Boys and Self-Loathing: The Conversations That Never Took Place

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About Mark Greene

GMP Senior Editor Mark Greene is an Emmy Award winning animator and designer. He blogs and speaks on Men's Issues at the intersection of society, politics, relationships and parenting for the Good Men Project, HLN, Talking Cranes, The Shriver Report, The Huffington Post, Mamamia and Role Reboot. You can follow him on Twitter @megaSAHD and Google.
Click here to read more GMP articles by Mark Greene. Get Mark's fully illustrated children's book FLATMUNDER for iPad from iTunes about kid's fears and the power of play. For kids ages 4-8.

Comments

  1. Great article, Mark. We can never live a life free of pain or regret, but we can teach a degree of openness that saves us from suffering our pain in secret. Aggression has its uses; it exists, like violence, because it works. Like violence, it should be the last resort in an intelligent and civilized discussion. It is the person who speaks loudest to make their point, who interrupts, who cuts the mike like a coward.
    It takes strength to show vulnerability. It isn’t a puppy showing belly in submission, it is knowing you have the emotional strength to fall back on and defend you from those who see your honesty as weakness.

  2. Megan Sailsbury says:

    “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

    Our culture is past the point of crisis. Those who can survive in the madness around them are full of self-loathing, and the rest demonized as insane. We can’t let this go on. Our survival hangs in the balance.

  3. Thank You.

  4. Thank You.

  5. Beautiful article.

  6. David May says:

    Thank you. My parents grew up during the Great Depression and I experienced much of what you did. Nacent Puritans, our family is not known for being expressive (though this has improved dramatically with our generation) and I was considered the “emotional one.” When I was seven I was overcome one after with a profound melancholy and couldn’t stop crying. Because I couldn’t say why I was crying, I was sent to my room and told to stop acting like a baby. The melancholy passed as quickly as it arrived, but I knew to never dicuss or express it when it returned (as it often did, without rhyme or reason) while I was growing up — eventually learning to distrust my emotions. This is the first time I’ve told anyone this story outside of psychotherapy — because until laying on the couch and staring at the ceiling, it was an episode I couldn’t remember without shame, let alone be able to talk about.

  7. David May says:

    Thank you. My parents grew up during the Great Depression and I experienced much of what you did. Nacent Puritans, our family is not known for being expressive (though this has improved dramatically with our generation) and while we were growing up, I was considered the “emotional one.” When I was seven I was overcome one afternoon with a profound melancholy and couldn’t stop crying. Because I couldn’t say why I was crying, I was sent to my room and told to stop acting like a baby. The melancholy passed as quickly as it arrived, but I knew to never dicuss or express it when it returned (as it often did, without rhyme or reason) while I was growing up — eventually learning to distrust all of my emotions. This is the first time I’ve told anyone this story outside of psychotherapy — because until I was laying on the couch and staring at the ceiling, it was an episode I couldn’t remember without shame, let alone talk about.

    • Man, David. Does that ring true. And so familiar. It seems like shame is one thing our culture dispenses freely. And yet, it only can be dispensed if we, in our ignorance accept it when offered.

  8. Thank You.

  9. Outstanding article. We’ve shared with the MaleSurvivor community. Thank you for your sharing your voice and your story with us all.

  10. Bravo…!

    Someone once told me that he could never look in the mirror at himself…it started at a young age after a traumatic event….I never really understood what he was talking about….thanks for helping to fill in the blanks….

  11. Mark,
    I love the line “I don’t think I want him reading it in the next five minutes, but are we all to hide our stories until our children are grown?”. This is so very true. Very powerful piece of writing Mark and thanks for sharing your story.

