“I did everything you said Sara and nothing ever changes. I hate it when you tell me I’m so brave, look what happened… talking made it worst!” (Anonymous. Male. 8 years old.)
This is the moment a young boy stopped thriving. Emotions became weakness. Tall rigid walls began to form with a promise to never hurt and never let anyone in again. A shelter was built with a dis-ease of its own kind; a prison of ever growing separation, anger, inadequacy and shame.
I often hear men share stories of their childhood. It ranges from casual statements such as “it wasn’t that bad” or “I was just being a brat” to “it stopped physically cause I got bigger, but it never really stopped in my head.” And if home violence wasn’t enough, as boys grow out of childhood, they all seem to inevitably face expectations of being man enough: tame down those emotions or feel less, provide more, be a rock, stay in control and never show weakness! They “rather see me die on top of my white horse than to have to watch me fall off”, he said (Brown, 2007).
The truth about trauma and pain is that it’s everywhere and it does not discriminate based on social status. Pain stories are rarely remembered as a physical hit. Mostly, it’s the memory of the words. The words that hurt. The words that controlled. The words of harsh expectations. And the words never said.
There’s a myth many men carry to make sense of their internal world: “it was needed, it made me tough, it made me relentless and got me where I am.” But most pain has no gain. The truth about pain stories is that they are simply toxic. Stuck pain does not build motivation or psychological resilience but rather reduce life expectancy by decades.
So what about you tough guy… how are you holding up beneath that shield?
It’s time to show up and start the conversation.
A special tribute to the men closest to me: father, friend, partner, and the brave ones I encountered in my work; to those of you who thrived despite pain stories and foolish expectations, and those of you who continue to feel trapped; I thank you for allowing me to witness a sliver of your journey.
Image by Alex Hutchinson http://alexhutchinsonphotography.com/