Monthly Archives: September 2011

Men and the freedom-wound

 

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

Steve speaking:)

Last of four parts 

The freedom-wound

This last wound operates in two spheres, public and private.

In the public sphere men are expected to sacrifice their freedom for others: to go to work for the family, to go to war for the nation.

Where historically a woman’s role in the family required her to remain emotionally alive and responsive, a man’s role requires just the opposite.

 Our culture maintains — and rightly so — that men are more efficient workers and warriors when they are not inconvenienced by tender feelings….   [For example, a man] rarely has the luxury of working when it pleases him or selecting only those tasks he enjoys. The weather, the economy, or his boss dictates what he does, when he works, and how long he toils. Historically men have had to put aside what they really wanted to do and spend most of their waking hours providing for their families. This has required them to shut down their senses, dampen their emotions, and focus on the task at hand.*

Provider and Protector.  That’s our assignment, and woe betide those who can’t measure up.  To fail is to be less than a Real Man.

Inevitably, of course, this public role seeps into the private sphere, where men — no less than women (who since the advent of feminism are much better at talking about it) — lose their freedom to be the human beings they really are.

That’s what this whole series has been about — the ways in which men’s needs get denied or neglected, which in turn robs them of  their emotional and psychological freedom:

~ how the mom-wound splits them off from their feminine side and confuses their relationships with women,

~ how the dad-wound deprives them of deep masculine knowledge and the chance for healthy, nurturing connection with other men, and

~ how the feeling-wound buries their deeper selves, without access to which no human being can experience real joy, confidence or integrity.

It’s as a result of these four wounds that

Most men don’t have a life. Instead we have an act, an outer show, kept up for protection. We pretend things are fine, that everything is cool, and sometimes we even fool ourselves. But ask a man how he really feels or what he really thinks, and the first thing he thinks is, “What am I supposed to say?” The average man is deeply unhappy, but he would be the last to admit it.**

* * *

What to do about all this?

Well, I’m a therapist, so my answer grows out of that context.

At its best, therapy is about going past surface appearances to deeper truths in an atmosphere of safety.

That’s what men need to do, with themselves and with each other.

This was a more popular idea some years back, when the Men’s Movement was begun in hopes of freeing men in the way feminism tried to liberate women.

The interest may have waned.  The need remains.

Men still need to open this can of worms and start to untangle them.

We need to finally learn how talk to each other about what we don’t usually talk about, in places that make that a safe risk to take.

We need to have the courage to at least attempt this.  And we need to seek out other men with the same courage.

Our health and our happiness depend on it. 

So do our sons’.  

So do our wives’ and our daughters’.  Because finally the wounding of boys and men is inseparable from the wounding of girls and women. 

It’s never been easy to be a human being.  And men can’t avoid getting hurt by life any more than women can.

But all this suffering-in-silence? 

Enough already.

___________________________________ 

*Marvin Allen, In the company of men.

**Steve Biddulph, The secret life of men.

 

* * *

Want more?

 

”The strengths of masculinity and manhood, 

unfortunately, are being used

against men at times.  Normal

masculine strengths [like] assertiveness are being misconstrued….”

Dr Elizabeth Celi talks about men’s health, domestic abuse and social bias against men in a 2009 interview on Australian tv (9:42).

 

 

* * *

 

What are men’s issues?

“Watch this short flash video [6:54] to get a beginning idea. Societal forces like chivalry, misandry and the onerous male sex role of provide and protect have been having the unfortunate consequence of obscuring the needs of men….  We have worked for over thirty years to free women from being bound to their rigid sex role. Now it is time for us to consider the male side.”  From the National Coalition for Men.

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Men and the feeling-wound

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

That’s Bert at left, modeling masculine coping.

Steve speaking:)

Third of four parts

So the typical man loses his mom, and then he loses his dad.

And these losses leave him with a pile of painful feelings. 

And, if he remains typical, he probably carries these feelings around inside him, unhealed and unconscious, for the rest of his life.

 Why? 

Because of the third of the four wounds.

 The feeling-wound

Loss of feelings is the wound most obvious to therapists. Most men arrive in my office unable even to identify what they feel, much less express it.

