I’d like to remind you about the function of hormones in the human body. Some people unfortunately underestimate their function and importance. Hormones are the chemical messengers that control the operation of all the body’s systems. You could liken them to the way a television signal causes the set to display picture and sound in your living room. Although the nervous system uses electrical impulses as one of its means of maintaining communication between different areas and functions in the body, even these signals depend on biochemical reactions to do their jobs. Why should you care? Because, as you age these chemical messengers change, too.
Everybody knows about the physical and emotional disruptions caused by puberty. It’s the stuff of legend. We also know quite a lot about the effects of menopause in women: the effects are definitely hormonal and go way beyond just the cessation of the menstrual cycle. Now, for a decade, researchers like Jed Diamond have been writing about a similar phenomenon that affects men equally severely (although with fewer observable physical symptoms). This apparent lack of symptoms has led some to question the existence of ‘male menopause’, but, according to Diamond, it’s existence is both scientifically provable and widely observable.
Here’s some of what Jed Diamond had to say in an article on this issue where he quotes his book, Male Menopause:
“Male menopause (also called andropause) begins with hormonal, physiological, and chemical changes that occur in all men generally between the ages of forty and fifty-five, though it can occur as early as thirty-five or as late as sixty-five. These changes affect all aspects of a man’s life. Male menopause is, thus, a physical condition with psychological, interpersonal, social, and spiritual dimensions.”I went on to describe the research that I had conducted and other research that had been going on throughout the world demonstrating that male menopause is not only real, but can be effectively treated. I also reported our findings that proved that when properly treated male menopause can be a very positive change of life for men.
The second paragraph of the book said, “The purpose of male menopause is to signal the end of the first part of a man’s life and prepare him for the second half. Male menopause is not the beginning of the end, as many fear, but the end of the beginning. It is the passage to the most passionate, powerful, productive, and purposeful time of a man’s life.”
What Diamond has to say is in total agreement with what I’ve been talking about as I’ve been exploring the midlife transition. The physical changes that men experience shouldn’t be underestimated. It puts increased weight behind the concept that human live needs to be divided into three (not just two) phases: a) childhood, b) adulthood, and c) maturity. Each of these stages (not to mention the beginning, birth, and the end, death) is marked by a “physical . . . psychological, interpersonal, social and spiritual” transition. These transition periods are extremely significant, because they represent the confluence of all the major elements of our human existence.I’m going to get philosophical here, and I think this point is vitally important: even though we can now identify a biochemical basis for the midlife transition, we must be extremely careful not to fall into a reductionist mode of thinking. We’ll do ourselves real damage if we think we can go off and find a ‘cure’ for male menopause, like hormone replacement therapy. The physiological dimension is only one of the elements of this transition and, by no means, the most significant. For some guys, hormonal treatment may give a beneficial – even an essential – assist to the process. However, physical, emotional, social and spiritual ‘medication’ should only be used to assist and enhance the process, not to delay or prevent it.
After all, this attitude that we must medicate all forms of discomfort results ultimately in turning a midlife transition into a midlife crisis. Denial and its accompanying defense mechanisms, distractions, and diversions attempts to halt or reverse the process of transition from adulthood to maturity, in an attempt to legitimize what’s essentially a range of childish behavior patterns. There’s real intentionality here: men, through their behavior, crying aloud and saying, “I don’ want to grow up!” And, what’s behind this refusal to accept and engage in the process of midlife transition can only be characterized as fear: the fear of losing ‘masculinity’ (as popularly misconstrued), the fear of going against the US cultural norms of what it means to be a ‘man’, and, ultimately the fear of the unknown.
Guys who turn the midlife transition into a midlife crisis have a much bigger problem going on than a mere decrease in testosterone levels. They’ve gotten themselves into an identity crisis that is so scary that it seems easier and safer to retreat into childish behavior patterns than to move forward into a self-motivated maturity. As Jed Diamond pointed out, just as puberty enables the transition from dependence to independence, midlife (and male menopause) signals the transition from independence to leadership: becoming a mature, self-motivating and self-directing person.
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Copyright © 2008 H. Les Brown
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