I am indebted for this to Fawn Weaver and the Happy Wives club for her essay on how to never argue with your husband. What she shares is not only good marriage advice it is good advice for living. It helped me connect the dots between authenticity, anger, wounds and self based shame statements. All things I have learned through therapy, Journey into Manhood and the work of John Eldredge. In her essay Mrs. Weaver described an appearance by Rosie O’Donnell on the Oprah show. Now before you male readers give up on me thinking “what could I possibly learn about being a better man from these two women?” It turns out quite a bit.
O’Donnell was on Oprah’s show talking about her recent ouster from the show “The View” after an altercation with Barbara Walters. Here is how Mrs. Weaver described the discussion.
“Oprah asked, “Do you regret that moment?”
“Yes, I do,” O’Donnell responded. She said she regretted using her words as weapons and how her out-of-control rage “scared” Walters.
What O’Donnell said next confounded even the talk-show host herself: “For me, at that moment, if I had been braver, I would have just cried and said, ‘You really hurt my feelings.’”
Clearly dumbfounded, Oprah clapped her hands as if having one of her famous aha moments and said, “That is so interesting! That you would say, ‘If I had been braver, I would have just cried.’ Because oftentimes crying is perceived as the weak thing to do.”
She then asked O’Donnell why crying would have been braver than yelling and saying hurtful words.
“Because then you’re vulnerable. Then the authentic feeling that I had, [which] was pain and hurt and rejection [would have come out].” Instead, as she told Oprah, she put on the same armor she’d chosen to protect her since she was a child. She shielded her vulnerability, and masked her hurt feelings, with anger.”
This is probably one of the most important things men need to understand about how we misuse our anger. Anger is one of the “accepted” emotions for men. It is one of the few that do not feel emasculating and so it is one of the few that we allow ourselves to feel around those who we love the most. As a result anger often is one of the most destructive in our lives because of when and how we use it. That is because it is often not the real emotion that we are feeling.
When I am feeling angry, usually there is something underneath it, something that came first. There is some vulnerable part of me that is exposed that I am trying to protect. The Godly purpose of healthy anger is to give me the strength and determination to set healthy boundaries. But what happens in my most intimate relationships is supposed to be mostly about authenticity and bonding – vulnerability and connection. Most men use anger in their most intimate relationships to build walls and to disconnect in order to protect the parts of themselves they hide deny and repress from exposure – to others or themselves.
I use anger to cover up, to provide a fig leaf to protect and hide something of myself that might otherwise be exposed. Am I feeling fear? Sadness? Disappointment? Insecurity? Anger both hides these vulnerable embarrassing “weak” emotions from others and from me. It prevents me from feeling vulnerable. My anger is actually shame based anger. Once I begin to understand that I begin to understand that shame based anger gets me exactly the opposite of what I really want and that is the real tragedy.
What is it that I am really needing when I am angry. Someone had hurt me. Someone has done something to disappointment me. Someone has not respected me or not valued me. I want to communicate my hurt to someone who loves me so they will hear my heart and not do it again. But instead of showing them my heart I use anger to hide and to protect and to defend my very wounded and vulnerable self, the needy part of me that is simultaneously needing to say “you hurt me, please don’t hurt me again” and through my anger instead saying “I don’t need you.”
There is also an important internal dynamic. I have a message that I am receiving an external message. “They don’t value me.” “They don’t see my worth.” “They don’t honor or respect me”. But the reason the message resonates and the reason that this is the message I hear is because I carry wounds in those areas. These trigger parallel messages in me that I may have carried for a long time, messages from my past. I am not valuable. I don’t have value. I am don’t have respect. One of the difficulties that so many young couples have early in marriage is that young love consists mostly in projection and transference of other people from your past onto the other person so it is very easy for something they say to trip the wire that sets off one of these long buried booby traps. So what I initially feel isn’t anger, it is sadness, hurt, and of course the real enemy – shame.
But as a man unless I have been very intentional about living an authentic life, these emotions are deeply disturbing. So disturbing I cannot allow myself to feel them at a conscious level. So they are kept in shadow, in the subconscious, impacting my behavior certainly but in ways I am unaware of. The level of awareness depends on how much I have allowed God access to my hidden places. I am likely in many cultures to view emotions like hurt as feminine emotions or something as a man I am not supposed to have or at least not supposed to admit to so I am used to not allowing myself to admit to or even feel them. What I am aware of is anger. What I am willing to admit to is anger. What I am willing to show is anger.