But they don’t come to therapy for help with feelings.  They come the way you go to a dentist when a toothache gets intolerable.

Their symptoms — anxiety, depression, addictions, ruined relationships, chronic anger, a pervasive sense of despair or bewilderment — have simply become too painful to bear.

And then there are other problems that flow from the same wound.

~ American men, on average, live for five years less than women do. 

~ They have twice as many vehicle accidents, twice as many fatal heart attacks, three times as many deaths from injuries, twice the deaths from liver disease. 

~ Over 90 percent of convicted acts of violence are perpetrated by men, and men account for over 70 percent of the victims. 

~ Over 90 percent of prison inmates are male. 

~ In schools, 90 percent of kids with behavior problems are boys, as are more than 80 percent of kids with learning problems. 

~ Men and boys commit suicide at five times the rate of girls and women.* 

Despite all this pain, it takes real courage for a man to enter therapy.  He’s been taught since boyhood that needing help means he’s failed, somehow, at manhood. (He is not taught that such failure is inevitable.)

Loss of feelings is the main complaint women make of men. I could retire tomorrow if I had a nickel for each time I heard a wife or girlfriend complain “He never tells me what he feels.”

But most women misunderstand the problem.

They seem convinced that men know what they feel, and simply choose to withhold it. 

They don’t realize that the blank look a man gives you when you ask how he feels isn’t dishonesty or secrecy. 

It’s ignorance.

The fact is, most men wouldn’t know a feeling if it bit them on the butt.

Ask a man what he’s feeling and he’ll tell you what he thinks.  Poke through his answer for some hint of one of the four basic emotions — mad, sad, glad, scared — and most of the time you’ll end up as clueless as when you began. 

But he’s not lying.  He’s not even hiding. He’s numb.

He learned to numb himself long ago, in self-defense.  Maybe it began the first time he got hit in the face by a basketball, and his eyes filled with tears and his teammates saw the tears and giggled. 

Lesson 1 for all boys is: Bite your lip, suck it up, or you’ll be sorry.  You learn this fast if you want to survive boyhood.

But if you hide your feelings regularly enough, eventually the day comes when you forget where you put them. 

So many of us go through life in a state of emotional numbness.  And others of us can identify one feeling only: anger.

Now, men’s anger has legitimate roots. Behind all anger is pain, and men’s wounds produce plenty of that. But being forbidden to acknowledge (even to recognize) emotional pain as such — or to relieve that pain by grieving or crying or talking — leaves many men condemned to a sort of chronic, lifelong pissed-offness.

This, of course, has other consequences.

Many men misunderstand why they’re so angry, and unfairly blame their jobs or their wives or their children.

Often their anger scares away those they most love, increasing their loneliness and desperation.

Finally, they may believe they have no right to be as angry as they are, which leaves them guilty and trying to conceal it.

As a result most angry men face a lose-lose choice: (a) act out your anger (and risk ending up isolated, divorced, fired or arrested), or (b) hold it inside (and get anxious, depressed, drunk, stoned, or workaholic).

A song lyric reminds us, You have to be carefully taught

Most men are carefully taught to never answer the question of feelings.

Most of us are taught to never even ask the question.

Next: The freedom-wound

_________________________

* Source: Steve Biddulph, The secret lives of men.

* * *

Want more?

With men, there’s some quality of grief.

And men don’t know what they’re grieving about.

It’s as if the grief is impersonal with men — it’s always there. 

You don’t know if its about the absence from their father, or…

Robert Bly, being interviewed by Bill Moyers for the documentary “A Gathering of Men.” 


Men and the dad-wound

 (If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

That’s Bert at far left, before being dad-wounded.)

Steve speaking:)

Second of four parts

Last time I wrote about three conclusions I’ve reached from doing therapy with men, namely

~ that most of us feel less like men than like boys,

~ that few of us seem to ever escape this feeling,  and

~ that most of us spend our lives trying to recover from the same four emotional wounds.

This post is about the second of those wounds.

The dad-wound

Men lose their fathers too.

We accept it as normal now.  But I’m told it was not always thus.

