Knots in my stomach, tightness in my chest, a stabbing feeling in my heart—those are the standard symptoms and they’re usually accompanied by one or more of the following: dizziness, blurred vision, closed-up throat, hot sweats, clammy hands, body weakness, shrunken junk, and nausea.
That’s the physical.
Mentally and emotionally, it’s a complete shattering to the core followed by a feeling of free-fall emptiness, then desolate loneliness followed by panicked analysis, and, finally, lost and desperate grasping.
That’s what relationships have done to me. And now that I understand how things work, that’s what I allowed to happen to myself.
There’s been a huge outcry from women this past year about the pain and suffering they have endured at the hands of men. It was kept silent for so long and finally voiced on a large scale. It’s amazing, and I could not be more supportive.
Since I was little, I’ve found most of my comfort in the company of women. Mom was my refuge, and when she wasn’t around, I remember preferring to play with girls while many of my fellow male classmates roughhoused with the boys. As a teen, I daydreamed in class of my afternoons spent with them and then relished going to their homes and being surrounded by all their mysterious and alluring bedroom charms.
For a minute, I questioned my sexuality because of it, but I knew deep down the draw was to hetero relationships. Then as an adult, I became a hopeless romantic, drunk on each girlfriend’s love, worshiping the ground they walked on. Finally, I’m now a father to a daughter who is my everything. Nine years of perfect little womanhood in the works. I cherish women—but they have also been the catalyst for a lifetime of pain and suffering.
In order to cover my “manliness tracks,” and for the record, I’m not meaning to be melodramatic, nor seeking a pity party, nor indicating that my suffering has been a constant 24/7 battle or anything where I can’t “toughen up” and “handle it like a man.” I recognize that I’ve had a pretty good life and, believe me, in this day and age, even as progressive as the world may seem, it takes serious cojones to admit this stuff.
Then, for the ladies, I’m not suggesting or stacking my pain up against the trauma and devastation of rape or other sexual abuse. I realize the severity pales in comparison, and I have nothing but the most absolute, sincere empathy for what you’ve endured.
That’s where I find myself drawn to speak up, because, with the exception of some periodic phases of verbal, chauvinistic behavior during my life (which were in an effort to feel better and will be explained shortly), I have never, nor would I ever, consider inflicting any more pain and suffering on a woman.
Here comes the controversy and quite possibly the outrage; I hope you’ll have an open mind and heart and keep reading.
For many men, myself included, the story of gender abuse is actually a complete reversal of the “they need to be held accountable” blanket that gets tossed over men. Believe it or not, there are countless men in this world who have suffered and continue to endure daily abuse at the hands of women. It is all as a result of a major dilemma in our society—the need to point a finger.
In order to explain, we need to take a quick course in the way people (men and woman alike) tend to deal with emotional pain. Very simply, we experience pain in the form of physical, verbal, or behavioral onslaught, and then have to make a decision on how to deal with the emotional aftermath. For most (and I mean nearly all humans), we have a plethora of unhealthy tools to pick from and “fix” the problem.
We bury it down inside, guilt and shame ourselves, numb it with drugs/alcohol/food/sex/shopping/TV, and then, arguably the worst, we project it onto others. We blame, fight, hit, yell, insult, condescend, judge, guilt, shame, manipulate, deceive, belittle, play head games, and so on, in an effort to feel better. I say it’s the worst because, in most cases, it not only has a very short-lived effect in alleviating pain, but it produces a compounding effect in causing pain for the victim and additional guilt/shame pain for the attacker. But despite the aggregate effects of projecting, it is rampant in our society because no one has ever shown us a healthy and effective means for pain management. It’s just what we’ve learned to do to feel better—blame someone or something else.
Back to the role reversal of man versus woman and pain infliction. My life experience with women has been one of love and desire, but also one of fear and hurt. For most of my adult life, I have approached women with a great deal of caution and my guard up. Sound familiar ladies? Perhaps how you approach men? I have learned that I’m being judged by women for my every move, word, article of clothing, and level of status. I have had so many encounters go from “cloud nine” to “what the f*ck did I do” in a split second that my head spins just thinking about it. Each time I’ve suffered, I’ve stacked on layer after layer of fear and armor to defend against the other half of my own friggin species!
