Note: The following is a partial transcript of a Facebook Live Presentation Dan Griffin, MA, Senior Fellow at The Meadows, did on August 26, 2016. You can find the recorded video version on his Facebook page.
First and foremost, let me be very clear about what I mean by “the illusion of men’s anger,” because I can already hear some people saying, “The illusion of men’s anger?! My father’s anger, my mother’s anger, my husband’s, my partner’s anger is not an illusion, Dan! It’s not an illusion when the person is yelling at me, it’s not an illusion when the person is hitting me, it’s not an illusion when the person is acting violently toward me.”
I absolutely agree with you. That is not the intention of this conversation.
The purpose of this conversation is to get at the root of what’s behind men’s anger and to share thoughts on how we can all interact with one another in a more authentic way.
This is a personal topic for me. I’ve been an “angry man.” I’ve had a lot of problems with anger. But, has anger really been the issue for me? That’s the question I really think all men should ask themselves if they want to be able to heal the impact that anger has had on their relationships—their relationship with self, their relationships with others, and their relationships with the community.
I am far from perfect in this practice, but I hope that what I’m learning about myself and my anger might be helpful for some of the men—and some of the women—out there.
The truth is I’m not angry.
I act angry, but often, what I really am feeling is fear. Or, I’m feeling insecure, or I’m dealing with other feelings and they are coming out as anger because I haven’t allowed myself to feel things or taken the time to process what’s really going on.
This is important because as men we are often backed into a corner with our feelings. We’re told that the only feeling that’s socially acceptable for us, the only one that you’re not going to be shamed for is anger. “Yeah, he’s angry, but at least he’s not crying like a little baby. “
He’s acting angry because there’s no space for him to talk about his fear.
Why does that matter? We talk a lot about anger management, and we talk about the problems men have with anger. I don’t think the solution to men’s problem with anger is teaching them “anger management.” I think the solution is helping them to have a better connection to self, better connections to others, and the space and permission for authentic emotional expression.
I care deeply about my relationships. But, I didn’t have the best model for how a man can be open and vulnerable in relationships so I’m still learning how to do that. What I’m beginning to realize is that anger has never really been the issue for me. The issue is how deeply I experience and feel things—how emotional I am, how quickly I feel sad, how quickly I feel afraid, how quickly I feel insecure. The more that I can stay true to those feeling and experiences, the easier it is for me to navigate.
Although, if I allow myself to feel afraid, and to express that to others, I still have to deal with the shame that comes along with the fear. Like a lot of men, I didn’t really have anybody when I was growing up who told me that it was okay for a man to feel afraid and that it was okay for a man to feel sad. So, I have to work through all of this shame and stuff I have in my head about that.
But, the more I feed my authentic self, the more the anger dissipates. That’s not “anger management;” that’s emotional congruence. It’s emotional authenticity. We don’t “manage” the anger. The anger just dissolves. The anger dissipates when it’s just smoke that hides my true self.
So, for men, the challenge is for us to be able to find permission to be the men we really are.
Who are you? Who are you in each of your relationships, who are you in each of your experiences? Are you aware of how you’re feeling? Can you take a deep breath? Can you look below the surface of what’s beneath the anger?
When you feel the anger rising, can you stop before you say or do anything, and find the space to recognize your true feelings? If you feel afraid, can you say to yourself, “I feel afraid, and when I feel afraid I feel weak, and when I feel weak I feel ashamed?” And can you recognize that deciding what to do with those feelings is nobody’s problem but yours?
When I feel sad, I feel ashamed and I feel embarrassed. I feel like there’s something wrong with me as a man—but that’s not true. That’s the illusion of men’s anger.
When men act out in anger there’s no illusion to it. It can destroy; it can hurt; it can damage. The illusion is us thinking that if we just manage men’s anger, it’s going to get better—that if we just create programs that are about men having to control their behavior, it’s going to get better.
Things will change when…
If you struggle with anger, take some time to just take a deep breath and notice what other emotions are coming up. Find someone you trust that you can talk to about those challenges you are feeling on a regular basis. Someone who will understand when you say that you noticed how afraid you were feeling or how shame came up for you and will respond with compassion and understanding.
And then when you do act angry, you can go back and you clean it up because you took the time to reflect on what you were really feeling and to see the illusion of your anger.
It’s not about doing it perfectly, it’s about doing it consciously. That’s the gift.
