© 2018 by James Encinas


For any media inquiries, please contact new72media

  • White Facebook Icon
Jan 3

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


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.


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

New Posts
  • Wisdom is nothing but a preparation of the soul, a capacity, a secret art of thinking, feeling and breathing thoughts of unity at every moment of life. ~ Herman Hesse For the past nine years, I’ve been thinking about the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences. In 2010, I wrote about the ACE Study for Raising Arizona Kids magazine: www.raisingarizonakids.com/2010/04/casting-light-shadow-abuse/ , and that article changed my life in many ways. The welfare of the world’s children is in constant focus in my perspective. I’ve worked to do whatever I could to share the story of the study, to support others who are advocates for the well being of children, and, to explore healing modalities that allow people to discover and use ones that bring relief from the traumas they suffered as children. Now, my current awareness is on adverse experiences that adults— grown-ups —feel. Their traumas involve feelings of failure at personal and professional levels, the near-daily pain of living in a world where injustices occur and inequality rules, and, deep disappointment by the actions and speech patterns of people who are positioned as leaders. How you handle angers, traumas, and disappointments in your career, in your spirituality, in your relationships relates back to what you learned as a child. Since it is true that adverse experiences happen to people of all ages, I believe humans need and want dialogue on aspects of healing across the entire timeline of a lifetime. Thanks to the ACE Study, the effects of trauma on a child’s brain and a child’s future are known. There is no one study—yet there are many studies—about what I’m calling AGEs. So, what do you do when you experience an AGE? How does an AGE stick in your adult brain and continue to affect your health? I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I do submit that AGEs caused by society need to be submitted to a healing process, too. Please, I welcome your comments. Let’s figure this out together, in this community we’ve created. For the moment, my best advice is this: Know your ACEs, and face your AGEs, for both exist on your road to wisdom.
  • The new story of my life is neither new or a story. It’s truth. In the shape of my new days I’m now filled with easy love where my labored lungs are able to exhale without effort. I’m singing the song of play, and joy, and bounty. The story of my life is not a script that needs to change. I’m done ripping at roots, transplanting flowers, and finding new seeds. Now, my hand are in the dirt to feel and remember that the nutrients are already here, were always there - nothing is missing. My life is not a syllable-filled story. It is muscle, bone, and matter. It is blood and cells and heart-bursting life force. My past is not just tragedy, fiction, or a police report where my self is overpowered and I am made a stranger or character actor in my own home. I'm no longer burdened by intrusion, insensitivity, or violation of others - which does not mean I forget or am not impacted. I recoil at the notion that my life is a story I just need to describe differently, as though facts and history can be glossed over with happy thoughts or different words. What of accountability, facts, and justice? What of clarity as the rock-hard foundation and truth-telling as bridge to building new pathways where moving over and moving on is possible? There’s nothing wrong with me. The story of my abuse does not bring up shame in me. In fact, it’s not even my own. It belongs to my abuser, and their abuser, and so on. I’ve been impacted. I understand that and complexity. People are sometimes careless, cruel, messy and criminal. People can be tie dye shirts in the washing machine bleeding out onto anything and into everything in their shared orbit. Sometimes tragedy is the result of sharing the same cycle as someone spinning out. It’s not always personal. Humans are the ones who wash and the ones to be washed. We are the ones who dirty and the ones who get dirtied.   I’m not an either or an or. I know who I am, where I am, what I’ve lived, and lived through. I also know people can change. I take no responsibility for what was done to me but that does not mean I don’t remember it all or take responsibility for creating a world filled with less pain. I will not forever be at war with my life, my symptoms, myself or my past. I'm tired of scribbling out the same lines, crimes, deeds, and stains left tattooed in and on me. I'm also aware that I have left marks and scars on others, that I am a person who has, in m pain, left scar on others. I’m going to give back the pain that does not belong to me. I'm going to return the pain that was acted out on me and let it go. I'm going to take up the pain I have caused others and tend to that. I'm going to own myself, even my own mistakes, but not more so that my soul can soar. I'm more than