FINDING A SAFE PLACE WHEN STRESSED

Boys and girls often process emotions differently. When my daughter was young and in need of support she had a special technique.  She would come to me and say “Daddy, I need special time,” and I knew just what that meant.  We needed to face two chairs towards each other and she would talk about what was bothering her.  She might complain that her friend had said she talked too much and I would respond with a supportive “Ah, Julia.”  She might then tell me that another friend had told her that she didn’t want to play with her ever again and I would again offer support through a simple, “Ah, Julia.”  After about 5-7 cycles of “Ah, Julia,” she was ready to go!  Her cup was full and, she would say “Thanks, Dad” and off she would go outside to play.

What was Julia doing?  She was creating a “safe place” for herself.  One important aspect in healing is that when people are in trouble psychologically they will first look for a safe place.  Julia went a step farther.  Once she had the safe place she used it to tell her story.  Combining these two elements is the outline of the common path that most of us use in healing ourselves. Finding safety and then telling our personal story. Julia arranged for me to steward that safe place and then talked about what was bothering her.  Through this story-telling process done in a safe place she began to find healing.  One other common example of this process is attending a support group which acts as a safe place for people to tell their story and through the repeated telling balance is found.

My son, however, would not come to me and say, “Daddy, I need special time.” Absolutely not.  Why not? The reason is that sitting face to face is simply not safe for him.  Where do men and boys like my son feel safe?  More often, it is not when they are face to face, but rather when they are shoulder to shoulder taking action.  Think of the places where men feel close to other men.  It is most often when they are taking action and working on a common goal.  The more dangerous the goal, the closer the men feel to each other.  Wartime, police departments, fire departments, and sports teams at a championship are all examples of this.  Through working together, shoulder to shoulder, the men feel close to other men. Here lasting friendships are forged within that safety.

Would Luke ask for special time?  No.  He would come to me and say, “I wanna wrestle!” Keep in mind that he was in first or second grade, and I am 6’2″ and far from tiny.  I would say, “Okay, but you better be ready for me!”  Then the wrestling would commence.  At first he would have me down, then I would have him down. Back and forth it would go.  At some point during the battle, Luke would stick his little head up and say, “Jimmy got beat up at school today,” and I would ask if it was bad and he would say “Oh yeah, there was blood coming from his nose.”  Then the interlude abruptly ceased, and he growled loudly and attacked me with all his might.  A minute or two later, Luke might stick his head up again and say, “I miss Granddaddy.”  He was referring to my father who had died just a few months before.  My heart cracked open, and I responded that I missed him too.  In a flash, he would growl and attack again and was on top of me with all his might.

Luke was doing the same thing as his sister but was using the wrestling as a safe place to tell his story.  Boys and girls often find safety in different places. The general rule (not true for every child of course) is that girls will more often tend to seek out safety in INTERACTION while boys will more often seek out a safe place through ACTION [2].

Dr. Shelly Taylor, professor of psychology at UCLA, has spent many years investigating the possible neural substrate for these sex differences. She began by observing that most of the research on stress published before 2000 had been conducted on men [1]. Women had been left out for a variety of reasons, such as the concern that hormonal variations associated with the menstrual cycle might skew the results.  Taylor has now conducted many studies using only women as subjects.  What she found has changed our understanding of stress and the role of sex differences.  She found that most women do not engage the “fight or flight” system as readily as men; instead, they engage a different system, which Dr. Taylor calls “tend and befriend.”  Women, when stressed, will (according to Professor Taylor) tend to move towards others and move towards interaction.  This is very different from the masculine habit of moving toward action when stressed (fight), or moving towards inaction (flight).  Professor Taylor’s findings brought to mind what I had seen in Luke and Julia and started to make sense of these different strategies.

Dr. Taylor believes that these differences in the biobehavioral response to stress may be due, at least in part, to underlying hormonal differences between men and women.  She cites research suggesting that oxytocin plays a key role in the “tend and befriend” system in women. Some have called oxytocin the “cuddle hormone”.  What Taylor found was that though both men and women release oxytocin after stress, a women’s estrogen amplifies the effects of the oxytocin which increases her urge to affiliate (tend and befriend). The higher testosterone levels in men appear to blunt the effects of oxytocin, reducing the inclination to move towards others when stressed.

