I have a friend who has suffered tremendously in the hands of her husband who over a twenty-year-period, reduced her to ashes with his cruel words. She had spent twenty years cooking, cleaning, raising 2 children (who do not respect her, due to the way they saw their father treat her), being completely in his service until he left her when she is no longer needed. Today, she is mentally crippled because she truly believes that she is incapable of being the beautiful, resourceful and capable woman that she had once been. Yet she would not turn her back on him, in case he wants to come back, because she believed that it was not his fault.
I admire her beautiful soul. She asked me to write an article on healing grown men.
Despite our ideals as a society, there is much stereotyping that seeps into our perception of ourselves. The one I dislike most is boys must not cry.
“You’re a big boy now, you mustn’t cry. Or you’ll be called a sissy.” Heard of that one? Sounds familiar?
So what happens when you tell a frightened or upset child to shut up? You push him into a dark corner for expressing very normal human emotions. You damage the child by not giving him the love, care, kindness and attention that is required for his or her emotional development. Because as the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud said, unexpressed emotions have a way of coming out uglier, much uglier.
Sure, you might get a ‘tough’ child from the tough treatment – the child might grow up to be very successful as a professional – but you’re responsible for creating a monster inside. Your boy child has to grow to be a monster to conquer his own fears because he had no one when he was vulnerable. This is where bullies come from – childhood suffering – for no human beings were born to hurt and damage other human beings. Bullies are created by others inflicting their pain.
An Asian saying goes like this: monkey see, monkey do. And emotional bullying is a learned behaviour, a revenge response at a world that had been unkind.
We parents have to provide a loving environment for our sons to meet their fears, paranoia and nightmares face on, with our reassurances and ever-present arms, rather than pushing them away. Taking care of their mental health should be as important as feeding them organic food and sending them to school. There is another being inside every child that needs to grow too.
Angry, hurtful and destructive words often come from the damaged child within the man.
Despite our ideals, society is not as conducive to boys’ development as girls’, because boys have to appear tough and macho amongst their peers. I have a good friend who grew up in a little town and had known definitely that he was gay from his early teens but he was forced by peer pressure to ogle at Playboy magazines with his friends. He moved away from his hometown and it was only recently that he came out to his parents.
My youngest son also faced pressure externally albeit of a different kind: he has an older brother who is a karate champion, go-kart champion and a tough-looking boy. My youngest son, in his teenage years, struggled with finding his own place. How could he cry if he had a big brother who is like a tough machine? But at home, we compensated. I never stopped reminding him that he is my most-loved boy, perfect to me in every way. Even if he cries. It does not matter.
Thus, one of my favourite books when my children were small was The Story of Ferdinand. Ferdinand is a bull who does not want to fight, unlike other bulls. Here’s a short clip:
So what about BIG boys?
There’s an article from Gottman Institute about the fact that emotionally intelligent husbands are key to a lasting marriage. And a long study by Harvard (spanning over 50 years) showed consistently that men with good wives are the happiest, but a good wife needs a good husband to bring out the best in her – for if she is beaten down with harsh words and is not cherished, she will wither and shrivel up. And if she has any vestige of self-respect left, she would walk away before she is reduced to the nothing that her husband’s cruel words tell her that she is.
This is a 12-year-study involving 130 couples. The article is about the challenges boys face to learn emotional intelligence. This starts in childhood. When boys play games, their focus is on winning, not their emotions or the others playing. If one of the boys get hurt, he gets ignored. After all, “the game must go on.”
With girls, feelings are often the first priority. When a tearful girl says, “we’re not friends anymore,” the game stops and only starts again if the girls make up. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman explains, “the truth is that ‘girlish’ games offer far better preparation for marriage and family life because they focus on relationships.”
My partner has been learning to be softer to himself. And he said something beautiful, which I wish to immortalise: “Big men need to be little spoons, too.”
I realise, so true! He is a big strong man and our default sleeping position is either him spooning me or I rest my head on his chest with his arm wrapped protectively around me. Only occasionally, do I creep behind him in my sleep to wrap my arm round his waist.
“I love it when you do that,” he said. Did I hear the 8-year-old boy in him saying these words?
Here are a couple of funny ones about conventional spooning to lighten the heaviness of this long article:
So why don’t you try spooning your BIG boy instead? It’s healing, comforting and loving, and sexy as anything!!
And for BIG boys out there on how to heal themselves, from the words of our favourite spiritualist, Thich Nhat Hanh: You can stop running away now. Face your internal monsters fearlessly, love is waiting for you outside ❤
And a sweet drawing from BuddhaDoodles that I really love. Stop running away, be still, HEAL ❤