How Could This Happen?

By Paul Dunion | March 5, 2017

The above question typically surfaces when some alleged aberration of life, as we know, it jolts us from what we deem customary. It could be a neighborhood teen dying of an overdose, a clergy member having sex with your brother-in-law or a favorite relative being indicted for embezzlements. Initially, the shock keeps us believing we are simply viewing a serious departure from the norm. However, upon closer inspection, we often discover a larger story that was not quite such a digression from everyday life.

Curiosity can begin to reveal the compost that propagated what we initially deemed twisted and deviant. The challenge will be to get honest about some level of denial we exercised in order to distance us from the growing danger. That will not be easy to do since there is some immunity from an uncomfortable truth as long as we remain shocked. The shock conveniently distances us, exempting us from asking if there was something going on that we refused to see. However, clinging to the privilege of our alleged innocence paralyzes us, seriously prohibiting any participation in real healing.

Healing can begin when we dare to find our place in the problem and therefore automatically have a place in the solution. We can step into the healing process by asking: What gave rise to this alleged aberrant behavior? How may I have been in denial about the origin of this behavior? How may I have colluded with dynamics giving rise to what I now find so unacceptable? The compost we are about to explore can be found everywhere. It is certainly not limited to the White House lawn. It is very likely in your neighborhood and maybe in your own back yard. Let’s look more closely at one pile of compost capable of growing a leader who is divisive, deeply insecure, narcissistic and manipulative.

The Compost

The compost is the permission our culture gives to males to avoid emotionally growing up. In his seminal work, Hazards of Being Male, Herb Goldberg warned of the cultural pressure inflicted upon males, “Yet he is oppressed by the cultural pressures that have denied him his feelings …. The urgency to “act like a man” which blocks his ability to respond to his inner promptings both emotionally and physiologically, and by a generalized self-hatred that causes him to feel comfortable only when he is functioning well in harness, not when he lives for joy and for personal growth.” Discouraged to engage in personal growth translates into discouraged to attain Emotional Intelligence. Unlike the socio-economic and political oppression of females, who did not risk being real women by engaging in their emancipation, men jeopardize being real men if they acknowledge any level of cultural oppression or being wounded. Let’s look at aspects of Emotional Intelligence that are sacrificed as males engage in “acting like real men”:

· Not able to feel vulnerable and feel okay about themselves.

· Not able to eliminate ‘win-lose’ in a conversation where there are differing opinions, debilitating their ability to move toward collaboration and co-creation.

· Not able to identify emotional needs.

· Not able to get emotional needs met in a relationship.

· Not able to be clear about what constitutes self-nurturance.

· Not able to separate self-worth from concrete achievements.

· Not able to suspend being competitive with other men.

· Not able to admit emotional wounding and seeking healing. And in many cases must also deny physical symptoms.

· Not able to be shamelessly accountable for mistakes.

· Not able to fully participate in emotional intimacy. Intimacy is reduced to sex.

· Not able to generate and receive emotional support from other men.

· Not able to honor ambiguity and uncertainty in their beliefs and opinion. Often restricted to speaking with a contrived certainty.

Similar to the liberation of females from societal oppression, it is a life-long task for males to vigilantly attend to their own emancipation. The good news is that there are an increased number of males willing to cast off the yoke of cultural suppression.

When the above cultural injunctions are laced with serious wounding due to childhood abuse and/or neglect, males run a very high risk of hurting themselves and others. Let’s look at some of the prevailing characteristics of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

*Holds a grandiose sense of self-importance. (I believe that the grandiosity is a compensation for little or no sense of genuine self.)

*Expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements.

*Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited power.

*Requires excessive admiration.

*Possesses an exaggerated sense of entitlement. Expects immediate compliance from others, and is willing to bully others when they don’t comply.

*Exploitative of others.

*Lacks empathy.

*Comfortable expressing arrogance.

When males experience a confluence of the cultural mandate for being “a real man” with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, that male can become a serious danger to himself and anyone he can directly impact. The “real man” prescription and the Narcissistic Personality Disorder have so much in common. People can easily decide that a man suffering from such a Disorder is simply being “ a real man”, which can create immense potential danger. The best that those injuriously impacted can hope for is an intervention that aims at reducing the person’s exercise of power and hopefully, long term Residential Treatment. We don’t have any control over someone’s early wounding but we can begin to intervene on any role we have played in support of the psychological oppression of men.

Okay For Males To Remain Boys

Unfortunately, males have not benefited from a movement like Feminism, which continues to help women throw off the yoke of oppression. Let’s examine some possible forces that support males remaining boys and what might be done about it.

*Got to sell stuff. Madison Avenue aimed its efforts at females suggesting that a female is lovable if she has a perfect body, which has deeply hurt girls and women. A similar marketing campaign is aimed at males. The difference being that success makes a male worthwhile and therefore lovable. Success is to some degree measured by material acquisitions. Boats, automobiles, real estate, trips, electronic devices and a myriad of other toys become emblematic of the successful male. Such a definition of success does not allow males to escape the seduction of adolescence. An instrument of change might be male authority figures taking on more soulful trademarks of success. These might include generosity, empathy, integrity, loyalty, compassion, accountability, stewardship and serenity.

*Can’t remain boys without women. If a female did not feel seen, appreciated and loved by her father, she runs the risk of colluding with the arrested development of males. This can happen when the result of her paternal wounding is to forfeit any hope of being loved, which typically occurs just below consciousness. However, heterosexual females do want some form of emotional affiliation with males. Therefore, they substitute being needed for being loved. Quite often, the male depends upon his female partner to navigate much that falls outside the realm of his profession or job. The female takes responsibility for the direction of parenting, holiday celebrations. Social plans, dietary needs, medical appointments, household expenditures and at times the proper attire for her male partner. Males would not have been able to remain in an adolescent holding pattern without the help of women attached to being needed.

*No societal expectations for males to take their emotional maturity seriously. Are we so attached to the status quo that we are willing to injure our boys with the “Be a real man” imperative, which cuts them off from their hearts and souls? Fathers can begin giving themselves permission to have an emotional life beyond anger, giving their sons a model of what it means to be a whole male. The male map can be expanded as authority figures go beyond a fascination with yesterday’s sport scores and exhibit an interest in their own inner lives, especially their emotional needs and the welfare of their neighborhoods. A commitment to mutual support with other men has immense value for boys. Wives can begin to explore the difference between being needed and being loved and expect the significant male in their lives to offer the latter.

It may be time to shed some naiveté, allowing us to be less shocked about what we have created, but to take responsibility for this creation in the largest way possible. Under another title, I have suggested that it may be not accident that most folks know the definition of the word misogyny – “hatred of girls and women”. But almost no one I’ve interviewed knows the meaning of the word misandry – “hatred of boys and men”. Have we believed that we could ignore how we advocate that males be self-destructive and there would be no dire consequences?

Could it be that the leader of the free world followed the “real man” imperative, leaving him duly impaired and unable to adequately address his own psychological wounding? It’s not a time to be violent or settle for self-righteous moralizing, but rather be more committed than ever to support healing wherever possible. We owe it to our children, our grandchildren and to the leader to make an intervention that prevents his symptoms from hurting himself and many others.


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