Healing the Broken
Centuries of socialisation has resulted in some men and boys living with a broken sense of manhood. Some have been raised in homes where there was rampant and somewhat 'normalised' abuse, neglect and dysfunction, creating a situation of childhood trauma.
According to a well-respected body of research conducted in the state of California, in the USA in 1998 by Drs. Felitti and Anda, such Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can have serious negative consequences for the behavioural, physical and emotional health of persons exposed to them during their developmental years.
The initial researchers identified and measured a total of ten (10) ACEs. These fall into three (3) categories which are:-
A. Abuse - Physical, sexual and verbal abuse.
B. Neglect - Physical and emotional neglect.
C. Family Dysfunction -
— Having a family member who is:
depressed or diagnosed with other mental illness;
addicted to alcohol or another substance;
— Witnessing a mother being abused.
— Losing a parent to separation, divorce or other reason.
Why is this relevant to our discussion of True Masculinity? Well, because ACEs have not only been found to cause the adult onset of chronic disease (e.g. cancer and heart disease) and mental illness, they also are linked to higher rates of committing violence and being a victim of violence!
People are ranked as having an ACE score of 0 to 10. Each type of trauma counts as one, no matter how many times it occurs. ACEs don’t occur alone so if you have one, there is an 87% chance that you have two or more.
People with high ACE scores are more likely to be violent, to have more failed marriages and relationships, more broken bones, more drug prescriptions, more depression, and more autoimmune diseases. This is so regardless of which four or more ACEs a person experienced. The human brain cannot distinguish one type of toxic stress from another; it’s all toxic stress, with the same impact.
Subsequent to the 1998 ACE Study, other ACE surveys have expanded the types of ACEs to include witnessing a sibling being abused, witnessing violence outside the home, witnessing a father being abused by a mother, being bullied by a peer or adult, involvement with the foster care system, living in a war zone, homelessness, living in an unsafe neighbourhood, losing a family member to deportation, etc.
Despite the variations in the populations studied, the further research has proved that ACEs are inter-generational and are present in all cultures, genders and across all socio-economic brackets.
Thankfully, experiencing such situations does not mean there is no hope. Resilience can be taught and interventions which are trauma-informed are able to help change the negative thinking and behaviours which arose from exposure to ACEs.
|Escaping the Man Box
In the midst of cultures and subcultures which portray masculinity as being abusive, unfaithful, deceptive or dysfunctional, some males who grew up with those norms tend to feel obligated to repeat such behaviours.
In short, they feel trapped in what has come to be known as the "Man Box" - living up to perceived expectations of how to think, talk and act, even if everything inside one's heart screams "I don't think this is the way it should be!"
Click the video above to see Tony Porter of A Call to Men speak about The Man Box and understand how pervasive and destructive it can be both for males of all ages and for the women and children they encounter.
Maybe this never happened to you so you are not sure if you can identify.
Well, think of the young man who, as a young child, was fearful and cried when he saw his mother being beaten and abused by his daddy or a boyfriend. However, without addressing that childhood trauma and going on to experience multiple others, that boy grows up and becomes the young man who 'roughs up' his girlfriend and the older man who beats and abuses his wife!
Sometimes, as he watches his lady bruised and crying, he weeps in regret and sincerely promises he will never do it again. Yet, he boasts to other men of how he 'keeps her in line' and when he feels powerless, he raises his fist at her instinctively.
He does not seek or complete a course of counselling because, as he maintains, 'nothing is wrong with him.' He is simply doing what he saw and heard of other men doing while he was growing up.
Or think of the boy who feels anger and frustration that he cannot defend his mother or female relatives against the men who harass them on the public streets. Yet, as a young man, in the company of his male relatives, friends or workmates, he witnesses them do the same to females who are strangers to himself and he either actively joins in or says nothing to stop them. Forgetting his emotions in childhood, he grows up thinking, 'this isn't harming anyone; it is just guys having fun.'
|Resilience Makes A Difference
As stated above, any man can get help to break out of the Man Box and to dump the toxic thinking and behaviour which were formed from exposure to adverse childhood experiences.
Thankfully, our brains are 'plastic' and can change in response to the environment, even as we age. Once the sources of the toxic stress can be eliminated and the person can engage in activities which build resilience, his brain can slowly undo many of the stress-induced changes. With spiritual and physical exercise, good nutrition, adequate sleep, and healthy social interactions, attitudes and behaviours can improve!
So any man can get help... But only if he wants help!
This is important because some men may be too proud to admit they need help. Caught in a cycle of harmful thinking, attitudes and behaviour which hurt those around them and themselves, some may still hold on to their false pride rather than seek and receive help to break free.
If you are not a millennial, you may know the name Dolph Lundgren - a man's man, a big, strong, martial arts champion, movie actor. Not someone you would associate with the word 'weak'. From the popular movie, Rocky IV (where he played Russian boxer, Ivan Drago) to the Expendables franchise, Dolph has been an action star for decades.
But what many did not know is that he had a very dark side which nearly destroyed his life and career (and did, in fact, destroy some of his relationships). Click the video above to watch Dolph tells his story of childhood trauma and the road to healing in a powerful TED Talk.
|Implications for Healing
So what does all this mean?
Well, for those who abuse their partners, for example, it means that if we incorporate trauma-informed practices and ACEs science, we can see a remarkable turnaround in behaviour and relationships.
Most batterer intervention programs focus on what the offending party did wrong but few help the batterer understand why they may have behaved the way they did and how to undo the causal factors behind such behaviour. Nor do many batterer intervention programs model appropriate healthy relationship behaviours so that parties who may have had dysfunctional relationships as a guide while growing up may learn from seeing what healthy relationships look like in practice.
By adding the above two components new programs for batterers have seen promising and encouraging results.
Whereas in the USA the recidivism rate for traditional batterer intervention programs ranges from 20 to 60 percent, new programs developed over the last 10 years and which teach about ACEs and model healthy relationships are seeing recidivism rates that range from zero to four percent!
When we see men acknowledging their deficiencies and seeking help to become healed, we can more readily call upon them to become allies in the fight to engage other males to eradicate all forms of violence against women.