If you’re a mental health professional or clinician who’d like some tips on how to address the unique needs of men in trauma treatment, be sure to sign up for Dan’s FREE webinar on The Man Rules & The Principles of Recovery. It’s happening on September 14, 2016; 11 a.m. – 12:30 Pacific (2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Eastern).
If you’re a man in recovery, who’s ready to take it up a notch, and transform your experience of recovery register for A Man’s Way Retreat at the Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows. During the five-day intensive, Dan will lead you through activities, group sessions, and mindfulness exercises focused on taking your recovery - and your life - to the next level. The next session is coming up October 3 – 7, 2016. To register call 800-244-4949, and ask about the limited-time 25 percent discount offer!
By Nancy Minister, Therapist, Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows
If you have ever done any work at The Meadows—either in an inpatient program or in our Survivors I workshop — you likely have had some experience getting in touch with your inner child.
So, how is that young part of yourself right now?
Go ahead: close your eyes and take a deep breath.
Feel that child’s energy.
Are they content? Restless? Sad? Scared?
Experience the warmth and love that you have for him or her in your body. Take a moment to provide for their needs, which could include anything from reassurance to a promise to go for a walk later.
Your child may need for you to go ahead and feel any feelings of fear, pain, or shame so that you can get in touch of where those feelings are coming from and address them.
One of my favorite things about facilitating the Survivors II Workshop at the Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows is helping folks to revisit their relationships with their inner children. The child part of themselves that they rescued in Survivors I probably feels happy, safe, and loved; but, it may be helpful for that person to also connect with an inner child from a different time. Having gained a greater sense of themselves, they are often ready for more trauma work.
Sometimes people return to The Meadows for Survivors II to address adult issues such as ongoing or past relationship problems, traumatic experiences, or addictions. Often, they need another layer of healing from childhood abuse or relational trauma.
Because of my passion for inner child work, any way you slice it, the Survivors II workshop is going to include some connection with that inner child. Yours could be a fearful, sad, and wounded child or an adapted child that is rebellious, angry, or shut down.
By checking in with your inner child in a deeper way, you can learn more about the wounding—the feeling energy and the messages that you still hold inside. Often, the connection people make with their inner children is very sweet.
We use various modalities to get in touch with the underlying source of the issues that people come to address. For example, your homework at the end of the day might be an inventory, a letter, a collage or other art project. The aim of the homework is usually to get in touch with your underlying feelings and the age at which your trauma issue underneath those feelings was set up. Rescuing the child and releasing the feeling energy tends to bring much-welcomed relief. It’s fun for me to be creative and match the homework with the person’s goal for the week.
I have had this blog post in my mind for a few months now, but my own inner girl has not been happy with the idea of me writing a blog. She is scared, having had some social trauma as a teen. Even as those fears come up, I breathe and allow my functional adult to affirm that I have boundaries and I can protect myself (and her). What do I need protection from? It turns out it is my own thoughts that “make-up” all kinds of crazy things about betrayal, judgment, and shame.
What is truly exciting about this work is that it is validated by neuroscience. We hold relational and survival experiences in our limbic brain in the form of implicit, procedural memories. When we go back in time and access the feelings and experiences of hurting, neediness, abandonment, rejection, fear, or worthlessness, we are retrieving them from that part of our brain.
As we heal by letting go of the feeling energy and then re-parenting that child part, we literally change the neuropathways in our brain. Focused attention on loving that child part of yourself creates new neuropathways. This means creating a felt experience of warmth, love, protection, even physical nurturing by—yes—hugging a pillow.
So, check in again… How is your inner kiddo right now? If you’re finding that he or she could use a little extra nurturing, it might be time to join me for the Survivors II workshop. For more details, call 800-244-4949 or contact us through the Rio Retreat Center website.
By Cassandra Rustvold, LMSW, MEd, Trauma Therapist at Gentle Path at the Meadows
Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) has the potential to transform the trajectory of one’s life in a multitude of ways. While the effects of childhood sexual abuse are largely individualized and can manifest at different points throughout the lifespan, commonly reported symptoms and long-term effects include dissociation, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, relationship difficulties, and addictive or compulsive patterns of behavior (Aaron, 2012).
