Patriarchy and collective trauma (Edited)

Each man is a bridge, spanning in his lifetime all of the images and traditions about masculinity inherited from past generations and bestowing— or inflicting— his own retelling of the tale on those who ensue.” Terry Real

“Just as for many depressed women recovery is inextricably linked to shedding the traces of oppression and finding empowerment, for many depressed men, recovery is linked to opposing the force of disconnection, and reentering the world of relationship… to themselves, & to others.” Terry Real

Some of the more important ideas that Terry Real discusses in the book: I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, are around the trauma inherent in boys’ socialization, which he calls the loss of the relational and how this more or less collective wound in boys’ lives sets up their vulnerability to depression and issues like difficulties with intimacy, violence and addiction in adulthood. He suggests that these traumas can be grouped in three domains: diminished connection to aspects of the self, to others and to the mother. He claims that the idea that boys must rupture their connection to mother is one of the oldest and most deeply rooted myths of patriarchy. The attenuation of closeness to their mother is for many boys the earliest and prototypical loss. In the book through references to theory, literature, films and many study cases, he sheds light on the dynamics that take place inside the modern family in accordance with the prevailing myth that suggests that boys must be helped to gain distance from their mothers. The tragic irony is that fathers end up causing great harm in the very act of trying to live up to traditional patriarchal notions about what makes a good father and the ways to socialize boys.

Real refers to psychologist William Pollock who suspects that beneath the undeniable “father wound,” which is the emotional toll taken on boys by “absent fathers,” there may be an even earlier “mother wound.” Real says that according to Pollock “This is not the wound of the stereotypical mother who will not let go, but the wound of the mother who, in compliance to society’s fears and rules, lets go too early……..In such moments of passive trauma, these mothers have allowed themselves to be silenced by the conventions of patriarchy.”  He further adds that unfortunately diminished connection to the mother does not involve only the connection through nurture, but the mother’s diminished authority, which is as damaging as diminished nurture to boys. Real claims that the traditional idea that only men know how to raise sons undermines both the mother’s instinct to care and her capacity to guide and set limits. He writes that “As devastating as the taboo of mothers’ tenderness is for boys in our society, the under-cutting of mothers’ power is at least as destructive. When a boy rejects his mother’s authority because she is “only a woman,” when a mother shrinks from the full exercise of her parental rights and responsibilities both play out the values of patriarchy. The mother’s higher authority as a parent is counterbalanced by the son’s higher status as a male.”

Individuation and our misunderstandings around this important and necessary developmental experience for both girls and boys is also discussed in the book. Real claims that individuation does not have to be severance and separation through disconnection, but a process of maturation and healthy autonomy through healthy connectedness. Maturity and connection should not be set up as choices that exclude one another. He writes: “the true meaning of psychological “separation” is maturity, and we humans stand a better chance of maturing when we do not disconnect from one another. Such literal thinking misses the point that boys must work out “separation” with the people they are “separating” from. There is no way they can work it out on their own. And the current notion that mentors—“male mothers” as Bly calls them— must help the boy “leave” begs the question of why he must “leave” at all. Traditional visions of masculinity, even in the very language of “separation,” equate growing up with severance. But what maturity truly requires is the replacement of childish forms of closeness with more adult forms of closeness, not with dislocation.”

A great part of the book as the title suggests is dedicated to analyzing the link between disconnection from emotions and male depression and addiction in adulthood. He quotes research findings that indicate that in this society most males have difficulty both in expressing and identifying their feelings.  Real writes that the term for this impairment is alexithymia and that psychologist Ron Levant estimates that close to 80% of men in our society have a mild to severe form of it. However, emotional numbing and lack of feeling is part of the criteria for a diagnosis of overt depression. Also, alexithymia is connected to an array of addictive defenses used in covert depression. He refers to Bessel Van der Kolk’s research that points to an understanding of the physiological basis for some of the defenses used in covert depression that rely on behaviors rather than substances. Real writes: “A connection between masculine socialization, alexithymia, covert depression, and substance abuse seems obvious. [However] the intensification of muted feelings can be achieved not just by using drugs but also by using action, by throwing oneself into crisis situations. Risk taking, gambling, infatuation, and rage all trigger our bodies’ “fight or flight” response, releasing both endorphins, the body’s opioids, and adrenal secretions, the body’s natural stimulants.”