Before the Industrial Revolution sent fathers off into factories and offices to make their livings, boys grew up seeing, hearing and smelling what grown men were all about.

Sons working alongside fathers in fields and workshops absorbed a felt sense of adult masculinity by means of psychological osmosis.  More than mere instruction or role-modeling, this transfer of male energy provided a sort of emotional road map, a path the son could follow out of his mom-dominated boyhood.

Robert Bly describes the process:

Standing next to the father, as they repair arrowheads, or repair plows, or wash pistons in gasoline, or care for birthing animals, the son’s body has the chance to retune. Slowly, over months or years, that son’s body-strings begin to resonate to the harsh, sometimes demanding, testily humorous, irreverent, impatient, opinionated, forward-driving, silence-loving older masculine body. Both male and female cells carry marvelous music, but the son needs to resonate to the masculine frequency as well as to the female. *

Then society changed.  Men went off to work in offices, and boys went off to be educated in classrooms, mostly by female teachers. 

And sons stopped hearing their fathers’ music.

Like mom-loss, this caused permanent damage, in the form of three specific deficits:

~ Men are left hungry for fathering.

This hunger is experienced, when we acknowledge it, as a craving for male attention and acceptance and praise.  We need those things the way a plant needs sunlight and water.  Without them, something inside us dries up and shrivels. 

Father-hunger can also be felt as a physical one.  I remember being twelve years old and standing next to my sweaty basketball coach and feeling a strong impulse to hug him.  The impulse startled me, partly because I didn’t even like this guy much, and partly because the urge seemed to rise from such a deep place inside me.  At the time my own father was physically and emotionally missing in action, and I realize now that some part of me was reaching out for an emotional food it was lacking. 

(I didn’t act on the impulse, of course.  Big boys don’t hug.)

~ Men end up estranged from other men.

Without dads to model male nurturance and connection, we’re left in basically competitive relationship to other males.

And without the ability to talk honestly about our experience — without the knowledge and validation that comes from hearing what other men really think, feel, fear and desire — we end up suspicious and scared of each other.  We expect other men to reject the inadequacy we secretly feel.

The bridges between men are basically burned. We may have male friends during boyhood and adolescence, but most men I know are trying to navigate adulthood without any real male friends.

Finally, 

~ Men are starved for healthy models. 

Many of us derive our ideas of manhood from models offered by, god help us, popular culture: John Wayne and Ernest Hemingway, Hugh Hefner and Donald Trump, Jack Kennedy and George Bush Jr., Barry Bonds and Tupac Shakur.

Without real men to learn from, we absorb these cartoonish models into the deepest parts of ourselves.

Then we either try to copy them or consider ourselves failures for being unable to. 

One last word about male education, or the lack of it:

Once upon a time there were established ways of turning boys into men.

Traditional cultures provided initiation rituals which helped boys cross the psychological threshold from childhood into manhood.

Usually this involved some ordeal or testing.  Kikuyu boys hunted lions using only a spear.   Native American braves undertook vision quests without food or water.   Australian aborigines went “walkabout” in the wilderness for six months at the age of thirteen.

Often initiation involved visible changes to the body, like circumcision or scarification.  Afterwards the initiate was transformed, inside and outside.  You could look at him and tell he’d been initiated.

He was also accorded full adult status by his community, given all the rights and responsibilities of a full-fledged man, could marry, own property, vote in council, go to war.

We have nothing like that now in ordinary civilian life.  (Military boot camp and gang initiations belong to fairly limited subcultures.)  The closest I know of is the Bar Mitzvah, the day after which the 13-year-old initiate returns to living with a mom still reminding him to pick up his socks.

Thus many men never experience themselves as mature, or as (in Robert Moore’s phrase) fully-cooked.

Regardless of education, income or accomplishments, they go through adult life feeling like half-baked impostors, burdened by a chronic sense of inadequacy and self-doubt and wondering when the hell they’re going to finally feel grown up.

And when they never do, they decide it must be their fault. 

Next: The feeling-wound 

__________________________

*Robert Bly, Iron John.

* * *

Want more?

