© 2018 by James Encinas

jAMES eNCINAS

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Jan 3

Expanding the Circle to Include Males: A Narrative for Healing Men

3 comments

By Peter Pollard

During my 30 years working with boys and men who have experienced trauma and violence, one of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered to providing healing resources is a near-universal reluctance among providers, policy-makers, child welfare and justice systems (and, yes, among most men and boys themselves) to validate the impacts of victimization on males.

 

Widely endorsed masculine norms make it emotionally and physically unsafe for males to be identified as a victim. Over the years, I’ve been privy to many of the self-defeating strategies males use to survive without disclosing their vulnerability.

 

Like females, boys and men experience a full range of emotions, including empathy, fear, sadness, protectiveness, joy, love, vulnerability and grief.

 

But those masculine norms, enforced by both males and females, shame boys and men who acknowledge or display the full range. Research shows shame frequently generates self-loathing, defensiveness and powerlessness. And when boys and men feel emotionally or physically powerless (even when they don’t look powerless), the only coping responses society offers them to feel safe are:

 

•Numbing behaviors - addiction to work, food, exercise, substances, etc.

•Isolation – emotional and/or physical withdrawal

•Shaming others to deflect shame

•Violence against others and self –physical/emotional/sexual assault; suicide

•Extreme risk-taking – potential “accidental” self-harm or suicide

 

Some of those responses may help them momentarily feel less vulnerable.

Some may make them appear threatening.

None of them leads to healing.

 

Tragically, some may be hurtful toward others or themselves.

 

It should go without saying that no trauma anyone has experienced ever excuses harm to others.

So, if we really want to help boys and men who’ve been victimized to heal and to use different coping strategies, we need to expand their safe options.

 

Otherwise, we continue to end up with vulnerable, traumatized males “choosing” violence, “choosing” addictions, and “choosing’’ homelessness as coping strategies.

 

Currently, boys and men are much more likely to turn up in the principal’s office, an emergency room, or a court room than a therapist’s room asking for services as a victim. And we wonder, “what’s wrong with this guy?”

 

The understanding that those negative behaviors may signal that they’ve experienced trauma holds great promise of shifting that declaration to the more trauma-informed question of “what happened to that guy (or girl”) and ultimately, for changing those norms.

 

In my years listening to young boys who I removed from their families because of abuse or neglect; to young men of color in communities with high rates of poverty, few opportunities and intolerable rates of violence; to adult males recovering from lives disrupted by unwanted or abusive sexual experiences, I gained a deeper appreciation of how many factors are at play in any behavioral outcome.

 

I’ve realized that when a man or boy’s behavior makes no sense to me, they’re most likely making decisions about survival based on safety calculations that I can’t even conceive of. When I view his behaviors through the lens of what constitutes safety in his world, rather than mine, I arrive at a richer understanding of his challenges.

 

Hopefully then, my efforts to meet his needs becomes more grounded in his reality.

 

Contrary to conventional wisdom in the field, I’ve found again and again, that when a male’s own trauma is validated, he’s in a safer place to acknowledge his own vulnerability, and to be accountable for any harm he may have caused to others or himself. He’s then better able to consider and learn about more healthy and hopeful coping responses ------ or in other words, to heal.

 

And, after all, healing people heal communities.

In my work as a therapist I find I really need to pay attention to my biases, assumptions, and ingrained ways of thinking about men-- their motivations, their behaviors, etc. I have not always been as helpful to them as I could have been if I had operated with more awareness. Thank you for writing so clearly and eloquently on the subject.

Peter -

 

What an insightful and compassionate post! What you describe are many of the insights I learned from James - insights I am almost ashamed to say I'd never considered before. I say almost ashamed because I can't get down on myself for something I couldn't even see; and as you point out, we're all swimming in faulty socialization that reinforces the un-useful coping men do to cover their trauma. The important thing is now that I know better, I can do better. Your and James' insights are so important to get out into the world and I am glad that is happening. Thank you.

Peter:

Great post.

This line is powerful.

"I’ve realized that when a man or boy’s behavior makes no sense to me, they’re most likely making decisions about survival based on safety calculations that I can’t even conceive of. When I view his behaviors through the lens of what constitutes safety in his world, rather than mine, I arrive at a richer understanding of his challenges. "

I admit I struggle with how to acknowledge / discuss / write about gender. For example, I was at a trauma-informed training of police officers and others recently. The mostly male officers sat on one side. The most female nurses, social workers, advocates on another. There is also a gender divide in those being investigated as suspects and those making a report. I wonder how much gender roles play as well in conviction rates or cases prosecuted, etc.

 

I'm often struggling with the ways to talk about things that are respectful, accurate, trauma-informed and don't keep the gender bias and stereotypes reinforced but also don't ignore that they exist (i.e. we all suffer from sexism and discrimination and advantage or priv. but that doesn't mean our experiences and power are the same in the dominant culture, and how to discuss these issues without oversimplifying.

 

Your post makes me think. I know men in the survivor community (whether victims of interpersonal trauma, family trauma, or who are suffering in other ways due to job or work-related trauma, community violence, compounding other issues suffer and have so few resources because, for so long, victims and survivors had no resources at all and the ones first created have often been geared towards women.

 

I wonder if there are any lists or resources or organizations geared towards men, and maybe led or co-led by men, as that can be important.

Finally, when it comes to PTSD, I do think we, as a culture recognize men get trauma. Google PTSD and it's mostly men and mostly soldiers pictured. I think it's trauma caused in our civilian lives that's harder for our culture to acknowledge at all. I'm not saying it's been easy for veterans (as we know) - just that we seem to have come further as related to men with certain kinds of trauma than with others.

 

Anyhow, thanks again for all you are helping me think about. Cissy

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