Cut Off

Now, I know what you're thinking. AND this isn't an article about circumcission. Well, not exactly. It's about the experience of being emotionally castrated, particularly as men. Severed from the source of your emotions, you walk through the world passionless, mission less, directionless. You've been cut off. 

Ok. Draw in a breath. Scan your own body, your emotions, your interpretations--and take a deep dive into the heart of manhood, today.

THINKING LIKE AN ANTHROPOLOGIST

If an alien anthropologist was watching you in a coffee shop, here's what they'd see.

Hunched over, squinting at your too-large-phone X, snarling at the screen. Bristling when you're bumped. Shoving your way to the bathrooms--and then when you've accidentally tripped someone, ruthlessly apologizing. You grunt loudly when someone makes a move you don't like. You roll your eyes to almost any disturbance, but when directly confronted you're all smiles. 

When you get into your car to drive away a new scene unfolds. The alien anthropologist sees you look indignant as someone refuses to let you into traffic, as if someone just kicked your puppy. Another car cuts you off and you've apparently had enough. You launch into a tirade of verbal diarrhea under your breath, and then wave and smile at them. 

If you're a father, you come home from work, and instantly demand to know why the dishes haven't been put away. The toys need to be up, off the ground. The kids should at least look bathed.  Your spouse should be upbeat, positive. At the slightest sign of any alarm, any surprise, you can be found slinking away to sulk in the next room, away from the situation that was beyond your control. Everyone knows to cross their t's and dot their i's with you. If they don't you meet them with a simmering, seething silence. .

Anxious. Nervous. On edge. 

All of these are signs of latent frustration.

This, is you. A picture of manhood. 

Yet...

THE RIVER, DENIAL

The minute a person ask's if you might be angry-or directly state that this is their experience of you--you, like many men, will do backflips to protest. You'll wring your hands in agony trying to convince the observer that you weren't in fact angry. Maybe a little irritated, you admit. Perhaps even annoyed, but angry? God no, you say. And if the person presses you on this point, you'll kindly emphasize that they don't really know you, after all. 

I've known countless men like you in my career as psychotherapist and men's coach. And, with the rare exception, I hear something like this:

"Well...while I may get angry sometimes...I try not to show it. I don't want to express my anger. And I try not to make others angry either."

"Why?" I ask.

"Because things like Anger lead to hatred and Violence...and I've grown beyond that."

Sound familiar?

One man I was working with shared that he had been fired unjustly. He shared how he had been lied about, and maligned. When I asked how this effected him, he noted: "It made me sad." Yes, that makes perfect sense. But, was there something else, some OTHER equally justified emotion? No, was the answer. No anger. Zero.

Another man I interacted with around these issues was raised by parents that abused him--which caused him to grieve, a wife who was openly cheating on him--which made him feel despair, and employees who refused to respect him--which created confusion in his mind. Again, no anger. 

Are these simply more highly evolved specimens of masculinity? Can it be that these fine gentleman have been able to shed over 1.5 million years of affective (emotional) selection and wiring in their life time? 

I'm going to argue that in fact these men are emotionally castrated.

THE FUNCTION OF AN EMOTION

Researchers in affective psychology help us understand that every emotion has a purpose. Emotions didn't evolve in a vacuum. In fact they are adaptive elements involved in a constant feedback loop performing several key functions. 

1) Emotions inform US about what's going on

2) Emotions inform OTHERS about what's going on

3) Emotions motivate us towards action.

In other words, emotional experience is deeply important. Every single emotion that we feel is telling us something, and organizing us around achieving some sort of result. There aren't good or bad emotions--there are simply emotions. Sometimes these emotions are justified, and sometimes they aren't. 

For instance--if some one died, and I broke out laughing, that wouldn't be justified. The cause wouldn't fit the effect. In fact you'd think I might have lost my mind. Or, if my child got bullied in school, shame wouldn't necessarily be the justifiable experience. This doesn't mean these emotions are INVALID, but rather simply not congruent with what is going on. They're certainly telling you something, though they might not always be telling you the correct things.

Now--the function of ANGER is this: it is motivating action when a goal is blocked or has been thwarted. Simple, right? If I didn't get that promotion unjustly, then I might reasonably feel anger. If I suspect my wife is cheating on me, then I should feel justified anger. Once I asked a classroom of young men when they feel justified anger, and one said: "When I'm playing soccer and someone blocks my game winning goal!"  That's the exact function. Now--what does that anger do for him?  It actually organizes him to overcome the obstacle!  He now doubles down on solving the problem. Propelled by the emotion of anger he plays harder, he puts all doubt out of his mind, he focusses and he scores the next goal.  Get it? Anger has a profound purpose.  In human history we see that it was THIS emotion that helped us achieve tremendous advances. Whenever there was a setback or an obstruction, anger helped play a part in overcoming this.

In other words--it would be ridiculous to evolve past this feedback loop. In fact the limbic system and the emotion neural network are some of the most ingrained and efficient parts of a human. There are even some philosopher's and psychologist's who argue that this is the core of our basic sapiential experience. 

Losing touch with our emotions--ANY OF THEM--has unseen consequences that often times cause greater problems. As Brene Brown, one of my least favorite pop-psychologists says (accurately), "You can't cut off one emotion without cutting off the rest..."  