    Our narrative isn’t written. It’s a fresh page each day and that’s the message I want my sons to always remember.
    Cheers,
    Alan

  12. Being deeply unhappy, even in the past, is not a story men are encouraged to share. When we talk about what has happened to us, we feel pressure to construct a narrative that has us overcoming our troubles. Its embarrassing to admit that we’re not done with our old business. That old slights and old wounds still pain us, sometimes more deeply than we can express. But men need a space to grieve what has been lost. We need to advocate proudly for our right to grieve. Because honestly, many of us have never had our funerals. We never have been granted the retelling of our lost battles and weary retreats. And because of this, they remain with us, long after they should have been dead and buried.
    Its a pretty clever method of getting us to internalize such anti-male (dare I say misandric) values.

    We aren’t just taught that emotional expression is bad. No we are taught that emotional expression is an antithesis of being a man (and no thats not necessary becoming a woman either contrary to popular belief). Add this to the supposed “rewards” of being a proper man and you have a pretty nice traps where a man is willing to kill himsefl (figuratively and literally unfortunately) in order to stay in that acceptable narrow range of manhood.

    So, he and my mother took us as far as they could. And as much as I respect their journeys, mine is not made invalid by comparison. It is often said that we parents always want something better for our kids. But there is a larger truth at work here. On a meta level, we all simply can not live good lives without connection and communication. The central role of connection and communication in parenting is that is helps children process and frame the joys and challenges in their lives.
    I’m not a parent but I do think there is a bit of a flaw in the thought that parents want something better for their kids thought. Well not so much a flaw as a limitation. I think that “better” is commonly meant to only cover economic and financial improvement.

    If you look at a lot of usage of that term its often said by parents who want their kids to not have to work outrageously long days for tiny wages or have to raise kids in a world torn apart by war or that when the kids grow up they don’t have the same tough times as their parents.

    But I don’t think this is an intentional limitation. I believe this limitation came as a result of economic and financial status being such an immediate and pressing need that all other needs were kinds left on the wayside. Or maybe (for boys/men at least) leaving out things like healthy emotional expression were left out for the sake of financial and economic security?

  13. generatrix says:

    Thank you for your article. I am a single mom raising a son, and I am glad that there is so much emphasis on the self-esteem of girls these days, but it all seems so reactionary, like the nonprofits and media campaigns are saying “it’s the GIRLS’ turn now!”, but there don’t seem to have EVER been any real attempts to address the self-esteem of boys. My interpretation of feminism says that the mission is to help everyone get out from under the heel of patriarchy, boys and men included! It is so refreshing to read a thoughtful article on what a boy in this society might need to be okay on the inside, and thank you for pointing out that boys have inner lives that are just as fraught as anyone’s.

  14. Noah’s article that went up today, and this article, remind me why I keep coming back to this site. Thanks Mark.

  15. I identify a lot with this. Thank you!

  16. Thank you for this , Mark. I’ve been lucky enough to have written on this website a few times, and I’m so glad to be part of a community that cares. At 24, I’m working hard to unwire the intense self loathing that’s been a part of my life since I was 10. I was lucky to have loving and Progessive parents, but still existed under their thumb and weight of high expectations. I was also a South Asian kid reaching adolescence in the wake of 9/11, and acutely aware of how much American media and society disregarded (and still disregards) the humanity of people with brown skin. Some of my clearest memories from that time are of listening to hard rock and just feeling hate run through me. I’m not so unhappy now, but it takes work to unpack that before you get better. Hopefully we’ll reach a point where kids can grow up without parents, peers, or society making them feel so hateful towards themselves. I don’t want children, but maybe your kids’ generation will be the ones to get it?

    In any case, lovely article. Your writing never ceases to provide great insight.

  17. It always amazes me that people can bring up their childhood and recall specific incidents with such clarity. I suppose it turns some people into terrific writers. I have a relative who can summon every feeling or hurt she suffered as a child, and she still cries over things that happened to her 40 years later (e.g., “he got a bike, I didn’t. He broke my music box,” etc.). I guess that’s why everybody is different. Some don’t get over unpleasant situations, while others simply forget. Our brains truly work differently.

  18. Great post! Except for the details of the examples (and a bunch of other stuff), the feelings you express are incredibly close to my experience. It’s great to have an award-winning author write one’s story.

