Healing men: One cure for violence against women
By Calvin Sandborn December 6, 2008
"Real men cry bullets instead of tears."
My sister was murdered by a stranger in 1979. So on the National Day of Action on Violence against Women I ask myself, "What can a man do?"
Marc Lepine was clearly crazy. And the men who carried out the Mumbai terrorist attacks were fanatics too. But male anger and violence is embedded in our culture --from Alec Baldwin's tirade at his 11-year-old daughter to the local Starbucks customer who vents on a sales clerk; from your dad's slow burn at Thanksgiving dinner to Stephen Harper's slow burn in Parliament; from Rush Limbaugh's tantrums on network radio to the hockey coach's tantrum at a kids' game. What can we do about this pervasive anger?
Demanding that men feel a politically correct "gender guilt" probably won't change much. But here's an action that could really change things --men need to learn to love themselves.
Scratch an angry man, and you'll find a man who is angry at himself, cruel to himself. Too often, men have learned from their fathers to be harsh to themselves. Queen Elizabeth's grandfather described the patriarchal dynamic: "My father was frightened of his father. I was frightened of my father. And I am damn well going to see to it that my children are frightened of me."
In the traditional family the boy is apprenticed to exercise power--and to bury his own feelings. To become the future "master of the house" a boy must hide his vulnerability. When the boy skins his knee dad admonishes him that "Big boys don't cry . . . take it like a man." Boys learn the credo found on King George V's office wall: "If I must suffer, let me be like a well-bred beast, that goes away to suffer in silence."
Anger is the one permissible deep emotion. In fact it's been encouraged. "He's a fighter" is a compliment. Historically, the angry man was the one who became king. The "master of the house" retained power when he was angry--but might lose power if he showed vulnerability.
Having learned that vulnerable feelings are shameful, a boy learns to change his natural sadness and fear into anger. In fact, the anger becomes a standard escape from feeling.
When he begins to feel vulnerable, he blames the other person for making him feel the prohibited vulnerability. He learns to routinely summon anger's adrenalin to banish sadness and fear--and restore a sense of power.
But this power is counterfeit. The emotional repression-anger cycle contributes to men's early deaths--with twice the rate of heart attacks and alcoholism, four times the suicide rate and nine times the rate of ulcers experienced by women. Worse, men's anger habit leaves men lonely and alienated from family and others. The anger habit is closely linked to the fact that almost half of all men are covertly depressed --suffering from workaholism, alcoholism, drug addiction, chronic anger, compulsive control over family or obsessions with TV, sports, and gambling.
However, there is a way out. A man can choose to treat himself with compassion. He can learn to re-parent himself, sending away the harsh father that has dominated a lifetime of self-talk. Instead, he can become a kind father to himself, daily speaking to himself with the encouraging, nurturing words that he would like to use with his own children.
He can allow himself to see what he really sees, and feel what he really feels, without shame. He can reassure himself that he has intrinsic value, simply because he is human and unique. He can accept himself as he is, not as he should be. He can become his own best friend.
In this way a man can free himself to actually experience his feelings and process them. He will learn that he won't die if he cries. To his surprise, he will learn that sharing tender feelings with others actually leads to life's finest moments --to honest connection and an authentic life.
In this way the self-contempt that fuels anger diminishes. By becoming kind to himself, he will naturally become kinder to others. The world will become a safer and gentler place.
Calvin Sandborn Is The Author Of Becoming The Kind Father: A Son's Journey, A Book About Men And Anger.
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