Dr. Taylor suggests that there are two basic strategies in response to stress: action (“fight or flight”) or interaction (“tend and befriend”). Luke and Julia followed the expected path based on their biological sex, with Luke preferring the more male strategy of action and Julia preferring the female strategy of interaction. Importantly, while this is common, it is not always the case. Each child is different and our challenge is to evaluate them individually based on their unique approach.

Boys and girls often process emotions differently. Being aware of each child’s unique way of finding safety and telling their story can only help in facilitating their growth and healing.

References
  1. Taylor, S.E. (2003). The Tending Instinct: Women, Men and the Biology of Our Relationships. New York: Henry Holt.
  2. Golden, T.R. (2000). Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing (2nd Ed.), Gaithersburg, MD: G H Publishing.

Male Disposability

trashThe sex roles that drove a man’s and a woman’s behavior for thousands of years had great impact on each sex. One of the impacts of the sex role on men was the attitude of disposability that developed over the years. By that I mean the tendency of people to be less likely to get emotionally close to men and to see them as expendable. Why would that be?

Imagine we are living long ago and the women were caring for the hearth and the children and making forays to gather while the men were more likely to go out and hunt. The relative danger of those two behaviors is not subtle. Going out to hunt is decidedly more dangerous and the liklihood of the man returning home after a hunt was much smaller than the same liklhood for the woman performing her daily activities. When we dont’ expect someone to return what impact does that have on our interest in making an emotional attachment to them? It diminishes. We are less likely to invest our emotional ergs into someone or something that we fear may not be with us. This was obviously not just around the issue of hunting. Men were expected to guard the perimeter and to repel attacks by intruders. This was a dangerous activity and again, increased the liklihood that the man would be dissappearing. We tend to not invest in folks who we fear will not be returning. Yet another example is war time. Men were the ones who were expected to go to war and die protecting the village/community/country.

This diminished investment is not subtle but very few people are aware of their own tendency to do this. Let’s try an exercise to evaluate your way of thinking. Has it ever bothered you that only males are expected to sign up for the selecttive service? That it is only males expected to go and die in case of a national emergency? Does that bug you? Okay, now imagine that congress in all its wisdom has changed the law and decided that we need to draft only girls and women until an equal number of women and girls have died in combat to the numbers of men and boys who have died. Would that upset you? Why? Do you value women and girls more than boys and men? How about if we decided to draft only Black people? Maybe only Jews? Would either of those groups being sacrificed upset you? Would you protest for any of those to not be the only group drafted? Can you feel in your bones how upsetting that would be? If you answered yes to any of those questions, how was your response different from thinking it is okay to draft only men? If you had a different reaction then you are likely holding some of that tendency to consider men and boys to be more disposable.

You can see this tendency in many places. Boys and men comprise almost 80% of suicides and yet we have no outcry or services specifically for this. Men and boys are over 90% of the workplace deaths in the Unted States but no one seems to notice. Over 97% if the deaths of U.S. servicemen in Iraq are men and boys and yet we hear no protest in support of men and boys or calls for equality. Men are the victims of domestic violence in considerable numbers and yet we have no services directed towards their needs. All we need to do is open our eyes to see the extent that men and boys are seen as expendable. It is all around us. Ever heard of the wife telling the husband she will go investigate the loud noise that awoke them from a deep sleep?

The age old sex role for men has trickled down into a straight-jacket that harnesses men to be the expendable ones. Most people are simpy unconscious of this and treat men according to their own unconscious programming. How abut you?

Next – Stereotypes

 

Why is it dangerous to bring up that men are victims of DV?

This is anyone’s guess. My own sense is that the entire domestic violence industry is built on the Duluth Model which holds men as being violent and the perpetrators and women as the victims. The system has been built from the ground up with that thesis. One needs only look at the public service announcements that any domestic violence center produces and it is easy to see that the over-riding assumption is that women are the victims and men the perps. Have you ever seen a public service announcement that is directed towards men who are victims of domestic violence? I would bet not.