There’s a certain wound that we get as men, partly because we do not get the father we want.  James Hillman said that every father comes into the world with a certain way that he wants to father, and that every son comes into the world with a certain way that he wants to be fathered.  And what if they don’t match?

Robert Bly in an excerpt from the documentary (with Michael Meade) “On Being a Man.”  Bly also reads his poem “An Old Conversation.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Men and the mom-wound

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve  is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

That’s Bert at left, before being mom-wounded.

Steve speaking:)

First of four parts 

Twenty years of doing therapy with men has led me to three conclusions about us as a psychological species.

First: 

Most of us don’t feel like men at all.  Secretly, we feel like boys.

Second: 

This feeling is more or less inevitable, given how we are socialized.

Third:

We’re all bleeding from the same four emotional wounds.

The wounds are losses.  Most of us spend our lives trying to recover from them.  Most, it seems to me, spend our lives failing.

What follows is a four-part attempt to describe these four wounds and how they drive the controlling behavior of the members of my species.

The mom-wound

Men lose their moms in a way women don’t.

Most of the women I know seem to retain emotional connections to their mothers that their brothers and husbands have not.

Why?  Because at some point most men conclude that they can’t stay too emotionally attached to their mothers if they want to become real men.   (Whatever that is.)

So we cut ourselves off from Mom, emotionally and psychologically, often even while living under her roof.

In so doing we leave behind not just our personal mothers, but all that mothering itself represents: nurturing, caring, affection, gentleness, kindness, empathy.

We leave all that behind to enter the world of men, the world of hunters and soldiers and workers and other big boys who don’t cry.

This damages us in three ways:

~ It splits us in two, forcing us to disown our own capacity for feeling, our own feminine side. 

This split sets us off on the familiar but dismal path of self-ignorance and emotional starvation that has been described as “the old paradigm”:

Don’t feel. Die younger than women. Don’t talk. Don’t grieve. Don’t get angry. Don’t rock the boat.  Don’t trust other men.  Don’t put passion before bill paying.  Follow the crowd, not your bliss.* 

~ We become terrified of feelings themselves — which, should anyone discover them in us, might expose us as being too feminine.

As a result, our emotional lives come to be governed by fear. Every man I know is secretly scared shitless of being perceived (or, worse, perceiving himself) as not Man Enough.

Often we defend against this fear by overcompensating in the opposite direction.  We become hard, rigid, controlling, stubborn, insensitive, sometimes even abusive or violent.

We may use sex as a means of achieving status or exploiting women rather than expressing love, tenderness or vulnerability.

We may scorn emotional men as “wimps,” “bleeding hearts” or “gay.”

Some of us may even mock or abuse homosexual men, just to prove just how un-gay we are.

Finally, because denying needs doesn’t make them go away (just drives them underground),

~ We transfer our emotional needs to the women in our lives.

Wives, girlfriends, daughters, female friends — we expect those women to heal our wounds, to make up for what we’ve sacrificed.

We do this, for the most part, unconsciously.  As a result neither we nor the women really understand what’s going on between us or why our relationships are so frequently disappointing.

Though women certainly sense it.  At some point in nearly every marriage therapy I’ve ever done the wife exclaims in frustration, “He feels more like my son than my husband.”

Confusion, frustration, hurt and rage on both sides are common.

Many men end up disappointed with and resentful towards the women in their lives without really knowing why. 

Many woman end up feeling both inadequate and betrayed at the same time. 

And if it goes unacknowledged and untreated too long, the man’s mom-wound can become the invisible rock upon which his relationship gets wrecked, sometimes fatally. 

Next: The dad-wound

 ___________________

~ John Lee, At my father’s wedding.

* * *

Want more?

Men are more likely to confess to a predilection for pornography than admit to a close relationship with their mother. There isn’t much left that the modern man is made to feel ashamed of, yet confessing to your friends that you sometimes call your mum for a chat is something few do. Even though a man’s mother is likely to be the second most important woman in his life, even though he may have deep feelings of love for her, this is a relationship about which men are sheepish, secretive and often outright embarrassed.