Real believes that the emotional numbing common in both overt and covert depression may be an extreme form of the way in which society truncates the capacity of many men and boys to feel their emotions because within patriarchal cultures traditional masculinity views the strong expression of emotion as unmanly and prohibits most expressions of vulnerability. However, unacknowledged vulnerabilities seldom stay buried; instead they tend to rise up to exact their own toll. For instance, studies indicate that from boyhood to manhood, traumatized males display a distinct proclivity toward “externalizing” distress by inflicting it. Furthermore, the shame and taboo attached to vulnerability is one of the reasons why so many depressed men neither talk about it nor seek help, which both blocks men from resolving depression and impedes their capacity to heal from the traumas that have contributed to their depression. Real cites research that shows that whether a person is struggling with the effects of combat, various forms of abuse or childhood injury, the best predictor of trauma resolution is good social support.  By internalizing the value of invulnerability and the devaluation of dependency, boys learn to fear intimacy and to reject connection in an ongoing manner. He concludes that since males become unwilling to acknowledge and face the vulnerability of their own hidden pains, and are unable to be intimate with their own emotions,  they cannot face intimacy with others either.

There is a lot of information in the book worth pondering on, but I will focus on his last chapter to end this post today. Real begins the last chapter with a question: Why would a depressed man choose the hard work of reassessing the very longings, skills, and responsibilities of mature relationship that were actively discouraged throughout his socialization?

He suggests that practicing full relational responsibility both transforms the dynamics of depression and shifts to a more mature stage of psychological development. He terms this shift as a move into fathering, which he writes “can, but need not, involve the biological begetting of children.…… Fathering occurs when the essential question a man lives by changes.” This practically means that there’s a shift in the questions asked from What will I get? to What can I offer? Real writes: “recovery demands a move into generativity” and as men heal and mature they can potentially enter into a fathering relationship to children,  partners, family, an art, a cause or to the planet, but as long as men fear subjugation they remain arrested in earlier developmental stages and they have limited repertoires of service. He points out that service is the appropriate central organizing force of mature manhood because after a certain point in a man’s life, if he is to remain truly vital, he needs to be devoted and actively engaged with something more than his own success and happiness.

Finally, Real reminds us that most human cultures throughout the globe have as a central tenet that it is a source of one’s own growth to care for the context one lives within. He writes: “It is becoming increasingly apparent that the old paradigm of worth through dominance, of valor, is atavistic. It no longer fits our complex, interdependent world….. Our interconnectedness to nature, and to one another, can no longer be denied. We live in a global economy. We share global resources. We face global threats. The paradigm of dominance must yield to an ethic of caretaking, or we simply will not survive……. The dynamic of dominance and submission, which has been at the heart of traditional masculinity, can play itself out inside the psyche of a man as depression, in his interpersonal relationships as irresponsibility and abuse,,,,,, or in humanity’s relationship to the earth itself. We have abused the environment we live in as if it were an all-giving and all-forgiving mother, an endless resource”.  Speaking of caring for the contexts we live in and our bigger home, the planet, in order to preserve it for future generations, I think Paul Salopek’s** quote sums it up beautifully: “11,000 miles into my trek, I can only pass on what I’ve seen: Tread lightly upon the Earth. Share what little you have with strangers. Scan the horizons for rain.”

**  Paul Salopek is a writer and National Geographic contributor, who eight years ago embarked on a trek across the world in the footsteps of our human forebears. When he wrote the article he had roughly walked 11,000 miles from Africa through the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia. You can read the whole article at:

I’d also like to provide a link to Rick Hanson’s newsletter this week, which has to do with social anxiety, which I only very briefly mentioned in the previous post on anxiety:, and share a few morning photos of Benjamin (Βενιαμίν), which in Greek means the youngest, our most recent male addition to the garden fauna.

On Anxiety

This post is about anxiety and fear. The idea to write about fear and anxiety in today’s post came to me after listening to Rick Hanson’s weekly meditation and talk series (April 1st, 2021 at: He touches upon different and often compounding and intersecting reasons why we might be experiencing anxiety and suggests five different things we might do to move through it.