The domestic violence emergency shelters are only for women. They only allow female residents and staff. No men allowed. Most shelters will not allow young boys above the age of 12 in the shelters. They are considered dangerous. The staff of the shelters is largely volunteer driven and many of the volunteers are women who have been victims of domestic violence. These women obviously have a viewpoint that is skewed towards believing that men are the violent ones and that women are the victims.

There are a number of reports from ex-staff members of shelters who discuss the blaming of men that goes on. The staff are largely radical feminists who already have an ax to grind in blaming men and add to that the volunteer staff who have personal experiences that lead them in a similar direction. This leaves us with the paid staff and the volunteers likely being anti-male.

Information about Domestic Violence

There is an interesting battle of information going on in the domestic violence scene. The service providers and legislators offer statistics that show the ever increasing incidence of domestic violence. It faithfully shows that men are the perpetrators and women are the victims. Importantly most of their numbers come from hospital and police records or their own statistics. This gives them a decidedly biased flavor. The flavor is that women are nearly the only victims and men the only perpetrators. Keep in mind that the services they offer are for women only. Imagine that we built a hospital for only Caucasian diabetics our statistics would reflect that whites were the overwhelming majority of people we served. We could easily make a case for the need for more services for whites who had diabetes and disregard the need for other races. In the same way, the domestic violence industry’s reliance on their own statistics is skewed and misleading and fails to count the male victims due to its bias.

But what if someone else studied the problem from a different perspective? A perspective that relied on scholarly research in peer reviewed scientific Journals? That is just what has happened. There is an alternate voice that paints a very different picture. Bonafide peer reviewed research. When you look at the scientific research on domestic violence done by legitimate scientists in studies that are supervised by other non-partisan scientists you get a very different story. What you find is that women actually initiate domestic violence more often than men. You also find that men are a significant portion of the injured victims of domestic violence. The Archer meta-analysis published in Psychological Bulletin (2000) looked at all the previous research and found that when they were all tallied that men comprised 38% of the injured victims! Starkly different figures than you get with the stats offered by the domestic violence industry.

For a quick look at a listing of numerous scientific studies you can go to Martin Fieberts page. Skim through the entries and get a sense of the number of studies that have come to the same conclusion: that domestic violence is a two way street with both men and women being victims and perpetrators. In fact Murray Strauss PhD., one of the grandfathers of domestic violence research, states that domestic violence is 25% men beating women, 25% women beating men, and 50% brawl between the two.

The obvious question is why do we have no services for men?

Discrimination

Some time ago I had the belief that our system of government was fair to all and considered the needs of each person as being important. I no longer feel that is the case. This page will give you a birds eye view of how I came to my present conclusions. If you are happy with your view of the government and don’t want that to change, stop reading now. If not, read on.

As a therapist I often get calls about potential referrals. A number of years ago I had gotten just such a call about a man who was in crisis due to his wife’s violence. He was looking for a safe place for himself and his children. I wasn’t sure what services were available so I decided to call around to find out prior to meeting this gentleman. I called the local abused persons services and told them of the problem and they described at great length the myriad of services that were available. Then I told them the victim in this case was a man. They stopped in their tracks. They backed up and said “Well, what we discussed doesn’t apply to men. The services we described are for women only.” I was shocked. I asked what they could do for him and they told me that in lieu of offering him the shelter and all of the associated services they could put him up in a motel for a night.

I was stunned. I had assumed that the services provided would be for anyone with a need. I was incorrect. I thought that I should contact my Congressman and Senator. I wrote letters to Connie Morella and Barbara Mikulski my Senator and Congressperson at the time but both turned a deaf ear to my concerns. Mikulski literally said it wasn’t her problem, that is was a local concern. Of course she had voted in favor of the Violence Against Women Act several years before which overtly discrminated against men but she didn’t mention that. Again I was shocked and stunned by the disinterest in the pain and suffering of men. I turned to the service providers and contacted them thinking that they were colleagues and would be open to hearing my concerns. Wrong! What I was to find out was that the domestic violence industry is based on what is called the “Duluth Model” which claims that women are the victims and men the perpetrators. Any reverse of that is treated at best as an aberation and at worst simply ignored.