If I have done some work in the area of wounds and emotions, if I have allowed God’s grace to operate in my shadow areas of my hidden emotions and feelings, then I may use the anger rightly and I may allow myself to fully feel the anger without lashing out but start asking the right questions. Where is the anger coming from? What lies behind the anger? What are the emotions that I am really feeling that anger helps me avoid. I may realize that behind the anger is something else. Fear, sadness, shame. If I can’t work through that on my own there are men in many of the communities like JIM, or JOEL who can who has done this kind of work and can help lead me through it and help me ask the right questions and eventually I can find my joy again.
Recently I found myself in a situation and processed these exact emotions. Again I have a debt to pay to David Pickup for giving me understanding about the kinds of questions to ask myself to help me process myself through this. The actual process took less time to do than it will take you to read but each step is important because each step helped free me from the lies that these kinds of shaming experiences bring up. It is important to note that an adult cannot be shamed by another person. We can only shame ourselves, but the process of self shame in response to a trigger from our past is often so automatic and swift that it is difficult to distinguish it from being shamed. The distinction is important though because with wisdom and understanding and a sometimes a little revelation of the truth from God it can be stopped or undone.
I am part of an osa men’s group that puts on weekends modeled after the John Eldridge weekends that he does in Colorado. They are based on the book “Wild at Heart” which takes a very spiritual look at wounds but also borrows heavily from the early pioneers of men’s work and the same Jungian psychology of the male psyche that is a framework for much of the best ssa interventions I am familiar with. Of course Jung borrowed heavily from male bonding and initiation ceremonies and understandings from cultures around the globe noting the universal themes in male interaction and development.
There are two sessions in the weekend that I see as crucial and that are usually presented by a good friend of mine. I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but I feel a strong connection to those sessions. I judge that I have a much deeper understanding of the material as intended by Eldridge. I believe I know how Eldridge who was trained in developmental psychology developed his understanding of the material because of my familiarity with developmental psychology and the men who Eldridge quotes in his book and my familiarity with their work. My friend does not have any of that to call on. I am also a skilled teacher and public speaker and an empathetic presenter and judge that I would do an excellent job of presenting. I have made the offer to present to the leader of the group many times. Each time he has always indicted that he wants me to present at some point and that it would be logical for me to present these sessions yet each time I have asked there has been some reason for me not to present “at this camp”. It has been disappointing but I am usually very happy to let others take a lead position and step back and be in a support position. Part of that tendency to prefer to stay in the background has been because I believed shadow messages from my past that I don’t have a lot to offer so I should stay in the background. More recently though I have begun to believe more and more that God has equipped me through everything I have been through and a desire to offer all of myself and not hold back has begun to come forward in me. That is a relatively new passion but I am feeling it more and more.
This week right after the camp the leader of the ministry at dinner was describing a conversation he had with one of the women about the women’s camp which is put on by some of the wives of the membership in the men’s group. He had encouraged one of the women to step forward and to ask to present at the women’s camp. He described how that as he encouraged her that she shared how she thought things were being missed in the presentation and that she thought she could do a better job. He described with some glee how he encouraged her then to step up and push to present next time and how happy it made him to see her gather her courage to possibly do that.
Well I began to get angry. But I have been in this work long enough that I knew that I needed to look behind that. What was behind that anger. What I realized was that behind the anger was hurt. The message I heard whispered in my ear was, “why doesn’t he encourage you like that?” “what does he see in her that he doesn’t see in you?” And that was quickly followed by, “he doesn’t value you.” “He doesn’t trust you.” And these messages triggered shame statements from the past such as, “I have nothing to offer other men” and “no matter how hard I try if someone knows my stuff I’m never going to be as good or as valuable or as worthy or as… fill in the blank …as a straight man to him.” Oh that last one bites. With a history of friends abandoning me after telling them what I struggled with that last one really bites.
