Abstract: In this long article, I hope to illustrate how men emotionally collapse (part 1), explain what is happening for a man when this occurs, including the larger historical + cultural context (part 2), examine the external impact of a man’s collapse on the world around him (part 3), reveal 3 ways to deal with a man in a collapsed state, or mantrum (part 4), and reveal the 3 ways men – who are ready – can step into their healing (part 5).
Here are links to the parts:
Part 1: “Two Sides of the Same, All-About-Me Coin”
I’ll start with a story.
On the way from Seattle, a major tooth ache led me to need to cancel my connecting flight, book a hotel room and get an appointment with a root-canal specialist the following morning.
I’m standing on the curb outside Denver International Airport, during a snowstorm, with no friend to pick me up, no hotel room, and I get a text from a friend telling me that root canals cause cancer (at best debatable and at worst deeply reactionary and untrue, although I did not know that at the time).
The whole situation was all a result of some bad dental work I had been encouraged to get when I did not need it.
Kicking myself for being where I was, my tooth aching, the snow hitting my face, I felt scared, alone and way, way out of connection with how I wanted my life to be.
It was a familiar feeling.
The kind of feeling when, as a child, I would burst into tears.
The kind of feeling where, as a teenager, I would lash out at a teacher and been sent to the principal’s.
The kind of feeling that, as an adult, I try to hide from others because I have learned from experience that nothing good comes from me expressing my fear and my frustration.
I finally got myself a hotel room nearby.
When the hotel shuttle finally showed up about 45 minutes later – after the receptionist had told me no more than 30 minutes – I made a very snappy remark to the shuttle driver while handing him my bag.
I felt super annoyed, and I let him know it.
I felt like he deserved the fullness of my ire.
After all, he had been late. Later than the hotel had promised me.
The driver nodded, took my bag, and continued on, loading the other guests’ bags. I grumpily about-faced and walked around the side of the shuttle, getting in first, getting a seat up front.
The other travelers filed in one at a time, bending over and shuffling sideways to get seats in the back of the van.
I sat to the side, behind the driver, staring at my phone.
As he rode us all to our hotels, the shuttle filled with a disturbing silence that felt like my fault. I started to feel super ashamed, like everything was my fault.
It felt like I was literally off-gassing my terrible vibe.
As the shuttle bumped along through the slushy dark, I sat quietly. Clouds of falling snow illuminated under lamp posts.
All was so peaceful. All was so calm.
All. Except for me.
I was angry, alone, annoyed, scared, resentful, bitter and vengeful.
The shuttle bumped along, almost smugly.
One by one, a number of realizations began to occur to me.
First: As a third-party shuttle, the driver has to pick-up and deliver guests to something like 12 hotels. Couldn’t he be forgiven for not hewing exactly to the 30 minute schedule?
What if he had to drop off people at all 12 of the hotels last time around?
Second: Perhaps he’s had a bad day. Maybe even a worse day than me! Who knows what’s going on in his life?
Why should I assume negligence on his part?
Third: Why was I not feeling grateful? Here I was, warm inside a van, gracefully bouncing along in a snow storm. Soon to be tucked into a warm hotel bed.
Why was I poisoning the environment with my bitterness about the late shuttle?
Why was I still focused on what was no longer present?
Lastly, I noticed a pattern: Being so scared about my tooth problem – I was juggling multiple care options, including extraction and a root canal, and truly did not know what to do – combined with the cold outside, the aloneness, the difficulty getting a hotel room, the late shuttle driver – it all felt of a piece.
It was overwhelming.
It felt like I was on the ropes and the universe was delivering body shot after body shot. Like I was on the receiving end of my negative experience.
And then, from within the pattern, I noticed something interesting: not 100% of my experience was happening to me. I was contributing to my sour experience with the way I was responding to things.
I noticed myself doing a lot of the pummeling.
Not only wasn’t I leading and proactively choosing my reactions to things – reacting, instead, out of fear, feeling like a victim – I had zero gratitude for the simple things that were showing up.
The two-headed hydra of my ego had two names: victim and entitled.
So I was doubly bitter.
Scared, alone and a victim – and critical, impatient and entitled.
Two sides of the same, all-about-me coin.
My alienation from flow, from gift, from gratitude was complete.
And it dawned on me. If I stayed alienated, I was likely to make decisions from a place of victimhood and entitlement that would keep me out of the flow.
And in the context of my present health issue, my tooth, this felt like a major risk, a major red flag.
I had to get back in to flow, get back to my center.
My health depended on it.
I had to find a way to swim back up stream, to somehow turn and face the tide of shit funneling into my experience. To learn how to make lemonade out of lemons.
It did not occur to me as something I wanted to do, or even as something I knew how to do.
It occurred as bitter, thankless, clunky, and even embarrassing.
But I knew I had to begin, that the stakes were too high for the luxury of my entitlement/victim channel.
And I knew exactly how to begin.
As I exited the shuttle, I prepared a $2 tip (all I had) and handed it to the driver along with the most sincere “Thank you” I could transmit.
He didn’t seem to notice, handed me my bag, and did not make eye contact.
OK, I thought. Fair way to start.
I didn’t deserve more than that anyway.
I headed into the hotel, dragging my bag along the bumpy anti-slip mat, through the double doors.
Up stream, towards the next test.
“Eating bitter means to turn and face life. Getting rid of denial, then, means getting used to the flavor of ‘bitter,’ getting used to having that flavor of bitter truth in the mouth.” -Robert Bly
Part 2: “Living Out of the Gift”
man-trum : noun : When a grown man throws a tantrum when he can’t have his way.
