Saturday, December 5, 2015

The macho, crazy men

I had written the following Letter to the Editor regarding Gail Collins’ December 4 online New York Times article on guns and the Senate, but the comment section was closed:

Therapists with experience often trust their instincts about a problem.  My instinct says there is a causal and emotional connection between the men in therapy (often there under duress) who say it is “weak” to cry, and the macho men who need several to many guns.  I strongly suspect they are all running away from some vulnerability.  The felt need for overprotection – a hard cushion around a soft Self – is the key, a need that comes from childhood painful injury and that like many emotional defenses (“I need alcohol to not feel empty or estranged”) grows an ideational offense (“I just love the taste of beer”).  In this case, “I feel hurt” turns into “I feel anger” or “I feel nothing,” and “I feel unsafe” becomes “I need and have the right to an arsenal of guns, to overkilling self-defense.”  Macho men – You are the walking wounded.
So I thought I’d expand on the idea here.  However, in the face of the most recent Muslim ideology gun massacre, it seems more important to get general, basic (and probably more boring), and talk about the human psyche’s ability to take a specific pain and turn it into global anger.
By “specific pain,” I mean the obvious: A little boy whose older sister, fooling around, holds his bedroom door shut so he can’t get out, is mad at his sister.  If his parents fail to punish her, he may be mad at them.  By “global” or displaced anger I mean that little boy, frustrated in justice, finds anger at his younger sister, takes false revenge on her.  And later, having grown up and accumulated many unheard and unhealed frustrations, finds all women inferior, frustrating, castrating, full-of-themselves – whatever.  It is this “ability” to misdirect and globalize a realistic target-response feeling, to make it irrational and delusional and self- and other-destructive, that is behind almost all violence and crime, from throwing the remote at the wall or an act of domestic violence, to serial killing and ideological terrorism and genocide.  All of it connects first to pain and the body’s diffusion of it into general suffering, later to generalized thinking and religious and philosophical beliefs.
How does thinking become so crazy, so stupid?  I only know that any defense we can use to be different from and above our inept and defeated child is useful.  And thinking – rationalizing, projecting, minimizing and intellectualizing – is (to stretch an Alice Miller insight) a defense mechanism of great power.  A critical problem is that ideas seem, to our feelings, to be one with, identical to, accurate perception.  This means they will hardly ever strike their owner as defensive, escapist, delusional.
An analogy to our wayward thinking is the person who is freezing to death and finds a huge, thick blanket under which he keeps warm and protected.  The blanket covers all – he is in the dark.  Someone comes up and suggests he cut a small hole in the blanket to enable him to see something of the world.  That seems to him a grotesque, insane idea: It would let the freezing, killing cold in.  The smallest hole would ruin everything.
A hurting soul who has found the strong blanket of global anger and condemnation cannot stand to look through a small opening of realism.  Turning the example around, it would threaten to warm his icy heart.  “Women are not all castrators.  There are many loving and decent women.”  “Americans are not decadent and evil.  They are people, like me.”  Ideas cover or kill pain, and if we question them – put a hole in them – we will hurt again.  Like the little boy whose parents did not listen to him.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.