And here's the truth:

When a man is emotionally castrated you have lost touch with the fullness of your masculine essence. This tends to come across as anxiety. You are afraid to be alone, afraid to assert yourself, afraid to take part in things or participate with an open stance, you are afraid to express anger, or have anger expressed towards them. Maybe you run a successful business or even have numerous relationships--but my guess is that you don't experience real satisfaction. My assumption is you go from one lily pad to the next hoping "this one will be it" but each one disappoints. 

Why?

You're never going to find fulfillment as long as you are afraid of incarnating your full masculine force which includes anger!

While men experience actual anger,  their inability to express it ends up producing passionless people. Literally you've disowned your passions.

If you are afraid to express your anger, then you are afraid to experience your passions too. Men without the ability to be angry are men without the ability to love or live. 

WHY NOT FEEL ANGER?

A common story among men I interact with is that they've witnessed or heard of destructive anger, or rage. They've watched as their father's took out toxic anger on their mother's or loved ones, or even themselves. They've learned first hand the cost of letting anger get out of control.  Maybe you too have known this type of explosive rage or "toxic masculinity." It can be powerfully destructive and leave long term wounds.

Many men have also, particularly within the past 30 years, received the societal message of "aggression aversion" drilled into them. Anything that could lead to the potentiality of violence is seen as damning and to be avoided at all costs. Boys especially are being taught to be KIND, be GENTLE, be SWEET, and to NEVER-EVER-EVER fight. And frankly, they haven't had to fight their own battles all that much. James Scott, the well known anthropologist noted that in our current system, the State has a monopoly on violence. It is not as though people stop experiencing the impulse to be violent, they simply pick up the phone and call their local law enforcement.

In a culture that has watched a record decline in violent crime across the last 15 years, we have also witnessed a sharp increase in falsely reported, and over-reported criminal behavior, as well as all time highs in law suits and other civil challenges. These changes have led to the corollary of heightened isolation and relationship-fatigue. We have traded over aggression for the chill of dispassionate relationship, or state-sponsored violence.

It is apparent that in many ways we have simply sublimated our violence.  Scott points out that this sort of displacement tends to serve racially motivated outcomes. One commentator, building on this work, noted that there is a gendered and racial bias implicit in the use of State violence, largely against males, a majority of which are African American.

We haven't become less angry or violent. We've simply hidden it. Buried it and blamed others for it  

The reality of keeping the peace is largely played out in an inability to sit with or effectively process anger. Rather than learning how to experience it in healthy ways, we neglect the emotion at all until it becomes a deafening source of rage, or numbness. 

One man I know recently confessed: "If I were to tell you how I really felt about the situation that made me angry, I'd probably end up killing someone." Underneath this statement is a deep sense that he will be left out of control, Embarrassed and alone. It makes total sense why a man might not want to tap into this emotion. 

Positive  examples of emotional expression are hard to find. There are few places to practice safe anger.

ANGER, NOT RAGE

When it comes to affective psychology, historians tell us that we're actually witnessing a bit of a phenomenon. Evolutionary psychologists theorize that the heightened emotions that we currently exhibit (rage, despair, ecstasy, etc) are more recent than historic. Had emotions developed at these heightened levels, we would have not progressed as a species. An infant who is inconsolable would be left to tend to themselves. Men enraged might well annihilate themselves. Instead, our long track record was probably an extension of mid-level emotions in which we had a range available to us, but rarely dipped into the extremes. Today we see countless examples of living at those extremes. Men’s inability to express anger is matched by our current rates of despair, and closely related to our obsession with the feeling of ecstasy as a lasting state. We are either all hot, or all cold. Frankly, we don’t know how to have balance. 

One of the reasons, researchers say, that we’ve lost the ability to regulate our emotions effectively is that we have lost what they call: “environments of evolutionary adaptivity.” Holding spaces. Practice places  

it’s hard to utilize what you don’t use routinely.   

By creating environments where emotions may be attempted, feedback may be given, and direct change can be applied, we begin to learn a more balanced path. 

What emotionally castrated men have been missing is this: Tribe.

A place where you can learn to experience anger--NOT RAGE, but real and tangible anger. You can speak your pain. You can feel it in your bones. You can challenge another man, and be challenged by him. This seemingly "unsafe" space actually becomes a place of real safety, where you don't have to wonder about the passive aggressive take-away the man next to you is leaving with. Why not? Because he's serving it up to you right there. He's not terrified of devouring you should he express his anger. And you know that you're ok in speaking your mind. It's going to be all-fucking-right.

MOVING FORWARD

You need this, because you need to feel alive again. You need this because you need to connect with your mission. Fuck, even if you don't feel that--your wife probably does. Your kids probably do. Your employees do. Everyone around you gets it. You are disconnected and cut off. They just don't know what the answer is.  And you probably don’t either.

Here’s a starting point: 

Find a tribe of men willing to hold your truth. Don't give up. Don't run. Don't lick your wounds in isolation. Choose to keep your feet to the fire and feel that anger. Learn to find balance. And then once you've mastered it in this practice space, expand to the rest of your world. Start learning how to use it at work, in negotiation, and in relationships. Figure out how to overcome the obstacles you face, by connecting to your 1.5 million year old challenge-conquering emotional system.

Discover. Your. Anger.