So the real emotions are sadness and shame and they come from those old messages and the anger is shame based anger. So what do I do with those true feelings? Well first I don’t need to deny that I am feeling them. I am feeling sadness and I am feeling anger but they are not coming from a healthy place. They are based in shame. I am not going to beat myself up for feeling them. That would just be piling on more shame. I am not going to pretend I am not feeling them or say do what so many in the Church advise, “just stop it because it isn’t “Christ like” to feel those bad emotions which piles on more shame. All that would only feed my ssa. I allow myself to feel and I address the shame and the beliefs that have brought up the shame and the shame based sadness and shame based anger.
Now that I know they are coming from shame I need to address the shame statements at the root of the shame. Are those statements true? It is important to be able to articulate them. They basically are of three types. Do I have value in an intrinsic way? Do I have something of value to offer other men? Do I have value and something to offer in the eyes of this particular man who triggered the hurt and anger? That is where the work I am doing with David Pickup has been helpful.
The first question to ask of the shame statement is, is it true? Is the statement, “I am worthless” true? Well just objectively no it isn’t true. I have intrinsic value. God, the most objective source imaginable says I have value. Since He says I do I must. And there are people in my life including the leader of my group who have been very consistent in loving me that have shown me I have value so I must have value. So is the statement “I don’t have anything of value to offer other men” true. Well in my gut I say it is not true. The second stage is to come out of my emotions and think rationally, come let us reason together, and ask what is the objective evidence. Well the evidence is that I have a lot to offer. I have been able to help many men in both group settings and individually, both ssa and osa men. It simply is not true. And I have been assured by God that He has equipped me for the challenges I face and there is no more objective authority than God. And the leader of the group has talked to me about the influence I have on the men in the group so he sees me and the value I have to offer other men. So the next step is to ask why. Why did I believe those lies? And that takes me to the wound. That is the many times my father and my peers have treated me in disrespectful, hurtful, or dismissive ways. I can ask myself, did I deserve that and no I didn’t.
Now for the second class of questions that delve into the question of am I trusted by this man, or once I tell a man of my ssa will I never quite measure up compared to another osa man. Deciding if this is true or not is a lot tougher. My emotion are more difficult to get out of the way because there is a lot of hurt historically around this. So that is part of what makes it difficult and I have a lot and I do mean a lot of bad experience around this. Ok, let’s assume this is true for “some” men. The next question is, why? Does this have anything to do with my shame statement? Does this say I am not valuable? Does this say I am not as valuable as an osa man? Does it say that I don’t have as much to offer as an osa man. The answer is no. So although some osa men may not be able to get past my ssa that isn’t about me its about them and I still have a lot to offer other men. The only thing left is does this man not trust me to present and from his letter I have to conclude that for the present the answer is yes. So the question is why? Not why does he not trust me but why does he not trusting me bring up shame statements and why does he not trusting me matter to me? Well I have had a lot of people in my life who should have been there for me who let me down when the rubber sort of hit the road. So there is a template there where I am used to this kind of thing bringing these statements up. But are they TRUE. The answer is no they aren’t. They are lies. Even if this one man doesn’t trust me with a particular task it really doesn’t matter. That is his problem not mine. I have nothing to prove to him and nothing to accomplish here. His opinion has nothing to do with who I am and my value and what I have to offer. It is just his opinion. That’s all. The belief that his opinion matters is a lie. Renounce the lies. They have no power over me.
The next question is where did I learn these lies? The answer is beginning with my father but mostly this was a peer wound. I learned from friends and those who hurt me that I was nothing to them. Did I deserve that? No I did not. Knowing that these are lies, that they have no power over me, knowing that they have limited and caused me unnecessary pain, what do I feel? The answer is anger and sadness. But this anger and sadness are not from shame. They are from a place of assertion and awareness of my value and that I am valued. From that place I am no longer controlled by the lies and the shame from my past. I am no longer angry at my friend and mentor because I know that it is the lies and the deception that is the source of my hurt and that is where my anger is directed.
So is it ok to feel sad or angry or hurt. Absolutely. The key is authenticity and the most important person to be authentic with is myself. Authentic emotions are always ok but it is what I do with them that needs to be controlled. Let yourself feel sad or angry. Let yourself feel your genuine emotions. There is nothing wrong with them. Let yourself feel them with someone who understands and can validate you’re right to feel them. The key is to live authentically with others and with yourself. But sometimes that means asking yourself some tough questions.