Families are where we first learn “what feelings are acceptable and family authorized and what feelings are prohibited” (Bradshaw, 1988b). Many young boys experience a “shaming of all emotions” (Bradshaw, 1988a), in particular that of any expression of pain, of grief, as being unmanly and a sign of weakness. It is in this way that men “are socialized to mistrust feelings, particularly difficult feelings, to experience them as threatening, overwhelming, and of little value” (Real, 2002). As bell hooks (2004a) states, “Soul murder is the psychological term that best describes this crushing of the male spirit in boyhood”.
The effect of this ‘soul murder’ is greater than only inhibiting certain emotional experiencing, however. It can also lead to a privileging of acting out in anger, something that is socially rewarded – the lesson being that anger is the “only emotion that patriarchy values when expressed by men” (hooks, 2004b), with the bottom line being that “manhood is synonymous with the domination and control over others” and the use of “coercion and/or violence to gain and maintain power” (hooks, 2004a). Indeed, it can be argued that “...violence is boyhood socialization” (Real, 2002).
In psychodynamic terms, acting out in anger can thus became men’s primary defense against feeling our grief. “When we are raging, we feel unified within—no longer split. We feel powerful. Everyone cowers in our presence. We no longer feel inadequate and defective. As long as we can get away with it, our rage becomes our mood altered of choice. We become rage addicts” (Bradshaw, 1988a). Acting out our rage “is the perfect cover-up for … unreconciled grief” (hooks, 2004a) - while healing “begins with acknowledging and feeling the pain” (hooks, 2004a). This can be quite challenging, however, given that most men refuse to acknowledge their deep childhood losses, “seem incapable of grieving and mourning on an individual basis” (Dutton, 1995) and are unsupported in this attempt because “male models for grieving are few” (Dutton, 1995). Therapy can be a space in which to challenge this damaging status quo, a space for masculinity to be given the freedom - to just be.
Bradshaw, J. (1988a). Healing the Shame That Binds You. Deerfield Beach, Fla: Health Communications.
Bradshaw, J. (1988b). Bradshaw on: the family: A revolutionary way of self-discovery. Pompano Beach, Fla: Health Communications.
Dutton, D. (1995). The Batterer: a Psychological Profile. Basic Books, New York.
hooks, b. (2004a). We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. Routledge, New York.
hooks, b. (2004b). The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. Atria Books, New York.
Real, T. (2002). How Can I Get Through to You? Closing the Intimacy Gap Between Men and Women. Simon and Schuster, New York
Thoughts on Therapy and Mental Health