How did this happen? It started early. A girl kicked me in the shin on the playground, another made fun of my small wrists, one told me I’m gross, another told me to “keep walking,” a group of them laughed at me, and so on. Seemingly small acts made a big stain on my psyche. Now, of course, kids will be kids and hopefully some day in the future, if we haven’t caused our own extinction, perhaps we’ll raise our kids to behave differently. Those experiences taught me what emotional pain feels like and instances like these are still happening all around us today.
The problem with this is that we’re never taught how to deal with the associated feelings of said interactions in a healthy way, and so, as we grow older and start to date, we carry the pain right along into our relationships.
My late teens, 20s and most of my 30s have been spent tiptoeing around women, trying to keep the love alive as long as possible until that fateful day that she begins treating me like a nuisance: hissing at my behavior, demanding space, and blaming me for everything. Usually then, I try to hold on, which drives her further away and the stake deeper into my heart until it ends in devastation. And in taking full responsibility, the role has been reversed, and I have done the very same to a few exes, so I’m not for a moment claiming to have clean hands.
Back to the pain “tool shed.” We all keep grabbing the chainsaw when we need to be using the mirror. We feel emotional pain, so we inflict pain on others in an attempt to feel better. Men have statistically resorted to physical abuse to feel better, while women utilize verbal and behavioral abuse to feel better…though there’s certainly overlap with both sexes.
So what do we do about it?
We start by understanding what’s happening (hopefully, this article sheds some light on the matter), and then we put some kind of practice into place. Awareness is key. Get obsessed with paying attention to your feelings. Do you feel hurt, guarded, bothered, irritated, annoyed, jealous, angry, or empty? Be honest with yourself and know that the healing starts from within. Avoid interacting with others (especially romantic partners) until you’ve gotten a handle on it. Spend time with the emotional pain, focus on it even, and work on your self talk about it:
“This pain I am feeling is up to me to manage. No one else is responsible for how I feel.”
Some may argue this, but let’s be honest—regardless of what you do or say to me, I’m the only one in control of my feelings. Let go of your stories for “how men are” or “how women are.” You learned those from questionable sources, you made them up yourself, or a combination of both, but now it’s time to rewrite the stories.
I promise to stop with the “women will hurt me if I’m honest and open and vulnerable,” because I know that no matter what they say or do, I am in charge of my feelings, I can handle and manage pain, and I love myself enough to not let it lower me. Please, in turn, stop with the, “There are no good men out there,” or, “He’s got his sh*t together so there must be something he’s hiding,” or, I can’t believe he said that or did that or wore that or didn’t text me right back or called too soon or has that picture on his profile or acted like that.
I promise to work daily at removing the armor and no longer condemning women by being guarded out of old fear before they even have a chance to show me their true selves. Please work to stop judging men as monsters and condemning them for having done something wrong before they ever have a chance to show you their truth. Also remember that people change, and sometimes deserve a second chance. Sometimes they don’t, and you get to decide, but keep in mind that you don’t want to get tossed out with the bath water for the mistakes of your past either.
Women don’t deserve to be hurt and neither do men. Next time you feel yourself judging, remember that it’s coming from your own pain, and the person you are projecting it onto does not deserve it. Deal with your pain, don’t toss it at other people. In order to make a change, we need to understand the situation clearly, we need to be responsible for ourselves, we need to rewrite our stories, and we need to band together in love.
Since I figured this out, I’ve been managing my feelings and viewing the way people interact with me differently. I try not to take it personally when someone treats me poorly. The fact of the matter, however, is that this stuff gets deeply ingrained in our subconscious, so even very subtle social cues can trigger a response. It’s in those times, where my gut feels unsettled, and I’m reminded of where I have work to do. I’ve concluded that I have every reason to love myself exactly the way I was made, but I strive to be the best me I can by taking responsibility for my feelings.
In doing so, I have found the perfect relationship. Yes, I met someone, and she’s pretty perfect in my opinion, but what I’m referring to here is my relationship with myself.
Author: Andrew James Eastman
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman