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EMOTIONAL ISOLATION, A Guy Kind of Thing


 

Life is a kind of game that you don't really win or really lose. But that's not the point, it's how you play that matters.

We will all succumb to our own mortality. All life ends in death. Grief is always present, but men tend to impersonalize it. It's just out there somewhere. There are different means to cope with the pain of this grief. But the man remains a boy to the extent he has not learned to deal with his grief.

If he does not trust himself a man may never become trustworthy. Robert Bly wrote that the warrior is someone who can do unpleasant things. And he can pursue a task until it is finished, even if he must postpone his own needs for gratification until he accomplishes his goal. He is in control of his body instead of his body controlling him. He takes a stand. He defends the territory and holds the boundaries.

He must have a transcendent cause, a sense that he is not doing this for a selfish reason. For example, he may serve a KING. This archetype is the authority figure who determines the boundaries, and is concerned with the larger meaning and consequence of men's actions. There is the implication of providence, a connection to the psyche. A man with a weak inner king doesn't recognize boundaries.

Before the Industrial Revolution, in some ways, we had more of a sense of appropriate behavior. Grandfathers and grandmothers passed the male and female modes of feeling on to the fathers and mothers who passed it on to the sons and daughters. We got our food directly from our parents' bodies. There was also a sense of identification with the earth and its creatures when meat came from animals bodies (instead of from plastic containers). Water carried in buckets from its source is more meaningful than water from invisible pipes.

Perhaps John Wayne represents the role model of the pioneer man. He was a man of deeds, not words. He did not mix words with feelings. Physical accomplishment was its own reward. He was defiant, invulnerable, no time for grieving or other emotions. Whiskey was his remedy.

More recently, men tend to identify themselves by their careers.The Industrial Revolution sent the man out of the house to work, and into a hierarchy of competition and obedience. Assembly line production necessarily discouraged individuation. The man became aware of the possibility that life is not necessarily going to be a series of triumphs.

He knows he is not going to see the end of his work. He knows his company is polluting the environment. He is humiliated by his boss. The alternative may be to join the sales staff, working on commissions, which requires him to put on a smile and mask his true feelings even more. Whiskey may not suffice.

He comes home from work weary and frustrated. He has suffered the pain of being devalued and feels pressured to achieve more and more power and possessions. His children are rewarded with possession and privilege, if they are obedient. Even in school they are graded not on actual achievement but on how well they do what they are told.

The average man spends maybe 10 minutes a day with his son, mostly admonishing him. The parents manipulate each other and the children for control of the possessions. The mother feels closed out by her husband and often uses the children against him. She condescends or "puts him down," and may use sex against him. The sexes fear and shame each other so easily.

It may well be that men have not intentionally closed women out from their feelings, but that they just don't know what their real feelings are. The man has stuffed his feelings down so deep that he looks within and draws a blank. He feels numb. He has had no role model for the male mode of feeling. Or at least the ones he has had were probably celluloid characters that barely saw him through adolescence.

If boundaries become too confused the result is a sense of hopeless frustration, from which all kinds of violations can occur such as addiction to drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, etc. The helpless are victimized. Women have long suffered the pain of being devalued thusly. They also have a more immediate sense of pain and grief. Menstruation itself is a kind of loss, a kind of mini-death within. Women are more immediately in touch with the emotional significance of coming into being and passing away. And their psyche is geared or "hard wired" for nurturance.

Men fear vulnerability. They are far more likely to verbalize their deepest fears than their deepest love or aspiration. On every hand is the suggestion of their inadequacy of every sort. Rejection of the father has been the American Way, and not just in situation comedies.

It has even been said that the primary emotional experience of the average contemporary American male is a feeling of inadequacy. Every competition which has a winner must also have at least one looser, usually many. The popularity of the put-down of someone like Dan Quayle depicts that archetype. Second in command, second best, he must carry the stigma of the banished suitor as in a herd where only the fittest male has mating privilege.

In such herds, every female of age may mate, but not every male. This is a grievous wound to the male ego and may turn him into a renegade, a warrior of the negative sort who may resort to wielding his powers wantonly and destructively, lashing out at his co-workers or family. A hole appears in the psyche that becomes filled with demons. Frustration begets anger. When the ego is opposed to the id, the id will grow stronger until it prevails. You can hold your breath until you pass out, then you breathe again.

Some men invent a false personality, put on a smile, or a shell of indifference. Such men may surrender themselves to a strict military or religious discipline where most of his decisions are made for him. He may turn against himself through the use of drugs or alcohol, or a pre-disposition towards escapism and failure, or to passive aggression. If his heart is not in it, his efforts become hampered by a sense of futility. If he cannot get in touch with his own grief it will eat him, bit by bit, until be becomes a either a vegetable or a monster.