    These quotes in particular really resonated with me:

    “…events alone are not what holds a child back. It was the lack of communication about these events. It was the silence.”

    “… vulnerability is the third rail of male expression. Put simply, to go there can get you erased, gone, killed.”

    I have struggling to find that voice of authenticity for several years – decades even. I tapped into it via sex, drugs, and rock’n roll about 30 years ago – but that turned out to be a dead-end avenue of pain and more self-loathing. Then, through some spiritual awakening and career success, I found a level of contentment I’d never experienced, but towards the middle of my 40s, that too began to fade. Now, as a man in my fifties, with young kids, I wonder, how did I end up just like my parents.

    I too believe the path lies in the ability to be vulnerable – but as you mentioned, this is very dangerous. People are drawn to success, arrogance, and pride – but they are repelled by the introspective man in the corner trying to find relief from the self-loathing that consumes him. I hear a lot lately about giving men permission to be vulnerable, however – it is not safe. (Here’s something I just wrote on that: https://medium.com/silos-of-isolation/e70a66595816)

    Thanks again for a great post!! I treasure your words.

  19. David Hache says:

    I loved this article! I took took up the strategy of the “small fiesty boy” (I truly was small, still am). Started smoking at 12, hanging out with all the “bad” kids. I never really had any enemies through-out my life.
    At a younger age, I would rarely even speak in the presence of strangers. I was myself with my close friends, but amongst strangers, I would raise a veil of silence and simply observe. I learned a lot of people, and of life in general. I listened, to young and old, to the wind, the trees and everything, with a sense of wonder.
    It is only at an older age (Late teens) that I discovered my parents (my father especially) to be my favored when it came to expressing my deepest thoughts. I would tell them everything. To the point that my girlfriend would get upset (I would talk to my dad of my sexual experiences even). I was truly blessed, to have such attentive parents, who had tried to give me the best that they could. And what I will say next shames me, because on all accounts, I should of been happy.
    But unfortunately, I wasn’t. As far I can remember, I’ve had a feeling of deep sadness, sometimes even anger. I remember crying myself to sleep as a child, almost every night. What I feared, no one could protect me from, no one had an answer. I was scared of dying, I was angry at life for allowing it. I was angry at my parents for trying to hide the truth from me, by telling me stories of faith and religion. I was angry at the world around me for ignoring this simple fact and instead going about their daily lives as if all was fine. I knew that everything wasn’t fine, at least I truly believed it. I was supposed to be normal, I had everything to be normal, but I felt as if I had the key to a horrible secret, and it devastated me.
    And like Mark mentioned in his article, the fact that I could not communicate this anguish, that no one could help me understand it, I buried it deep inside, and kept it alive for so long.
    It is funny how although a seemingly normal childhood, that was protected from all harm, still found that grain of darkness in the world. And don’t get me wrong, I still found so much beauty in life, in fact, it is because of this beauty that I was deeply pained. To throw away such wonders, to bring pain upon beauty, I could not comprehend, and above all, how selfish humanity seemed to me.
    Fortunately, with age, pain was subdued by a numbness, a sort of understanding. No matter how hard I fought it, I could not win, and so, I have yielded. I still have momentary pangs of deep pain when I consider the darkness that may or may not await, though I know better than to linger on those thoughts. In the end, I have found my peace in faith, a hidden and secret hope that our lives, the lives of all living things, will find a realm to live as they wish beyond death. Silly isn’t it?
    But I diverge, I am just glad to have shared this with you. And I hope, that in some way, we can all find a peace of mind, and pass it on to our children.

    -David, age 30

  20. While I agree with the premisis -and even need- of this article, I can’t help but keep thinking how much worse it must be / have been for the kids this author set up to “take the beating for him”, ACTIVELY taking part in their extremely negative experience.

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  8. […] Being deeply unhappy, even in the past, is not a story men are encouraged to share.  […]

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  12. […] part of growing up male. He argues that teaching boys to suppress their feelings, both loving and self-loathing, stunts their emotional growth and has a long-term impact on their mental […]

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