The sexual functioning and sexual identity in adolescence and adulthood is a particularly vulnerable factor in survivors. When a child suffers sexual abuse, sexual arousal becomes activated prematurely and can largely impact the survivor’s sense of autonomy over their body and sexual sense of self (Roller, Martsolf, Draucker & Ross, 2009).
It can also draw early connections in the neural networks of the child’s brain that associates sex with power, fear, shame, confusion, secrecy and/or pain. It is not difficult to imagine why those whose sexuality has been impacted are more vulnerable to struggles with intimate relationships and sexuality.
When attempting to reconcile one’s abuse, a particularly confusing component for survivors of CSA is the experience of pleasurable physiological responses to their abuse, in conjunction with their emotional and psychological distress. Children who have experienced these positive and pleasurable feelings often report feelings of shame and responsibility tied to their abuse and sexuality, and may experience an overall distrust of their bodily reactions (such as arousal) or physical dissociation (Hunter, 1990 & Long, Burnett & Thomas, 2006).
This fusion of shame, secrecy and pleasure has the potential to predispose one to sexual aversion, sexual anorexia, dysfunction, or compulsion; thereby deterring them from developing healthy sexual scripts in adulthood.
Three commonly experienced symptoms of childhood sexual abuse are also cornerstones of sexual addiction: compulsivity (the inability to control one’s behavior), shame, and despair.
In sex addiction, shame and despair act as a precursor to the beginning of future cycles, where the need to keep emotional pain at bay leads to mental preoccupation as an escape. The result of this addictive cycle often includes isolation, anxiety, alienation from loved ones, a breaking of one’s own value system, and secrecy; all things that often increase feelings of despair and a yearning to escape and repeat the cycle.
When an individual is struggling with intrusive thoughts of their sexual abuse or insidious negative self-talk as a result of their abuse, the lure of escape through addictive patterns of behavior is not only compelling but sometimes a means of psychological preservation.
In Dr. Patrick Carnes’ book The Betrayal Bond, eight trauma responses common among individuals who meet the criteria for sexual addiction are identified: trauma reactions, trauma pleasure, trauma blocking, trauma splitting, trauma abstinence, trauma shame, trauma repetition, and trauma bonding.
These patterns of behaviors are often unconscious attempts to reconcile, reframe, or repair the abuse that happened in youth. Unfortunately, they do not always accomplish this task and can result in perpetuated psychological and emotional damage.
Gender differences also appear to play a role in how these difficulties manifest in adulthood and whether or not someone will seek out help.
Even in 2016, boys and men are still provided with narrow cultural and familial messages about what it means to be a masculine. This narrative includes such things as devaluing emotional expression and vulnerability, while prioritizing promiscuity and maintaining control.
Research has found that male survivors are less likely to report or discuss their trauma and more likely to externalize their responses to childhood sexual abuse by engaging in compulsive sexual behaviors (Aaron, 2012). For a male survivor of childhood sexual abuse, these expectations are in large conflict with the need to shatter the secrecy of their trauma and/or obtain and maintain healthy sexual relationships; both of which require an open and honest dialogue.
For men struggling with childhood sexual abuse and sexual addiction, learning to abstain from problematic sexual behaviors that reinforce abusive sexual scripts is just as important as learning how to develop healthy intimate bonds and create a sexual identity that is affirming.
For someone attempting to face these complex issues the importance of having acceptance and unconditional, non-judgmental support cannot be understated. It is the abusive and negative interpersonal interactions that created the pain and it is the supportive and affirming ones that have the power to lift it.
At Gentle Path at The Meadows, we specialize in creating this space while offering a host of trauma-based services that are informed by the most current understanding of the nature of trauma and its impact on the person as a whole. Additionally, the therapeutic focus at Gentle Path includes not only learning to identify which components of one’s sexuality are subtracting from the quality of their life but also identifying or creating ones to enrich it.
Give us a call today at 800-244-4949.
Aaron, M. (2012). The pathways of problematic sexual behavior: a literature review of factors affecting adult sexual behavior in survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 19(3), p. 199-218.
Carnes, P. (1997). The Betrayal Bond. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.
Hunter, M. (1990). Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.
Long, L. L., Burnett, J. A., & Thomas, R. V. (2006). Sexuality counseling: An integrative approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.
Roller, Martsolf, Draucker & Ross (2009). The sexuality of childhood sexual abuse survivors. International Journal of Sexual Health, 21, p. 49-60.