant landfill of unconscious garbage made of buried old traumas , neuroses , and fixations.

It goes without saying that our relationships with others are inextricably connected to our relationship with ourselves . Other people function like mirrors , reflecting back who we are . And when that person meets you with love and excitement , it feels powerfully validating . This is where authentic specialness lies — in the connection , not in the individual .

The problem is that when a person becomes so dependent on mirroring as a source of information about him – or herself , all self – perspective is lost . At what point does the effect of mirroring take on so much power that it supercedes one’s own sense of self ?

“ My wife makes all the decisions around the house , ” Oscar explained . “ I know it’s because I’m never home , but I feel useless when I’m there . I’m just a paycheck to her . I feel like she doesn’t appreciate anything . ” I had heard this complaint from men so often that I wished I could pass it along to all women . Listen carefully : Feeling appreciated is very important to a man .

The mind has many interesting ways of trying to control emotional pain : numbing , dissociation , projection , etc .

When men use language like “ whore ” or “ bitch ” or “ crazy ” to describe a woman , I try to trace that sentiment to its origin . Interestingly , I’ve found buried under the rancor a deep wish for romance . The problem is that when the women they desire spurn them , they experience shame and then project it toward her .

People often think anger is a negative emotion , one to avoid for obvious reasons , but anger is one of my favorite emotions because when you tap into it productively , it indicates a sense of self . It signifies that rights and boundaries have been trespassed on , and that they deserve respect .

The very nature of therapy collides with men’s common beliefs about masculinity . So I stop and ask an important question , “ What does it mean to be a man ? ” When I inquire about their reticence to express emotions , I typically get some version of this answer : “ Weakness . ” They all want to be the Marlboro Man , get that sharing feelings isn’t functional in many of the competitive environments that men operate in but when it comes to psychotherapy and , importantly , in their personal relationships , men can probably take the bulletproof vest off .