Rick had a mantrum when he found out he couldn’t have McDonald’s for dinner.
Source: Urban Dictionary
I call this experience living out of the gift.
What that means is, I’m not relating to reality as happening for me (gift).
Instead, I’m relating to reality as happening to me (victim).
I’m having the modern ego experience.
I’m out of my center.
I’m not creating my world.
My life is happening to me, and I’m responding to the world as if it is constantly burdening me.
Meanwhile, from this place of fear, overwhelm, confusion and almost soul-level paranoia, I’m chronically asking the question: “Where is what I want going to come from?”
But none of this is conscious.
Like a baby (like a baby should), I have this deep, unexamined expectation that resources and pleasure should simply flow to me – which, unsurprisingly, leads me to experience a familiar sense of victim-ness when what I need or want doesn’t arrive.
And so rather than experiencing life as a stream of surprising and occasionally uncomfortable gifts, my tripped up, cornered-like-a-dog state has me in a cycle of reinforcement in which I feel alternately destined for abandonment and entitled to nurturance.
And critically, I arrive at this state without any warning, because the purpose of this experience can only be to wake me up to the ways I am still behaving with an outdated (read: immature) map of the universe.
A quick history lesson.
Across many indigenous traditions it was known to be essential that young people – especially men – become initiated. Why especially men?
Because men did not experience child birth, and were therefore much less likely to be burdened with the instinctive biological love of their progeny, it was known that they had less of a tie to the social group.
As able bodied young men, they could leave the group whenever they wanted, and for any reason.
Further, with no one or nothing to live for, they could be wantonly destructive to the tribe, with unthinkable consequences to the lives of its members.
Uninitiated men would simply have no need to be aware of their impact on the world or group around them.
And so, indigenous people knew, they had to create a powerful enough experience to the male psyche – at or before the moment of sexual maturity – that the initiate fell deep enough in love with something other, and ideally bigger, than his own preservation.
The survival of the tribe itself depended on it.
Without initiation, men did not have to update their map of the universe to account for the fact that mommy is no longer waiting around with her breast for us to suck on.
Initiation updated this map.
While there is evidence that the indigenous ancestors of modern people of Northern European descent – white people’s ancestors – practiced such initiation rites, all of those rites along with the culture that held them have been almost completely lost.
We no longer initiate men.
Therefore, even the best men among us – myself included, as you just read – will occasionally experience situations that would be non-sequitur to an initiated man.
It is these experiences that tell us, something has gone wrong.
They tell us that, somehow, while we were sleeping, the World changed.
Somehow, without wanting to or trying to, we have been led to believe that the World exists for our pleasure, for our nourishment.
And, worse, we have led ourselves to believe that, in any momentary absence of our pleasure and nourishment, the World should be immediately modified to remedy this failure.
And so, while the World changed, and at the behest of our own, terrifying vulnerability, we men invented patriarchy, and we encoded it “dominion over nature.”
How else to deal with the terrifying reality of “mama gone?”
And this is the cross-roads many a man stands at today: To grow up and take responsibility for the entirety of his needs, wants and emotions, or to hold those around him emotionally, economically and materially hostage for the fact that he is upset by his experience.
Many men are living mostly in the latter – and in active resistance of the former.
Most of us wrestle with some combination of these, every single day.
But it’s the men on the edge – the men with a true desire to move decisively into the hard won and bitter glory of the former that I believe is worth spending energy on.
Men whose yearning to live a soul-directed life outweighs – even if by just the tiniest margin – their desire for emotional safety.
Men willing to trade comfort for shelter, as Martin Shaw so incisively puts it.
Part 3: “Squeezing a Crying Baby Through the Socially-Constructed Face of an Adult Male”
“Stop crying for milk and become a breast!” -Martín Prechtel
How do we men occur to others – from the outside – when we are identified with this monster of our ego, through our victimhood and our entitlement?
We can seem distant, aloof, annoyed, arrogant or difficult.
We may seem wounded, confused, alone, child-like, or sad.
We can wear a kind of scowl on our face, on our emotional sleeve, that serves both as an ever-present complaint as well as a protective buffer against further injury.
Our eyebrows may fall to the sides in a look of helplessness and anxiety.
It’s as if we’re saying, simultaneously, “Where is what is owed to me (entitlement)?” and “But I didn’t do anything (victim)!”
It’s the face you get when you take the emotional charge of a crying baby and squeeze it through the rugged, socially constructed face of an adult male.
It’s almost easier to describe this energetic posture by describing what it is not.
It is not open.
It does not feel easy to collaborate with, or to relate to.
It does not feel relaxing to be around.
It does not feel generous in its vigilance, though it might advertise itself as “providing.”
It is vaguely menacing even, making others scan themselves in concern.
A person might wonder:
“Have I done something to offend this man? He seems annoyed, frustrated, concerned. We must find a remedy for him immediately. His discomfort is paramount.”
It is in this response that we see a social mechanism that makes such behavior so difficult to shift.
We make excuses for the inexcusable, often out of imbalances of economic or social power.
Hence the power of a white man to expect a speedy resolution to his over-cooked steak, while a woman who has been sexually harassed by the same man is urged not to cause a stir.
Alternatively, bystanders might think:
“What a baby. Throwing his adolescent energy around with zero awareness of the impact on others. A piece of shit at the center of the universe. Don’t waste my time.”
And yet, given the imbalances of power alluded to above, and the older and more powerful the man, it is unlikely such an opinion will be voiced, and unlikelier still it will be heeded as the boundary (and guidepost, for him) that it is.
Part 4: “3 Ways to Deal with a Man in a Collapsed State”