BUMPING UP AGAINST MEN’S SHAME …

                                AND 5 TIPS FOR DEALING WITH IT

                                           CC Men’s Center eNews

                                                 September 2007


A 30 year old man grew up playing chess against his father. For several years the

boy, who was very bright and a quick study, tried his best but couldn't quite beat

his dad. Dad would taunt him that he'd never be able to win. In fact, every

interaction with dad was a contest that dad had to win, whether playing games or

debating ideas. Finally, at age 13, the son "check-mated" dad and won the game!

Dad refused ever to play chess with him again. Dad couldn't handle his "failure" and his son's victory. It was too shameful. To cope, he had to push away his son, who himself was traumatized by "winning." So neither actually won.


This is often men's experiences in relationships. We believe there are only two

options: winning and losing, being "one up" or being "one down." Like this father, we

have trouble staying in relationships if we feel inadequate or ashamed. We want to

flee. So, just to tolerate being in relationship many males have to show they are

"one up," "in charge," "winning." Yet, being "better than" is not a great recipe for

closeness. As author Terrence Real says, "It is impossible to be intimate from

either a 'one-up or a 'one-down' position."*


This boy's experience with his father speaks to the challenge many children,

women and other men face in trying to be close to men for whom they care deeply.

How to reach out and not cause their partner, father, brother, friend or son to

clam up and withdraw or attack back because of feeling ashamed or inadequate.

In their book, "How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It," authors

Patricia Love, ED.D, and Steven Stosny, Ph.D., see men's sensitivity to feeling

inadequate and then feeling shame as one of two main causes of problems in malefemale relationships. The other is women's fear of disconnection. And when women try to connect by talking about the relationship, men often pull away or attack -- the classic "fight or flight" response.


So how do we contend with the ever-present danger for men of feeling inadequate

and unworthy, and ashamed?



HERE ARE 5 WAYS TO INCREASE THE CHANCES OF CONNECTING WITH MEN

AND BOYS:


1. START A CONVERSATION BY "FRAMING." Framing involves stating the win-win outcome you hope to reach by having the conversation.


"I'd like to talk about our vacation plans. My hope is that we can WORK OUT A

PLAN that will be fun for BOTH of us and for the kids." OR "Can we discuss that

fight from yesterday? My hope is that we can come to an understanding that we'll

BOTH feel better about."


Letting him know YOU WANT A POSITIVE OUTCOME tends to put him more at

ease and not having to be on guard against being criticized or losing.


2. DO A "SOFT START UP"

Try what relationship expert John Gottman calls the "Soft Start Up." Rather than

an "in your face approach that starts with how unhappy you are -- "You've left your

clothes lying about the house all week and I'm fed up with it" -- begin by showing

you understand this isn't easy for him to talk about. For example, "I know talking

about the mess around the house isn't your favorite subject, but I'd like to ask

you to be open to hearing me out on this. Do you think you could do that?" That

gives the man the freedom to enter into the conversation without being criticized

right off the bat.


3. NAME WHAT YOU WANT FROM HIM CLEARLY AND CONCRETELY: When a

man hears needs expressed, his tendency is to hear them as DEMANDS rather

than WISHES that he is required to fix (and if he doesn't know how to fix them,

he feels inadequate). An example is: "I'm so frustrated about work today and I

really need to vent. But I want you to know that you don't have to do anything. I

just really need you to hear me out." OR "That wasn't a good plan we had with the

kids today. So I really want you to work with me on coming up with a better

arrangement so neither of us get so stressed out all the time." If you are making a

demand ("I really need you to pick the kids after school today") make sure you are

stating that clearly.


4. VIEW HIS RESPONSE DIFFERENTLY: Try to view the man's response as his

best way of trying to connect to you. So, if he reacts defensively ("I didn't do

anything wrong"), realize he may be struggling with feeling "not good enough." If he is controlling or attacking, it may be a sign that he feels powerless underneath that front. It doesn't mean accepting mistreatment; it just means trying to see it

through his eyes with compassion for how shame and fear of failure prey on men.

View his response differently, don't take it personally, and keep asking for what

you want.


5. GIVE SPACE: Not even the most well thought out approach always will be

welcomed with open arms. Give men the space to retreat and re-engage when they

are ready. Trying to force them to open up probably will backfire. While it would

make you feel closer if he could say "I'm afraid," or "I don't know what to do,"

saying those things may be difficult for men because they often got "hurt for

hurting" -- meaning they got shamed for showing vulnerability ("Stop crying or I'll

really give you something to cry out.") So they need to reveal themselves carefully

and in their own time.


REMEMBER ... In the end, men want close, warm connection as much as women do --

and they are capable of deep levels of intimacy. Men have been hurt deeply by the

conditioning that says "Winning is Everything." Learning that close connection can

be a mutual experience that doesn't mean one person has to win and the other has

to lose takes patience and persistence on both sides.


* From Terrence Real, "How Can I Get Through to You," p. 84.



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