PHASE I: The Imposed Taboo of Illegitimacy… Selling babies to the Highest Bidder

I don’t mean to be a problem but….

I always felt it is interesting that our culture insists on imposing restraints on human behavior and function that seem to put us at odds  with our bodies. Our children are reaching sexual maturity earlier and earlier, yet, our society has become more and more complex, placing artificial value with currency as the means to acquire goods and services for everyday needs. Inflation and the devaluation of the dollar, along with the hording of wealth by the upper 1% has meant that it takes longer and longer to acquire the monetary stability to ensure the proper care of the next generation….

So, young girls go on the pill to limit their fertility so that they remain available for male sexual appetites without consequence. When they are caught pregnant before establishing legitimacy through marriage, both mothers and children are punished through poverty, their extended families often feeling the economic hardship and stigma along with them.

For some families, those with more assets and financial reserves, the hardship of “unwanted pregnancies” is forced squarely on the shoulders of the women who choose to carry their children to term. In my day, before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, that meant being sent away to birth alone in a “home for unwed mothers”. That is where my life began…

In December of 1960, my mother became pregnant.  My father was in his junior at West Point and my mother was a pre-med student at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania. My maternal grandfather was Superintendent of Reading schools and had been appointed by the Kennedy administration to help in the implementation of Special Education services across the country. My mother’s condition was not welcomed. She was sent away in shame, as many young women were at that time, to give birth in secret at the Florence Crittenton home for unwed mothers in Wilmington, Delaware. There she was kept on a strict diet, her belly swelling with a white baby that ultimately would receive top dollar for the Lutheran Children’s Services.

Shortly after reuniting with her at the age of 20, my biological mother relayed to me this story… “The girls would often sneak out to the local convenience store to buy candy and treats.” She took a breath as if the very utterance sucked the air out of her lungs. “One day I was coming out of the store when two little boys glanced my way, laughed and then spit on me,” the tears began welling up in her eyes. As she continued her voice broke with the effort to hold back the rage of emotion trying to release from the back of her throat, “There I was, a pre-med student with a 150 IQ.” Again there was a long inhalation, as if breathing itself had become painful. “They spit on me… because I was pregnant.” The tears began to flow freely.

My birthmother breast fed me the first three days of my life and then handed me over to a social worker who placed me in my adoptive parents’ home two days later.

The panic attacks started when I was about a year and a half and were triggered by the story of my adoption. Somewhere in my body I knew I had suffered a significant loss; her voice, her smell, and the taste of breast milk. All of that knowledge had been imprinted on my body. There were no words at that time because the information was received in a pre-verbal state…. The violent temper tantrums I began having, writhing in agony, were met with beatings. The foundation needed to misunderstand and misjudge who I was and who I could be had already begun!!!

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I don’t mean to be a problem but….

I start every statement I make with this caveat. I have learned to do this over years of coming to  understand the broad implications of every day social interactions to the larger concepts of culture and community.

There was a time not long ago that my utterances would reward me with a smack across my face or an inevitable departure of my intended target, in the early days, my adoptive father.

“You know you are crazy,” he would say as he turned on his heels to walk out of the room.

Frantic to be heard I would chase him, tears streaming down my face. I was the family scapegoat! I was forced to spend 5 days a week in psychoanalysis and, little to my knowledge, would be forced to do it for 7 years of my life. I was the family’s holder of secrets and pathology. I was the one that was silenced by being trivialized. I was never given respectful attention because the conclusions that I was making about life were strikingly different than the people around me who felt interrupted by my presence.

Every interaction I had that trivialized my experience, labeled me as “crazy”, insisted that I was the problem, caused great turmoil in me and I was forced to retreat inside myself to decipher the meaning of my plight. It was clear that there would be no relief in relationships.

Despite my wish to isolate and withdrawal from the toxic evaluations being made of my thoughts and understanding of my own experience, I was forced to interact daily with a whole horde of people invested on keeping me silenced by the imposed shame of ridicule, harassment, labeling and abuse. In fact, it was the very nature of my thought processes and desire to be heard that seemed to justify the mistreatment by family and “professionals” alike.

I have a lot to say. I have been silenced too long. My perspective is unique and maybe disturbing. It is said that great genius can only follow chaos. From my vantage point, there is no greater time for the creation of chaos then now. I don’t mean to be a problem, but….Image

Male Bonding: The Cultural Cultivation of Loneliness

 

This is an overview of the cultural impact on social interaction between men and their families, most specifically highlighting the differences in perspective between the sexes.  Within these words will be reflections of each and every one of us, though the descriptions are not meant to describe the totality of the human experience for any one person. It is a starting point to critically think about the role of culture and society in the perpetuation of social problems that it insists on ameliorating through treatment services by professionals. Any intervention that refuses to understand the foundational elements of these maladies is complicit with the perpetuation of these afflictions through the loss of respect for the human condition!

I sat in front of a frantic man who was devastated by the demise of the only loving relationship that he had ever known. The grief came out in spasms of frantic and breathless verbal exclamations, disjointed and rambling… “How could she leave me? I gave her everything she ever wanted. I would do anything for her…” He looked at me imploringly as if I could impart some wisdom to release him from his pain.

“I remember a time,” I began, “when I was told that men have it far worse than women do. I doubted it at the time as a woman who has experienced the many horrors that can only be endured at the hands of men…. Despite that fact, I don’t feel that way anymore”.

He looked at me puzzled.

