by Norman M. Brown Ph.D. |
Indeed, in mainstream American culture, boys have been raised to shun or dampen down over half of the nine inborn emotions (interest/excitement, joy, surprise, fear, anger, distress/anguish, shame/humiliation, disgust/dislike, dissmell/contempt). Older boys and men have taught them that to show fear and distress (aka sorrow) is shameful, as is shame itself, so these are kept out of awareness as much as possible. And even surprise and joy must be minimized except for special circumstances. We will need several additional writings to flesh out all five of these emotions as they act to build a strait-jacket around men’s hearts, so we’ll just give brief examples here of three: surprise, joy and distress.
Men avoid surprise by an automatic dampening command: “That wouldn’t surprise me a bit.” By declaring themselves incapable of surprise, men prevent themselves from experiencing awe and wonder and thus short-circuit the path from careful attention to anything truly new to their perception and curtail the potential for new learning. Joy is the feeling most connected to intimate bonding with other creatures, whether human or other animals. But men learn to keep their enjoyment constrained within habitual boundaries, in order to keep their pleasures under careful control. Nowhere does men’s need to control positive feelings show up more painfully than in their discomfort and the contempt they openly or secretly feel toward women’s more exuberant expression of joy.
Distress/anguish is the third emotion underdeveloped in men. Many men have surface friendships through their workplace, clubs, bars or shared leisure activities, but beneath that they’re lonely for the few “best friends” they once had in young adulthood before they began to meet all their closeness needs with just one woman. Their awareness of separation distress when a beloved person is unavailable is usually shut down by shame over “needy” feelings they “shouldn’t have.” So they are often unaware of any motivation to reach out to the other men and women they admire. Since such men are isolated and lack social skills, they rely their woman to provide them with a social network as well as satisfy their need for ongoing personal contact and exposure to emotions they would rather respond to than broadcast on their own. Many women who supply the love and greater emotional fluency that supports their families are aware of the burdens they bear to reconnect the men who have neglected to develop this aspect of their humanity.
Although women are generally much more fluent emotionally than men, they may not choose to practice conscious reflection in pursuit of changes that serve to meet the challenges that our present global crises call for. For their socialization towards developing emotional skills needed to serve the goals of loving prepare them well for this traditional contribution of caregiving but not for the exercise of power that is needed to reset the balance in humanity and rectify our current relationship with the world.
To accomplish this, women will need to work on one main underdeveloped emotion, anger. Women need to become more aware of when they feel anger, which can occur gradually when they give each other permission to practice expressing it—beginning with their faces. In our culture the response to women’s anger is rarely positive. Women have learned to feel ashamed of anger, because shame is the gatekeeper of all socially undesirable emotions. Anger is more undesirable for women than for men in American culture because its intensity naturally draws attention and good women are not supposed to be the center of attention unless they are very beautiful and eager to please others.
In our culture the response to a woman’s anger is rarely positive. Men especially experience fear, perhaps fear of their own violence, when a woman expresses anger in their presence, even when the anger is not about them. Thus, in the process of bringing anger into their repertoire of fluency, women must be willing to bear their shame without denying its discomfort, just as men must bear their shame while expressing distress and fear. Only then can women begin to practice ways to make their anger fruitful and claim their power. And in today’s world-wide political crises women’s anger and their socially focused activism are clearly essential to rectifying the balance of power in humanity by pushing back against predatory exploitation of underrepresented people, animals and natural resources in our world.
The Love and Power Institute operates weekly Men’s and Women’s growth groups to assist in the development of these and other underutilized emotions introduced above. We also offer coeducational weekend workshops to engage intensively with these emotions and to apply interpersonal empathy for simultaneous and rapid enhancement of the emotional fluency of both sexes.