Continuing my look at males and trauma, this blog focuses on the second of three points identified in my initial post:
We raise men not to see trauma or see experiences in their lives as traumatic, difficult, or painful. It is against the code of being a man and so, as young boys, we and others convince us over and over again that it wasn’t trauma.
I am going to explore why men’s trauma is so invisible—to us, let alone to so many of the service providers in front of whom we often find ourselves. The invisibility of men’s trauma is definitely a part of The Water. Trauma may mean “wound” in Greek, but in the language of men it means “weak.” And the last thing men want to feel like or appear as is weak.
Men’s trauma is invisible to us, to those working with us, and to the addiction field as a whole. For almost a decade I—and many others—have been banging the drum trying to wake up the fields of addiction and mental health to the reality of male trauma. Unfortunately, as my experience has shown, a staggering number of men and women working in the field have yet to really see or deal with their own trauma—how can they be expected to see anyone else’s?
That goes double for men, for all of the reasons I have talked about in my previous two posts. I have yet to do a workshop or training and not have at least one man come up to me and say, “But I never thought of that as trauma.” And their whole worldview has been changed because they have finally given themselves permission to acknowledge the deep pain they have been carrying around. They have been able to hear the message that, yes indeed, real men have trauma.
But it takes a lot to get that message through to a lot of men. And once it gets through, there are numerous layers it has to travel to help the healing—and that can take years. Over 10 years into my own trauma recovery journey, I am still humbled by the unfolding truth of how trauma has affected me, especially in my closest relationships.
The invisibility of male trauma is embedded in the Man Rules: Don’t cry, don’t be vulnerable, don’t ask for help, don’t show softer feelings. The list of infractions against the human spirit goes on and on. And I cannot repeat enough: We learn these Rules so young, from so many different sources, long before we have the freedom of choice in the matter. We cannot process the impact of what is happening to us. We know that if we stop crying, we experience some degree of safety. We know if we stop showing fear, we stop getting made fun of and might even get respect. We know that if we don’t admit feeling hurt or showing pain, we likely won't have names and criticisms hurled at us from every direction. That is how we swallow the pain of trauma and tell ourselves, over and over again:
It was nothing.
That was then, this is now.
I was a child then; I am a grown man now.
I was a pain in the ass as a kid; I deserved it.
They were only trying to help me become a man.