From “Men and their mothers: What’s it all about?” by William Sutcliffe, The Sunday Times.


Bert’s therapy (#10): Transference

My parents didn’t like me much.

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That’s how it seemed to you?

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Sure.  They ignored me most of the time.

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Well, they were pretty busy.

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Busy?

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Dad was busy being alcoholic.  Mom was busy being depressed.

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Oh.  Yeah.

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How do you think that affected you? 

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It left me scared of certain people. 

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Like who?

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Well, teachers, and coaches…

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and bosses, and cops…

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and doctors, and dentists…

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…and therapists.

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Ah.  Authority figures.

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Yes.

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People who make you feel unimportant.

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Right.         

Right.

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And judged.

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Right.

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And powerless.

 

 

 

 

 

Right.

 

 

 

Like the kid you used to be.

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Exactly. 

 

 

 

Want to hear a secret?

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I guess.

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I have the same problem.

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What?

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Yeah.  Don’t tell anyone, okay?

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* * *

 


Men who can’t love women

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

Steve speaking:)

Three times last week I gave  my speech on Men Who Can’t Love Women.

Twice I gave it to wives of men avoiding therapy.  Once I was talking to a man who’s a husband himself.

The speech I created spontaneously about six months ago, to address a relationship problem that kept cropping up in sessions.  

It goes something like this.

I see this more and more lately: 

Men who can’t love women.

No, they’re not gay, or impotent, or anything like that.

 They’re not even men who don’t want to love women.

Or don’t try to.

Usually they’re men who believe that they can and do love the women they’re with.

The women they’re with, sadly, tend to see it differently.

Because those women know there’s a fundamental truth about healthy relationships that these men simply don’t grasp:

Giving is getting.

These guys don’t get that.  They don’t see relationship as collaboration, where what’s good for you is good for me.  Instead they seem to see it as some sort of competition.  

They tend to act, often without realizing it,  as if relationship were a zero-sum game, where there’s only so much good stuff to go around, and where a gain for one means a loss for the other.

It’s as if on some deep level they believe, “When you win, I lose.”     

I hope (your husband, boyfriend, lover) isn’t one of these.

Because — due respect to the members of my gender – these guys can be damned hard to retrain.

The idea of giving-as-getting is something most women know in their bones. That’s probably because they’re socialized to value relationships in a way men aren’t. 

We train men to compete, not to partner.

Worse, we also train them to work, not to feel.  Which leads to another missing piece in their relationships, something else that many men don’t get. 

It’s the idea that love isn’t just an emotion —  it’s behavior.

Most of my male clients struggle with relationships with women.  And at some point I usually ask them, “Do you love her?” 

They almost always say, “Yes.”

And then I ask, “How do you show it?’

And they stare at me as if I’ve just lapsed into a foreign language.

Some just don’t get the question.  “What do you mean,” one asked blankly, “by show it?”

Many shrug.   The shrug usually translates as, Hey, I know how I feel.  I assume she knows too.  Don’t women just know this stuff?

Others argue that they already communicate their love adequately.  I go to work, pay bills, mow the lawn, drive Jimmy to soccer practice, put up with her mother, and even wash dishes occasionally.  Isn’t that enough?  Shouldn’t it be?

If I suggest otherwise, some get angry at me.

My work with these men usually heads in one of two directions. 

Some men — usually those who’ve come close to losing the woman in their lives and come into therapy genuinely frightened — are able to face their limitations.  We then have a series of conversations about the nuts and bolts of loving behavior (ways of communicating acceptance, attention and affection), which they work to internalize and practice.  These are the lucky ones.

Others stand pat.  Hey, this is me.  She can take it or leave it.  Interestingly, it’s not that they’re less frightened than the first group.  They’re just more scared of changing than anything else.  Some stand pat all the way to divorce court.

Some stand pat through multiple marriages and divorces.

My heart goes out to these men.   They’re not bad guys, most of them.  They’re not trying to hurt anyone.  They’re just undereducated and overdefended.  (Also victims of a socialization process that tends to leave men emotionally wounded in four specific ways, ways I plan to write about here shortly.)