Fear is hard wired in us as a species in order to help us protect ourselves and others and to ultimately survive. Bruce Perry writes: “Babies are born with the core elements of the stress response already intact and centered in the lower, most primitive parts of their developing brains. When the infant’s brain gets signals from inside the body— or from her external senses— that something is not right, these register as distress. This distress can be “hunger” if she needs calories, “thirst” if she is dehydrated, or “anxiety” if she perceives external threat. When this distress is relieved, the infant feels pleasure. This is because our stress-response neurobiology is interconnected with the “pleasure/ reward” areas in the brain, and with other areas that represent pain, discomfort and anxiety. Experiences that decrease distress and enhance our survival tend to give us pleasure; experiences that increase our risk usually give us a sensation of distress” (cited in Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz, 2007). It is in some sense like an alarm bell, but as Rick Hanson mentions we can end up fearing of not being afraid, which can feel like living in an invisible cage even though the threats of the past might not be there today, but when we feel threatened and anxious we can sabotage our own well being. Moreover, when we feel threatened we can become threatening to others through our behaviours or acting out and through projecting our emotions on others.

When fear and anxiety are projected onto others they can become carried feelings. According to Terry Real* projective identification is a term that describes the phenomenon of carried feeling.  Because his book focuses primarily on male covert depression he mostly provides examples of the emotions of shame and anger  to explain the term carried feelings, but fear and anxiety can also be carried feelings. Real writes: “because male depression is so often a carried feeling, recovery frequently involves, or at least invokes, several generations of men…… through the mechanism of carried shame and carried feelings, the unresolved pain of previous generations operates in families like an emotional debt…..” He describes this process of projection of emotions on others in many vignettes. For instance, he writes that the partner of a covertly depressed man “may offer herself up as a scapegoat, expressing his projected vulnerabilities for him. This is a phenomenon called adult-to-adult carried feelings.”

Rick Hanson says anxiety could be viewed as either a trait or a state and over time states can culminate into traits. State anxiety is caused by circumstances, and so, decreasing the frequency of experiences of anxiety and replacing them with experiences of well being can lead to a positive impact on trait anxiety. Terry Real differentiates between states and feelings. He believes that in contrast to states, feelings are specific and anchored in the body of one’s experience. So, within this framework depression is a state, whereas, sadness and anger are feelings. Anxiety is a state, whereas, fear is a feeling. He writes: “The cure for states is feelings. As I discovered that day in the shower, unlike states, which tend to congeal, feelings will run their own course in due time.” In other words if we can let our feelings to be felt they will gradually dissipate.

Rick Hanson suggests five ways to move through anxiety and fear

Accept the emotion and focus on what is basically okay right now. Take in the bigger picture. Be open to the experience, connect to the feelings in the body and rest in a place of empowerment and basic okayness in the moment, separate the emotions from the thoughts, and nurture the self or the old part of the self that is bringing up the emotion. The fear could be about current stressors, but it could also be the implicit memory of past experiences that are being felt in the present. Rick Hanson provides an example from his own childhood, of being afraid of the dark, which is a common childhood experience. It reminded me of my own childhood fear of the dark and two children’s book by illustrators Ingrid and Dieter Schubert**, which rest on our bookshelves. One is about a little girl who is afraid of the dark because she thinks there’s a crocodile under her bed and the other is about a little boy who is afraid of goblins lurking in the dark. In both cases the adults help the children diffuse their fears through engaging with them artistically, painting them and making a crocodile out of egg cartons. To use a psychoanalytic term the children sublimate their fears and through art they diffuse the emotions and associated stories. When my son was young our book reading experiences often evolved into art projects. Ingrid and Dieter Schubert’s illustrations had inspired him to make a similar crocodile out of egg cartons and other scrap material and a big crayon drawing. Part of this drawing has survived intact with the exception of some colours fading and so I’m posting it here today.

Connect with the heart, which could include feeling gratitude and recognising support that is there, touching the heart area and connecting to self compassion, tapping into our loving feelings for ourselves, another or others and practising wishing others well, and finally, tapping into our courage and strengths.  Speaking of tapping we can also use Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping) to process emotions, thoughts or situations that overwhelm us. Connecting with our heart helps us come home to ourself and find a place to stand both within and without.

Take effective action, which could be making a plan or a decision, creating a list of small activities to engage with, reappraising threats and reaching out for help. Taking action is important because feeling trapped in helpless anxiety exacerbates any situation. Being agentic is empowering and it mobilizes us. Meanwhile, it is wise to recognize the limits of our influence both in relation to personal and societal / systemic circumstances.