My efforts turned to local legislators and I received the same sort of response. I began looking for others who might see the same discrimination and want to do something about it. I found some small groups who were concerned. Some of these groups were involved in lobbying to change the VAWA to include services for men. In 2005 the law was up for re-authorization. We gathered an impressive group of lawyers, professors, authors, clinicians and male victims of domestic violence to testify on capital hill to encourage our legislators to adjust this bill to include men for services. We lobbied the members of congress on the important committiees and during lunches and meetings with them and their legislative assistants we were assured that our group would be allowed to testify at the public hearings. The hearings were held. Not one of our group was allowed to testify. Not one. The only people invited to testify were the ones that were invested in the status quo. They put on a dog and pony show saying the same things that had been said for the last 10 years. What the congress didn’t hear was the voice of a large group of very intelligent and compassionate professionals who had a very different perspective. Those people were essentially silenced. I thought I was in North Korea.

Prior to my getting the call about a possible referral I had no experience with domestic violence. It was far from an issue for me. I was happily married, with two grown children, having never been divorced or abused in any way. Nothing. The reactions I received from the people to whom I expressed my concern about male victims of domestic violence were consistent. I was treated like a pariah, as if I had some plague and needed to be avoided. At one point I sent out an email to local service providers asking about services for men and was mistakenly cc’d on a response from a local politician to the service providers that said basically, “People like that? Oh just ignore him and hopefully he will go away in time.” It made it clear that this was not simply a dialogue of information. It became clear that the information I was promoting was considered dangerous to them.

What was the information?

Why was this information dangerous?

 

Double Standards

If men and women are truly equal why should the following exist?

 

Men comprise at least 75% of the suicides. No one knows why. According to a Washington Post article the director of the American Association for Suicidology states that there is no research money available to find out why, only money for women and girls.

Men comprise 93% of the workplace related deaths.

Research shows that men comprise at least a third of those injured in domestic violence and yet the only services available for victims of domestic violence are for women and children.

Men comprise 75% of those who are murdered and yet there is no Violence Against Men Act.

Being male is the largest biasing factor in the criminal Justice system. According to an article in the L.A.Daily News (a daily newspaper in Los Angeles, California, USA covering law news.) “Research clearly demonstrates that gender is the most significant biasing factor in determining whether or not someone will be charged, prosecuted, indicted and sentenced, as well as determining the severity of the sentence.” It is a larger bias factor than race, class, or religion.

Men die from every major cause of death earlier than women and have a lifespan that is on average 5 years shorter and yet we have five national commissions for women’s health and none for men. We spend twice as much money on women’s health as we do on men’s.

Female circumcision is against the law drawing large fines and jail time while male circumcision (a comparitively similar procedure) is the most popular surgical procedure in the United States.

Why was it oppression when college enrollment favored males but when enrollment now favors women it is considered empowerment?

When a cruise ship was sinking recently in the Mediterranean women and children were directed to be first on the lifeboats. Men’s roles haven’t changed since the Titanic. Women and children first is not what I would call equal.

 

 

More Questions

Why do women have the choice between abortion, adoption, dropping an unwanted baby off at a hospital, raising the child with a father, or raising the child without a father, but the only choice men have is to agree?

Why is it funny when a woman kicks a man in the groin but terrible if a man did the same to a woman?

Why is it sexist to have clubs for only men but empowering to have them for only women?

Why do men that don’t pay child support go to prison but nothing ever happens to women that don’t allow visitation?

Why is a female marathon runner considered the winner when she doesn’t have the fastest time?

If we are truly equal why do we have red tee’s?

Why are television moms always portrayed as wonderful and loving and television dads normally portrayed as inept buffoons?

Why is it politically incorrect to say anything negative about women but funny to put men down?

Why are women without a job considered to be exercising free choice but men without a job considered a bum?

Why is it that when a woman accuses a man of rape, the man’s name is made public and he is presumed guilty, but when he is proven innocent the woman remains anonymous and the man is still ruined?

 

Double Binds

A man who emotes openly and pubically is called a wimp while a man who doesn’t show emotion is called cold and unfeeling.

 

Men in today’s culture are at risk. There are obvious double standards and stereotyping but they often go unseen since much of the population