Sunday, February 19, 2012

Men out of touch with their feelings....need support not judgement to heal

 In the movie, The Descendents, Matt King, played by George Clooney, screams at his comatose wife in her hospital room, his anger that she believed he "was out of touch with his feelings and needed to go into therapy," as part of  releasing his tension, fear and anxiety at confronting her extremely critical condition, resulting from a speed boating accident off one of Hawaii's islands. Apparently, their marriage had not been going well, and one of the themes of the movie focuses on her affair with a real estate salesman, as her statement in defiance of her desert-like marriage. King, a real estate lawyer, and trustee of his family's large holding on one of the islands, has been "emotionally absent" from the marriage, busy in his professional career, and not "there" for his wife and two daughters.
The explosion by "King," surprisingly in the hospital room, presumably in intensive care (she was in a private room), will echo around the North American continent at least for the next several months, as men project their own resentment, anger, possibly fear and even defiance at the reduction of the stereotype of "out of touch" with emotions, almost as an offense under the "Successful Marriage Act" a mythical document apparently written by the millions of women who wish to see their male partners as "more like them."
Learning about the emotions that one experiences and thereby articulating their identity, their strength, their roots and the potency of their implications, especially within a relationship, is not one of the skills that North America males have picked up along the way to their medical, legal, accounting, engineering or even theological degrees. Nor is it something that most, if not all, of those professions considers really important in growing and developing into what the marketplace of conventionality considers a "success". How many deals, the size of those deals, the complexity of those deals and the skill with which one can wear many hats, seemingly simultaneously, without losing focus or concentration on any open file, are much more important. In fact, in a male world, dominated as it has been with competition, with will, with endurance and with externals like the name on the hood of the car in the driveway, the number on the house and the number of square feet behind the number, the size of the pool and the number of trips to the exotic places on the globe...these are some of the ways by which the men have been trained and conditioned, much like "seals" (take that as part of the Marines, in the U.S. or merely as part of the aquarium shows that dot the continent). They have, many of them, captained their football and/or basketball and/or baseball teams, dated the cheerleaders in their high schools, gone to the "right" parties, been admitted to the better colleges, where they carved out what we used to call B.M.O.C. (Big Man on Campus) profiles in sports, politics, debating, journalism or even entrepreneur competitions. The nerds in their classes frequented the computer or the science labs, and made their 'marks' with experiments, professor alliances, and high grades. They were taught to "do" and to "be-a-success" however they could achieve that benchmark.
Relationships, for the BMOC's, usually came without much effort, without much competition and with little or no comparison to other males, with respect to the "being in touch with their feelings" co-efficient of those relationships.
For the most part, their fathers "were not in touch with their feelings" either, having clawed their way up the proverbial ladder to a career of their own, civilian or military, based, once again on accomplishments. They rested secure on the size of the investment portfolio, the number of college graduates among their offspring, the relative "calmness" of their spouses compared to other men of their generation and of their profession and geography. The fathers generally believed that "feelings" were for the women to explore; they generally despised reading Shakespeare, as it was both "archaic" language and the portrayal of complex emotions, often tragic, of both genders, and they merely "put up" with the pain while enduring those weeks or months, for which they learned the basic plot structures, a few literary definitions and possibly some potentially different twists and turns to the plot lines. They did not integrate those emotions from the literature into their own conversations, believing that to do so would emasculate them in front of their peers.
With the rise (and some would argue fall) of feminism, in its several faces, new standards of what constitutes a "healthy male" have been defined by women, with the support of other women, yet without the universal acceptance and support of their male partners. "Evolved" men were the standard in the nineties; the rise of psychotherapy as women sought refuge in the offices of these practitioners, generated an encyclopedia of new terms for new anxieties, irritations, pains and even both neuroses and psychoses, much of the new information provided by female clients/patients, depending on the background of the treating practitioner.
Women, for example, on The View on ABC television, would state publicly, they would prefer to go on a date with a gay male, because they would know that he was not interested in taking the relationship "further" (a code word for "into the sexual"). Women, it seemed, were more interested in the development of their own careers than in the potential of a mutual relationship with an unevolved male.
Telling their male partners, both personally and publicly en masse, that "you need to go into therapy" will generate precisely the kind of resistance to such an experience that is the opposite of what those female partners wanted. And that resistance will be enhanced by a judicial system that "sentences" men to psycho-therapy as a result of their "acting out" in the marriage. Court-prescribed "anger management" for example is based on the notion that male anger is destructive, dangerous and requiring elimination, through finding words to express those feelings, with which men are out of touch, rather than smashing a wall, or worse, a woman's face.
However, did you know that the definition of "depression" for example, in the DSM-4 comes exclusively from female patients/clients and that it might be possible that a man is experiencing severe depression when he smashes that wall. Yet, such a possibility is not inside the professional lexicon of the psychiatric encyclopedia of definitions.
Women withdraw their affections and their sexual availability without incurring the wrath of the courts, because there is no physical evidence of injury. When men respond, physically and inappropriately, they are immediately charged with assault and often convicted by the bruises, blood, or witnesses to the event that triggered the violence.
Learning to talk about emotions, while difficult and especially threatening to men (as one doctor put it in conversation) "Women do it so much better!" as if the whole idea were another competition, will not come readily, easily, fluently and comfortably, unless and until the intellectual and pragmatic components of health come to include respect for one's inner life, one's spiritual health, one's capacity to cope with the various tragedies and traumas that accompany every human biography. And that will only evolve as men and women together, seek to understand that emotions have historic roots in events long forgotten, but deeply and permanently remembered in one's psyche, stored there because, when the events occurred, they were so painful that we could not cope, we were too young, too overwhelmed, and too naive...and only later, when we encounter a similar or a trigger incident, do they come tumbling out of some hidden closet and scatter themselves all over the floor of our consciousness. And we then have little choice but to confront both the trigger and the deep emotional connection to the trauma in the first place.
And this, while complex and appearing a waste of time, is really the only route to healing, both the current tension and the root of the emotional definition of the current event. And only if and when men come to "see" and they will never do that out of either fear or force, whether medical or legal, that they can unpack their histories, safely with a partner whose understands just how difficult this process is, at first, for their male partner and who takes his hand and walks slowly and deliberately through the darkness and out into the light at the end of the tunnel. And it will take more than one such chapter, in every life and relationship, because we are all fraught with memories of pain, often the projections of similarly insecure parents, teachers or supervisors, that we just could not adjust to at the time of their judgements, and we buried them 'for future reference' hoping that time would never come.
So, thanks to the writer of the novel, on which The Descendents is based, and thanks to George Clooney, for delivering this line with such power and conviction, in the hope that other men will come to their own awakening, without having to do it in a hospital room with a dying, unconscious wife, who had already emotionally departed an "empty" marriage.

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