Surrender to whatever causes our anxiety whether that is frailty as we age or become sick, the ending of relationships, death of a loved one and losses of any kind and magnitude, fear of flying or the universal and often unarticulated or unconscious fear of dying. Also, surrender to the limits of what we can do or change. This is even more challenging because it creates a sense of helplessness and being out of control, but resting in a place of surrender can bring us in touch with our fears and resistance and in doing so help us release emotions. During the talk Rick Hanson mentions the Rorschach test, which is a tool that involves recording people’s perceptions of inkblots and then analyzing the data using interpretation, algorithms, or both. This reference brought up memories of a psychometric course where the professor had brought in a Rorschach type test for us to explore and maybe get an idea of how we could go about using a projective test. The images were not abstract inkblots and it might have been the Thematic Apperception Test or something of that sort. What was surprising was that several colleagues came up with themes to do with existential fears and fear of death, in particular, even though the pictures they were exploring were not all obviously linked to death or old age, which might mean that this type of anxiety often lurks undetected and we may not be aware of it. So getting in touch with it and accepting it can dissipate underlying anxiety.

Finally, some of us may also be temperamentally tilted towards anxiety. Anxiety can also be the result of lifestyle choices, physical ailments or imbalances in the body. Some people are less extroverted and might experience social anxiety. One way to approach this type of stress could be by being more of our authentic self during interactions with others and by holding others and ourself in an unconditional positive regard. Another idea discussed on the podcast is that sometimes we need to finally get in touch with our being fed up with people who want to make us worry constantly and people or forces that are invested in controlling and intimidating us intentionally.

*Terry Real: I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression (1999)

**Ingrid and Dieter Schubert are married and they work together to produce their lovely books. Their first title: There’s a Crocodile Under My Bed! was an immediate success. In 1987 they were awarded the Golden Paintbrush for Where’s My Monkey?

Trauma and technology, male socialization and emotions, healing and well being

“There was a valve in my throat: I knew what I thought and felt deep inside, but little of it came out into the world……” Rick Hanson

“Bio-diversity, like cultural diversity, builds resilience” Roz Carroll

“There is, in humans, a force whose job it is to ameliorate raw biological tendencies. We call it civilization” Terry Real

“Trauma impacts our societal regulation functions…” Thomas Hubl

In this post I am sharing a variety of resources and bits of knowledge I have pondered on or have been engaged with over the last couple of weeks. It is all in one way or another related to trauma, healing and well being.

In the previous post I posted a link to a short video by Thomas Hubl where he compares our relating and intersubjectivity to data-streaming online because we update our relationship, moment to moment, through data-streaming, like a camera that takes many photos and becomes a movie….. But trauma interrupts the data stream because the language of relation is resonance, and resonance needs feeling and sensing. Both the aftereffects of past events and things that may be going on in the present can disrupt the flow of relationships. Carrying on from that thread I am sharing a link to a TED talk by Hubl on The Trauma of Technology at:, which touches upon both the important breakthroughs of technology, but also the risks of unsustainable technological development and how this can manifest as anxiety, disembodiment and disconnect, especially, through abuse of technology and addiction to technology. On the other hand, he suggests that being trauma informed allows us to choose to develop and to use technology to increase connection, restore widespread legacies of trauma in the world and navigate the digital world with deeper awareness. In this sense cyber space can become a warm and respectful place. Roz Carroll claims that as a species we are learning that “network technology can be empowering, inspiring and co-creative. Yet in doing this we have to leap over sensorial absences, maybe for many hours a day, and this risks propelling us to a future of increased dissociation and disembodiment” (cited in Roz Carroll and Jane Ryan, 2020).

Concerning the risk factors of unchecked development and consumption of technology Roz Carroll writes: “We must question, though, the impact of continuous non-sentient, disembodied communication and organisation. We need to appraise the way this may be triggering deep disorientating and destabilising effects on the meaning, significance and experience of our bodies (McLuhan, 2015, cited in Roz Carroll and Jane Ryan, 2020). She continues “Algorithms, CCTV and other forms of surveillance track our every move and channel us towards further consumerism. We are harnessed to systems that continually upgrade, and are designed ‘to keep us running around in digital circles in search of the next dopamine hit’ (Klein, 2019, cited in Roz Carroll and Jane Ryan, 2020).”