“From the time that boys are just babies, they have their emotional and physical pains belittled. Boys are breast fed less, they cuddle less, and have their own expression of real emotions trivialized and shamed. They are encouraged to perform in order to get the most rudimentary of acknowledgments from mothers and fathers alike. They rightly develop aggressive tendencies as the outlet for the overwhelming grief and disconnect that they have, not only with their own experience, but also with the gentle and giving nature of humanity. Eventually they can experience a complete disconnect with all that is emotional. That disconnect keeps them safe and allows them to maintain their culturally acceptable gender role as a male.  As a result, men are robbed of the language of emotionality because they are not allowed to practice it. They do not develop the skills to ask for what they need because they often are not aware that they are in need”.

He nodded his head in silent agreement.

I appreciated the gesture, but knew that the work that needed to be done was far more than he was interested in doing at that point. He was articulating a desire for the only connection with a fulfilling emotional life he had ever experienced, which he believed wholeheartedly existed only in his wife. I had seen it before.

“When many men fall in love” I continued, “they offer their heart for the first time. Women, many times with their own issues, become aware of the vulnerability in their men. While they say that they want softer and gentler men, they also fall into roles that reject the emerging emotional nature of men. Men can end up feeling isolated and powerless without the appropriate skills needed to navigate what is often perceived as a betrayal”.

His mouth gaped open and he nodded his head absent mindedly.

What he wasn’t ready to hear was my understanding of men’s responsibility in the erosion of their fragile relationships… Men overwhelmed with emotions, are vulnerable to their women and some may come to resent what they see as a power that women have over them. Their anger may surface and they may become controlling to lessen their feelings of vulnerability. These relationships can become volatile.

“For some men”, I continued, “the role of provider becomes the way that they prove their commitment and love for the women in their lives. While women appreciate a man who is willing to financially support them, they may at some point come to evaluate partner’s performance negatively. Men can try to “perform” better while bestowing their partners with more material gifts to compensate for their inability to emotionally connect, but that can fall short as well”.

Other revelations that had come to me as a result of my work as a psychotherapist; the fact that I had raised 2 boys, had 4 brothers, and suffered victimization at the hands of angry men, would remain unspoken. He was focused on performing to get his woman back, something disconnected from the way he was really feeling about himself, her, and the potential nature of his own future. The answers to everything he ever needed and wanted lay within him, a person that he was so disconnected with that he was effectively being denied effective intervention of any kind.

I knew in my own mind that the nature of heterosexual relationships was much more complicated. But I have come to understand that western men are more invested in outcome and therefore lack the commitment to the process needed to get there. Mitigating factors always complicate relationships and they would have to be considered honestly… which would mean that this man would have to be able to share intimate details of his relationship. Feeling like a failure could make that difficult. As a female psychotherapist, he could feel the need to “perform” and change details so not to disappoint me. Every detail could be explained and blame absolved, but only if I got the chance.

There are men who will choose a woman who herself is emotionally disconnected. She will demand more and more in material compensation because she has grown up in a family that refuses to cater to her emotional needs. She will have the best clothes, and the best car but can have material needs that exceed her family or partner’s budget. She will acquire the label of “high maintenance” but there will be little understanding in how that was created. She generally will be the one who knows how to use the feminine whiles to entice the men that are the most able to provide the lavish possessions that she needs to insulate her from her own loneliness and self-loathing. Men crave this woman because it is her type that gets the media attention. She focuses an inordinate amount of time on her appearance, because it is what gets her the attention that she craves and needs to feel worthwhile. She worries about the size of her breasts, her hips, the gray in her hair, and the lines on her face. Her preoccupation with acquiring and maintaining the affections of a man keeps her from ever acting on her innate gifts and talents as they are squandered away on superficial details to make her worthy of the care that she needs to feel emotionally whole and complete.

I have known men who distance themselves from the emotional discord that develops within these many dysfunctional family scenarios. In order to feel more in control of their lives and to find solace, some men may develop strong friendships with other men who struggle with the same feelings towards their own partners. Times spent with these men can be kept superficial, nothing reaching the deep feelings felt with a life partner.  Disagreements mean less, arguments never as deep or threatening. There is a huge difference in being able to walk away without feeling like you have fallen short of someone’s expectations. Men are raised with the belief that it is their performance that ensures them the caring love that they crave so much and receive so little of.  Their women though, have problems with understanding that falling short of performance standards makes men feel emasculated and unworthy of the love that they have learned to perform for; in as much as a woman’s fading beauty and her man’s disapproval of her looks deprive women of the same feeling of worth. Disgruntled camaraderie and the voicing of frustration with other men boosts male alliance but does nothing to support the ongoing relationships that they have with their women as it distances both men and women, instead pitting them against each other in mutual destruction.  Women bitch that they don’t have what they need and men complain of the high maintenance attention that is needed to keep women happy. As a result men may bond fiercely with their daughters out of a desire for the unconditional love never received, creating a further distancing of the women in their lives by promoting and fostering a competition between the women in the house.

Men, in general, do not know how to bond with their boys. Within their boys they see the injured and empty children that they had once been. In rejecting that image, they end up rejecting their boys, thus perpetuating the internalized grief and dissociative emotional status once created within them. The cycle is self-perpetuating.

The answer to empowering men lies in critical observation without pathologizing resulting behaviors and emotional responses. It manifests by absolving people of being failures by providing explanations that validate their life narratives while offering other options to promote effective and fulfilling social interactions.