old or new, broken or healed, weak or strong. It's not a new me I need to be. In my dreams, I am fluid, flexible, and free. I am running out towards the light and unafraid to be seen. Even the pen as my sword I can sometimes put down long enough to dream new dreams. Today, I want only a spoon to feed myself with. Today, I’m hungry for a fork sharp enough to stab the dreams on my plate. Today, I want to feed on hope so I can savor, delight, devour and taste it all without leaving behind crumbs, juice, or regrets. There is bounty enough for all of us. I want my biggest stress to be about where and how to share abundance. I have always been and will remain - underneath it all. Dirt is older than pain. The soil, the land, the earth, my soul is ever present for the returning to. Note: This free-write was posted yesterday on my Heal Write Now blog and here today. The title of this piece came from a writing prompt given by Donna Jenson during one of her online writing circles in which I've been an eager student. I've been in a strange and new place where I've felt my own voice changing when it's always been clear, strong, and singular (even when I've not felt those things). Now, my voice is a bit wobbly as my center feels more firm. It's not writer's block as much as it is writer's unblock. My feminist fury, rage at injustice, and my mid-life spirituality are all figuring out how to co-mingle and co-exist in my psyche, soul, and skin. And there's also more space. Maybe forgiveness, compassion, confusion? I'm not even sure. I still don't totally sound like me, even to me, and I've decided to share the writing anyhow because it's writing in transition. We don't have to be all the way to wherever there is to say where we're at right now. This image is of a bag I bought at a store recently. Five years ago, when I started Heal Write Now, "be the author of your story" was my tag line and it seemed radical to me. Now, those exact same words don't speak to me the same way. Here's where I am today. I am uncertain about certainty. I am certain about uncertainty.
  • It happened in a men’s group I was facilitating. A passionate intern got frustrated with a group member and blurted out, “Battering is a choice...a simple choice. It is not hard to make another choice. People can simply choose to stop battering!” At that point, most of the men in the group mentally checked out. I shook my head and smiled, remembering how, in my early years as a counselor, I wanted the process of change to be simple. Describing battering behavior as a choice, while true, is an oversimplification. It does little to help those who batter. This intern needed to understand some of the driving forces behind the “why” of battering, as well as the “who” behind the person that makes violent choices in relationships. The Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACEs) shed light on the “who.” Examining 10 aspects of family dysfunction some children are exposed to, the study found that the chance of growing up to use violence in relationships increases with every ACE suffered before the age of 18. This important discovery highlighted some of the long-term effects of ACEs.  The Family Peace Initiative, in partnership with Hope Harbor in Kansas City, administered the 10-item Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaire to over 200 participants, all males, in a Battering Intervention Program (BIP). The average number of self-reported ACEs among those participants was 4.2. There were some dramatic differences between the ACEs reported in the original study and those reported by our BIP participants. See the chart below: Adverse Experiences CDC Study (males) BIP Male Participants Emotional Abuse 7.6% 69% Substance Abusing Caretaker 23% 59% Parents Separated or Divorced 21% 61% Witnessing Domestic Violence 11% 53% Physically Abused 29.9% 57% The male BIP participants often talk about adverse experiences beyond the ones measured by the ACE questionnaire. Abandonment by a parent or caretaker, oppression, systematic abuse, poverty, homelessness, and being bullied come up in group conversations. It is now accepted knowledge that among those who batter, high ACE scores are the rule, not the exception. Expecting someone to establish healthy, respectful relationships after being raised in a world of abuse, cruelty, and disrespect, is unrealistic. Some of these men are able to overcome their ACEs, but many cannot. The skills necessary to survive a cruel upbringing are not the same skills required to create and maintain healthy relationships.  Of course, many people who experienced horrible childhoods do not use violence in their relationships. The ACE resiliency studies indicate the more children experience unconditional love, receive messages of value, and are allowed safety and protection from dangers, the less negative impact their ACEs will have in the long term. On one level, my intern was right. Battering behavior is a choice. However, human behavior is much more complex. Understanding the impact of past traumatic experiences is critical in helping BIP participants learn to make respectful choices in relationships.
  • Black Facebook Icon