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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Cowboy Up



Though I was born and mostly raised in Texas, having lived the majority of my life in this state, I don’t identify as a cowboy and never have. For the uninitiated, a cowboy is an animal herder who tends cattle on ranches in North America, traditionally on horseback, and often performs a multitude of other ranch-related tasks


Unlike transplants to the state who run out and purchase a pair of cowboy boots or don a cowboy hat, the only known instances of me wearing such apparel was when trying on my dad’s accessories as a child. Cowboy clothing does not a cowboy make.


Nevertheless, I can appreciate some elements of cowboy culture to which I was exposed in my youth. For instance, I don’t take issue with the term “cowboy up,” which one source describes as “another term for a similar phrase like, ‘toughen up’, or ‘stop your belly-aching and fight!”


I came to better understand this phrase when taking part in ranch work during middle school, working several days for a local cowboy so that I could earn one of his Duroc boars. It was some of the most challenging labor in which I’d ever participated.


I helped repair barbed wire fences, which included digging postholes and stringing wire. As well, he had me chop piles of firewood. I tended to feeding various animals, branding cattle, and even the castration of some livestock.


None of that made me a cowboy. Still, when I complained about how early we began work, how late we stayed out in the fields, or about blisters on my hands, I was told to “cowboy up.” There was work to be done and whining wouldn’t resolve anything.


Suppose the cowboy told me, “Oh, you poor thing, tell me more about your feelings,” as I moaned and work was halted for my verbal and emotional display of agony. What would that have accomplished?


I would have merely delayed the work schedule and prolonged my suffering, because bitching or not, there were chores to be done. The cowboy understood this and I learned a valuable lesson from having worked with him and the ranch hands that tended to his land.


After all, I wasn’t alone in my anguish. The sun was beating down on us all. Mosquitos were swarming each person, barbed wire nicked everyone who strung it, and for those who were foolish enough to not hold a calf’s leg down when its testicles were being severed, a well-earned kick from the animal was received.


Rather than coddling me, the rancher encouraged me to push through the discomfort as a means of achieving the task. From that undertaking, I achieved worth. This is the essence of purpose and meaning (duty and value derived from responsibility).



What I came to understand was that the pig I earned wasn’t my sole form of compensation. Rather, I took with me an invaluable life lesson in mental and emotional fortitude.


Perhaps that time in my life contributed to my fondness for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). This psychotherapeutic modality uses Stoic principles, much like the phrase “cowboy up.”


One source states that “like Stoicism, REBT is a tough-minded philosophy that holds up well when your worst nightmare or adversity occurs.” As such, building resilience through the experience of suffering is something I appreciate.


However, there are some people who view this approach to mental, emotional, and behavioral wellness as a negative element. For instance in 2019, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued its guidelines for practice with males by claiming:


The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.


Reporting the APA’s findings was a female. In fact, according to one source, 64.8% of psychologists in the United States (U.S.) are female. Interestingly, this sex/gender disparity isn’t solely related to the field of psychology.


The field of psychiatry is said to maintain 53.8% female psychiatrists, there are 75.6% female counselors, and 80.5% female social workers in the U.S. Likewise, women occupy 75.7% of marital family therapist positions and 65.7% chemical dependency counselor spots.


Given this reality, one can better understand how terms like “cowBOY up” or “MAN up” may be perceived in a biased manner. Consequently, when I hear that a “cowboy mentality’ of wanting to ‘man up’ could be a factor in the epidemic of male loneliness,” per one source written by a female and regarding a female professor’s input, I remain skeptical.


For context, the APA issued a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case by stating:


The association has passed four policies or resolutions since 1969 affirming a woman’s right to choose and negating assertions regarding the alleged adverse psychological effects of abortion.


As well, the APA boasts on its website, “Women now make up 58 percent of APA’s membership and hold more than half of governance positions.” Cowboys need not apply.


In a field heavily dominated by women, and among some of the most prestigious mental health organizations in the U.S., decisions issued by the Court—predominately comprised of men—about the wellness of women are open to criticism.


Accordingly, I propose that matters related to the wellness of boys and men could also receive consideration unencumbered by the views of professionals—whether individuals, organizations, or otherwise—largely comprised of women. Our minds, our choice!


Though a “cowboy up” approach to life may not be suitable for all people, let alone all men, it arguably isn’t the “toxic masculinity” aphorism some people claim. I learned this firsthand as a ranch hand and thereafter through my practice of REBT.


Considering this perspective in regards to the trials and tribulations inherent in life, I’m not advocating an approach to life whereby I say to myself, “Suck it up, buttercup!” Rather, I consider what circles of control, influence, and concern exist.


Problem X arises. Do I have control of it? Truthfully, I can only control myself—and not even every aspect of my being (e.g., I cannot alter my heart rate merely by thinking about it). Can I then perhaps influence problem X? Maybe…though likely not.


Is problem X more akin to something about which I may be concerned, though can neither control nor influence? If so, I can let that shit go.


For others matters, I use personal responsibility and accountability. If I can control or influence problem X, I don’t force rigid demands upon myself, others, or the world.


Instead, I dispute my irrational beliefs about problem X and work towards tolerance and acceptance. As well, I practice self-care as a means of increasing my ability to tolerate distress.


Still, I keep my mental health in perspective of the suffering inherent in life. I don’t have to like or love problem X, yet I can “cowboy up” in the presence of adversity. Some of my colleagues in the mental health field will undoubtedly disagree with my approach.


That’s okay, because I accept our differences all the same. Are you looking for a feminized psychotherapist whose practice is informed by feminist philosophy? If so, you’ve come to the wrong clinician.


I promote Stoic principles for all clients with whom I work. If you desire someone who will sit in session and empathize with you, encourage you to “feel your feelings,” or who will attempt to manipulate men into behaving like women while convincing women that they can do no wrong, I certainly am not the therapist you seek.


On the other hand, if you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW



References:


American Psychological Association (2022, June 27). APA decries SCOTUS decision on abortion. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2022/06/scotus-abortion-decision

Clay, R. A. (2017, July). Women outnumber men in psychology, but not in the field’s top echelons. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/07-08/women-psychology

Dave. (2004, February 22). Cowboy up. Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=cowboy%20up

Davis, S. (2018, March 30). Cowboy up. A Call to Men. Retrieved from https://www.acalltomen.org/cowboy-up/

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 19-1392 (U.S. Sup. Ct. 2022). Retrieved from https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf

Hollings, D. (n.d.). Blog – Categories: Disputation. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/blog/categories/disputation

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Modern Stoicism. (2018, April 21). Stoicism and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy by Walter J. Matweychuk. Retrieved from https://modernstoicism.com/stoicism-and-rational-emotive-behaviour-therapy-by-walter-j-matweychuk/

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