Currently, I am also reading a book by Terry Real, I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, on the connection between boys’ socialization within patriarchy and men’s depression, and the passing on of dysfunctional behaviours and beliefs to those who ensue through trauma. He writes: “Each man is a bridge, spanning in his lifetime all of the images and traditions about masculinity inherited from past generations and bestowing— or inflicting— his own retelling of the tale on those who ensue.”

I have chosen an extract from his book that somewhat summarizes  points he highlights in his book:

“I have found that often, once men understand that the old roles are no longer working, once they submit to the necessity of having to change, they are most often excellent students. Men are raised to be good workers. Once they realize that they must work on themselves and on their relationships, they can usually carry it off. My faith in men’s capacity to relearn and reemphasize relational qualities is rooted in the understanding that we human beings are far more similar than dissimilar. And the range of skills and behaviors available to each sex is much broader and more flexible than we once believed. While our polarized vision of men and women carries some undeniable truth, this easy dichotomy obscures how nuanced and how plastic real human attributes are. ….. But the idea that the dichotomy that causes so much suffering in both genders represents an inevitable unfolding of biological destiny does a disservice to our understanding of both nature and nurture, and lends little hope for real change beyond learning to live with our differences………. there are structural differences between men and women, but the real picture is by no means as simple as one might think. There is some indication, for example, that human males are, if anything, more emotional than human females. Male babies have been shown consistently to exhibit greater separation distress when they are left by their mothers, to be more excitable, more easily disturbed, and harder to comfort. And the male’s comparative sensitivity to emotion may carry through, in some ways, into adulthood.

In a fascinating project attempting to map out the physiological correlates to marital interactions, John Gottman “wired” a sample of couples and measured their physiological responses while they communicated. Gottman found that his male sample showed on the whole a greater physiological response to emotional arousal than his female sample, and the men took longer to return to their physiological baseline once aroused. The aversion of many men to strong emotion, Gottman speculates, may not be the result of a diminished capacity to feel, as has been commonly believed, but just the reverse. Because men may bring a heightened biological sensitivity to the experience of feeling, strong emotion might be experienced as aversive, as physiologically overwhelming.

Whether or not one agrees with Gottman’s conclusion, such research represents just one example of the ways in which scrutiny reveals our biological differences to be infinitely more complex than headline-grabbing stereotypes about them. Focus on wholesale differences between the sexes blunts the extraordinary variation between members of each. It also fails to acknowledge that when circumstances change, each gender seems able to access qualities generally linked to the other. And, finally, it does not take into account that biological tendencies may be amended. Just because some human trait is “biological” does not mean, necessarily, that it is acceptable. One could make a case that racism is an extension of xenophobia, the contempt for strangers, and thus may have strong biological roots. But, one rarely hears a passive, fatalistic acceptance of racism…….. There is, in humans, a force whose job it is to ameliorate raw biological tendencies. We call it civilization.

In twenty years of work with men and their families, I have come to see men’s struggles with redeveloping neglected emotional and relational skills as about on a par with women’s struggles to redevelop assertive, instrumental skills. Generally, it seems about as difficult for the sons of Narcissus to open up and listen as it is for the daughters of Echo to speak.

Last but not least. Two more items, one is a short video by Forrest Hanson at:, on how to support our well being and our capacity to simply be when we get caught up in doing too much or doing for the sake of doing and who might be ultimately benefiting from this. He says: “Many powerful people, most powerful people really are benefited by keeping you on the hamster wheel with real success always out of reach…”

And the other is last week’s Just One Thing newsletter by Rick Hanson with the title and theme: Trust Yourself.

He discusses the reasons we close up and put on our masks and how it is okay to be our whole self and trust our deep self.  He writes: “So, as children understandably do, I put on a mask. Closed up, watching warily, and managing the performance of “me.” There was a valve in my throat: I knew what I thought and felt deep inside, but little of it came out into the world……….. Meanwhile, if you are like me and every single person I have ever known who has decided to trust one’s own deep self, you will find so much that’s right inside: so much knowing of what’s true and what matters, so much life and heart, so many gifts waiting to be given, so many strengths. Be your whole self; it’s your whole self that you can trust. This day, this week, this life – see what happens when you bet on yourself, when you back your own play. See what happens when you let yourself fall backward into your own arms, trusting that they will catch you.”