As I stated in my most recent blog on males and trauma, “Embedded in the framework of trauma that was developed 40 years ago is the idea of the male as perpetrator (as discussed in Agreement #5 of the Eight Agreements on Males, Trauma and Addiction Recovery). Agreement #5 states: “Males are often assumed to be the perpetrator, which has negatively biased our concepts of trauma and models for addiction treatment, and often results in the re-traumatization of males.”
This is a powerful and clearly provocative assertion. As the one who wrote the first draft of the Agreements, I can tell you it was out of a place of defiance and anger that I wrote this one. I knew how provocative it was. I had no idea how it would be received. There was a lot of discussion on this agreement at a May 2013 summit, which was the first time national experts and persons with lived experience came together from the addictions and mental health worlds to focus specifically on the areas of males, addiction, and trauma recovery. I must give great credit to the women who were present, who not only supported the idea but did so without defensiveness or equivocation. In fact, I would go so far as to say that from this discussion, the male attendees truly felt the support of the women who were present and knew that our truth was going to be honored.
So, how did we get here?
When community-based services were first being developed 40 years ago, it was driven primarily by women who were finally bringing to light some of the most horrific actions human beings can take against another: sexual abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, physical abuse, and many other forms of violence, abuse and neglect. This was a truly significant milestone in the transformation of the universal human narrative. Unfortunately, there was a hidden cost that I do not think was intentional. Who were the victims in the vast majority of these circumstances? Women and children. Who were the perpetrators? Men. So why care about men’s trauma if they are perpetrators?
That is precisely how the idea of “male as perpetrator” became embedded in our frameworks for trauma. Male trauma became hidden, if not completely ignored. Sometimes it is overt, but most of the time it is insidious. The idea has become embedded in our justice system, our service delivery systems, and our collective conscience. Just listen to any number of the putative relationship experts out there talk about men, and you’ll hear it. It’s everywhere.
This idea is absolutely a part of “The Water” that I refer to—the reality in which we swim and are so often unaware. Many men whom I have worked with have internalized this idea as well, leading many who are engaged in violent and abusive behavior to believe they are not worth compassion, love, forgiveness and healing. These men do not understand the complex interaction among male socialization, trauma and violence, and as a result they see themselves as violent, bad, perpetrators, and batterers (and we do also). It becomes a core part of their identity.