The inability to mourn is a tragedy of monumental proportions both to individuals and nations. A child with a dysfunctional family unit learns to deny his feelings early in life. A hostile or missing parent (or one who is alcoholic) is much more likely to become such a parent himself, passing on the dysfunction to yet another generation. If you can deny your feelings about an alcoholic parent you may well go on to be hired to deny exploitation of employees or of the environment. We elect politicians who keep us in denial about the grief of war, much less denial of the national debt or the plight of the disenfranchised. Bly wrote:

"Jung said ...that when a son is introduced primarily by the mother to feeling, he will learn the female attitude toward masculinity and take a female view of his own father.... Since the father and mother are in competition for the affection of the son, you are not going to get a straight picture of the father out of your mother. ...Civilization and culture and feeling and relationships are things which the mother and daughter and sensitive son, share in common, whereas the father stands for and embodies what is stiff, maybe brutal, what is unfeeling, obsessed, rationalistic: money-mad, un-compassionate. "Your father can't help it." So the son grows up with a wounded image of his father..."

"Women can be judgmental about masculine traits that are merely different or unexpected....If the son learns feeling primarily from the mother, then he will probably see his own masculinity from the feminine point of view as well. He may be fascinated with it, but he will be afraid of it. He may pity it and want to reform it, or he may be suspicious of it and want to kill it. He may admire it but he will not be at home with it."

This distortion of masculinity has been carried to extremes in the name of ethical or moral good, and the condescension of women over men has caused much suffering. Dogma and bigotry are the result of the separation of the psyche into a good and worthless portion. In fact, Alan Watts went so far as to say that religion too often has operated through guilt and fear, by "forbidding every natural act." From this has come a distrust and disdain of religion and of men who have been pushed into the role of a goody- goody. Such a man is perceived to be emasculated. "To become feminine, even in a single way, a man is in danger of being forever labeled unmanly."
 

Men are suffering right now--especially young men. Only clear alternatives seem to allay the fear of becoming lost in the indefinite gray areas. Everything must be cut and dried, black and white, either or. For example, author John Rowan alludes to the fact that traditional male archetypes (or masculine images) are portrayed as being utterly different from the feminine, which presents a problematic polarity.

This unfortunate polarity between manly and unmanly qualities has not only relegated women to inferior status, but has also lopped off an essential part of men’s identities. Very intricate taboos have evolved to protect the polarities. This division into a good and worthless portion is the nature of polarities, and is the essence of all sorts of bigotry. Commit but a single sin and all are tainted. Bigotry comes from a kind of flawed logic that will not admit intermediate states between polarities. It is the result of exclusive rather than inclusive thinking.

In order to be considered manly a man's mind must always be in charge of his body. Science and war have been men's proper concerns, while gentleness and nurturance have been seen as women’s exclusive realm. In military training, the first essential is that the cadet must be conditioned to obey orders, to do what he is told without considering emotions.

Similarly the basic tenant of science is that anything which cannot be quantified is inadmissible. Ayn Rand wrote that because of this crisis of conscience men have been prone toward either altruism or militarism. She held them to be equally self destructive, the altruist ultimately sacrifices himself to his environment, and the militarist ultimately sacrifices his environment to himself.

It has become clear that the unholy alliance between science and the military has overreached its boundaries, as for example in the bombing of Hiroshima. The implications for us all are clear.

From this competitive fear of vulnerability our actions have come up against serious consequences. In the past the penis has symbolized a kind of reckless physical courage, divorced from feeling, which has all too often been expressed as exploitation, domination and conquest that was brutally destructive. The macho archetype is a bulldozer operator, wearing a hard hat. His attitude is "stay cool, and go ahead."

He knows very well that he is "tearing down paradise to put up a parking lot." Intellectually he knows, but emotionally he has learned not to know. Everything must give way to the plans on a blueprint for which he is not responsible. If he stopped the machine to evaluate the consequences of his actions, he would simply be replaced. A man must be conditioned to be strong and indifferent to survive in a competitive world.

He owes his very life to the sacrifice of countless organisms that have become his food and shelter and he has to become hardened against feeling the real anguish of each of those sacrifices. Since his earliest childhood games, great emphasis has been placed on hardening him against having too much sympathy for his victims in his role as hunter, warrior and entrepreneur.

For something to be born, something else dies. The species higher up the food chain are more aggressive. More complex organisms feed on the less complex. Over the centuries men were in touch with countless animals that died so that we might be here today. From all this killing there comes a sense of grief which can be overwhelming. But grief is one of the emotions for which men are not usually very well prepared.

Bly teaches that such conditioned lack of compassion requires seeking out means to restore a proper sense of grief in men. He contends that men have squelched emotions so deeply within that they are at a loss for appropriate emotional responses to their circumstances, and have been left cut off from the more positive emotions as well, and may be out of touch with their own best instincts.

What is needed is a role model for acceptable modes of feeling and behavior. Realizing this, a discerning man might take a posture in life that reflects his enlightenment.

"Exploiting others or the environment is something I also choose not to do. I am not sure who the others are here, but I am here, and I am the "good guy." I expect to say and do the right thing, and am willing to treat others as I wish to be treated. Exploiting others will not bring me the fulfillment I deserve and desire."

Finding your Strengths  - Listen to an excerpt from an interview of  Brian Johnson on THE NEW MAN 

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