September, 2000

I occasionally see a commercial on TV that makes me oddly uncomfortable and more. There is a voice-over for a men's magazine that makes it clear that this magazine is for real men. Besides making a statement that seems to say that real men are interested in good food and bad women, the voice talks of what real men should be uninterested in. The voice makes it clear that this magazine is not for those trying to find their inner child. Obviously real men either don't have an inner child, or they don't care about them. A man should be thinking of manly things, not childish things. 

My discomfort arises because I don't want to put down other men, yet I get irritated when other men put me down. And they put me down when they put down someone very close to me, the vulnerable boy inside. Get macho maybe, but don't get personal.

Then I get really angry. The warrior in me, another part of my inner life, starts to see red. As a counselor I have experienced amazing breakthroughs when men have contacted that vulnerable boy in their feeling life. Recognizing the origins of certain feelings, especially those labeled unmanly, has given many men a key to a richer sense of life and a wonderful sense of self acceptance. To imply that the process of self awareness, symbolized by inner child work, is unmanly gives my blood pressure a jolt.

The attitude of indifference to the inner life is at the core of men's woundedness. The uninspired male practicality of dealing only with what's at hand, and can be fixed instantly has a sad, tragic component to it. This attitude usually goes along with the one about not being able to change the past, presumably making it foolish to think about one's own history. Putting aside feelings for a higher purpose has its place. That is even a truly manly virtue. Permanently putting them aside causes men to invariably blame their pain on someone else, because problems are all out there. Men, then, tend to get even while the the real problem gets worse.

Addiction is a real problem all man have to struggle with. Most addictions are the result of neglected inner children going amok. The frustrated, angry, neglected child is desperately running the show. That is why every craving must be satisfied immediately, just like an impatient child. Cravings from earlier times, cravings unaddressed, can take over a man's life in ways that bring him childlike euphoria followed by intense unhappiness. The paradox of modern society is that it is composed mostly of boys in men's bodies, boys sorely tempted by an addictive culture. And the boys are hurting so much that addiction seems the only answer.

Some men, represented by the aforementioned magazine, can rationalize this dark boyishness by calling it manhood. A real man has passions that need to be satisfied. One woman or one drink is not enough. Addictions are fine as long as they're manly addictions. Boys will be boys. Controlled passions are no passions at all.

Most of the men I work with have been overwhelmed by a boy inside. The inner pain is too intense to ignore, and the problems too insolvable. It is a surprise to most men when I tell them that it is the child who is carrying most of their pain, and their longing. They are shocked when I tell them their intense loneliness and depression is the child feeling an old abandonment wound. They are confused when I tell them their anger is an unconscious way to anaesthetize that child's pain, just like addiction is. They don't want to hear that they need to look inside for their outside problems. Starting that venture is very uncomfortable.

Just as real men have orphaned the boy inside, they have not dared to venture inside their own soul. Men have been taught to ignore the child inside just as they have been taught to ignore their inner pain. Acknowledging both seems unmanly. Yet the child is themselves. I should say the child is ourselves. We will feel the boy inside one way or another. Why not acknowledge that boy as we would acknowledge our own son. He is just as vulnerable, just as much in need of our help.

The boy inside needs our attention. That is why I get uncomfortable getting so mad at wrongheaded commercials. How can I get mad at a man who has such a vulnerable child inside, who is really, at heart, a vulnerable boy seeking some recognition. I try to be understanding with this macho stuff because the man is really as orphaned as the boy. In our society young men have been routinely orphaned by older men. For many boys who are growing up, the only model left is the 'real man' of the media.

Healing the child liberates the man. As the child is healed a man has more energy and motivation to take up the role of mature father and wise elder. A society of these real men has few orphans, inside or out.