But the hurt happens anyway, and it can be devastating to all concerned. 

So, some questions to chew on:  

~ Ever known a man who can’t love women? 

~ Ever been in a relationship with one?

~ Are you such a man yourself?

~ Are you sure?

* * *


Bert’s therapy (#9): Adult child

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Tell me about your family.

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Do I have to?.

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Please.

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Oh, okay. 

Dad, alcoholic.

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Mom: depressed.

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Mom, depressed.

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Me, only child.

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What do you mean?

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And still am.

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What do you mean?

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What do you mean, what do I mean?

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Still an only child?  Or still only a child?

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What a shrinky question. 

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But since you ask…

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Both.

 

 

 

 

Well, cheer up.  You’re not alone.

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In what way?

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A wise man once said, “There’s no such thing as a grown-up human being.”

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You believe that?

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I do.

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Really?

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Really.

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Thank God.

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..

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* * *

 


Bert’s therapy (#8): Intimacy

This is still uncomfortable.

 

 

 

I know.

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Any more ideas?

 

 

 

 

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Well, there’s a Gestalt technique we could try.

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What’s that?

 

 

 

You move your seat back away from me.

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And?

 

 

 

And you keep moving until you’re comfortable with the distance.

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Let’s try it.

 

 

 

 Okay, go ahead.

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I like this.

 

 

 

Good. Move again.

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 Even better.

 

 

 

Good.  Keep going.

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Better still.

 

 

 

Great.

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 ………….

 

 

 

What?

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  ……………………..

 

 

I can’t hear you.

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(Sigh.)

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Oh well.

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At least now I know… a

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how much intimacy you can tolerate.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

 

 


Empty chairs

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

Sketch by Bert.  Steve speaking:)

I run a therapy group. 

Last week one of its members left the group, suddenly and without explanation. 

I announced it at the start of our next meeting.   “How’s everyone feeling about this?” I asked. 

The group fell silent.  I watched each of them turn inward.  They looked like they were searching for something.

I let the silence go on for a bit, and then told them something all group therapists know.

“When someone leaves group it’s experienced, on some level, as a death,” I said.  “Someone’s here, and then they’re gone.  It comes as a shock, seeing that empty chair, even when you expect it.   It’s worse when you don’t see it coming. 

“And it’s not unusual for group members to take responsibility for this sudden absence.  They may wonder if something they said or did made that person leave.   Or if they should have said or done something to get that person to stay.”

I paused.  No one said anything.

“Just notice,” I finished, “if anything like that comes up for you.   If it does, tell the rest of us.”

Group went on pretty much as normal after that.  But my eyes kept flicking back to the empty chair.

I’m the group leader. 

What had I said or done that caused this defection? 

What had I failed to say or do to prevent it?

Then, while driving home, I felt myself step back from these questions, and remember something we all do as kids.

We do it whenever life hands us an empty chair — some sort of loss, or some unexplained pain or problem.   

Like when mom and dad fight.  Or one parent drinks.   Or a parent’s depressed.  Or someone falls ill.  Or there’s not enough money.  Or someone doesn’t seem to like us.  Or we are abused.         

“What did I say or do to cause this?” we wonder.  “What didn’t I say or do to prevent it?”

To an adult mind these questions may sound irrational.  We know the explanations for such things lie elsewhere.

But the questions aren’t irrational; they’re defensive.  They’re the kid’s way of staving off confusion and helplessness — trying to fill an empty space with some sort of explanation. 

Confusion and helplessness are so painful that kids would rather take the blame than go on feeling helpless and confused.

It’s a way of, yes, taking control of their feelings. 

It’s a largely unconscious reaction, and it can be costly.  Many of us spend years — decades, even; lifetimes, even — burdened by feelings of guilt, shame or inadequacy rooted in these false explanations.   

It’s sad, and it’s unnecessary.

So, dear reader, I invite you to try some history-reframing.

Marinate these questions, please:

~ What empty chairs did you experience as a child?

~ What explanations did you use to fill them?

~ As you look back now, do those explanations still make sense?  Are they realistic, given what you’ve learned since then?  And are they fair to the child you used to be?

 

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