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I was watching a popular TV show last night. One of the main characters was suffering from PTSD; something she was suffering from because of the events that she went through in the previous season. Her colleague, and her close man friend had been avoiding her all episode and it had boiled over into a confrontation when she asked why he was being strange towards her.
It turns out that he was feeling immense guilt because he was supposed to be there to find her, yet he couldn’t, and she nearly died. Awash with his intense feeling of guilt and unable to process his emotions healthily he turned the entire situation on its head and had the female lead, who was suffering from bad PTSD, emotionally stroking his ego and putting her issues to the side. Essentially he had turned the entire situation into a big deal about him and his feelings when in essence, or at least in my mind, it should have all been about her.
After witnessing that I paused the popular TV show and looked at my wife, who was sitting on the seat adjacent to me, and I asked her, “Honey? Is this a thing? Do men do this? Or is this just an extreme example?” and she laughed and said, “honey, you do this to me all the time. You know when I keep saying to you that it’s not about you?” and it sort of clicked, that I do this all the time. I mean I have been aware of it for a while, and I’ve been trying to get better at it. It’s making me realise that I’m being rather selfish when I do that. My wife has always said that men are predominantly selfish.
I didn’t think she had a point.
Perhaps now I do, though.
It’s had me thinking over the last few days; back to when times that I’ve been party to steamrolling my emotions into the first place of the debate and overtaking my wife’s priorities as she puts them onto the back burner. She has a really good point that I’m selfish; even when I don’t think I’m being selfish, I am. Like the time when she was telling me that my lack of involvement with the housework was making her depressed; rather than listen to what she said and agree to make better adjustments with my life/work balance I argued with her over how incredibly horrible that made me feel when I have little time to do the housework with my busy work schedule anyway. See? I turned it into my issue, instead of just listening to her.
We tend to do that as men. I think. Or at least I do anyway.
I have a theory though. I think we (men) aren’t taught to properly process our feelings when we’re younger. Those parents that think their boys should be tough and feel nothing but aggression reprimand their child for feeling sadness, crying, or hurt, and tell them that boys don’t do that. These children grow up feeling sadness and hurt, and want to cry but their memories of childhood stop them. They have learned very well how to shut down any feelings quickly that aren’t happiness or aggression. That’s why in a heterosexual partnership the man is able to turn it into his issues; effectively shutting down how the woman is making him feel. My Mum did the same with me, but to a lesser extent that my Dad did. I wasn’t given hugs and comfort when I was upset; I was told how I shouldn’t be feeling that way because of the other side of the story. She wanted me to see balance, but in retrospect all I saw is that I shouldn’t be feeling this way because it’s not normal.
So how do I move on from this?
I mean I have an idea of what I do and when I do it, and I’d love to say that it’s just as simple as “do my own research” for the answers, but through my experience I know that it just isn’t as simple as that. Sometimes I need reminders of my behaviour; sometimes I need that jolt of what I’m doing. I’m trying, but I’m not perfect.
In my eyes the children should be first; I have been instilling into my son from a very young age to own himself; that his words, his actions, his feelings are all him and that he needs to take responsibility for them. If he’s sad he gets hugs, if he’s angry we let him be angry but reprimand him afterward, and tell him why his behaviour wasn’t good, but we understand why he’s angry. Sometimes anger is justified, you know? And if he’s happy he is encouraged to be happy. I’m all for positive empowerment.
But what about people like me that are only learning that the soft side of themselves is only okay in 2018? A lifetime of stiff-upper-lippery and manchildness has it’s tolls on the mentality of this 37-year-old man. Sometimes I mess up, and badly, but we all do to some extent. In my eyes a relationship is a two-way support system. My wife has to on occasion tell me that “it’s not about me,” and that snaps me out of it, because I’m aware now, and awareness is key.
If this is a big issue for you; then do what my wife did, keep explaining it to him until he gets the hint. Once he’s aware then it’s up to him to either try and be better, or continue as normal. Then it’s up to you whether to grow with him, or jump ship!
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