Chapter 3- The Great Separation
From a psychological perspective, the initiation experience has a lot to say about the healthy growth of men today. And modern psychology is one key in translating the ancient initiation experience into contemporary terms. So now let's look at the first part of the translation.
Separation always triggers the initiatory process, and separation is the starting point in understanding the effect of the initiation archetype in our lives. But what is initiatory separation in our modern lives? Separation from what? How does a man consciously know which turns to make once he is separated? How do we get in the way of separation?
Here is an excerpt from Parabola magazine, Fall, 1993, written by an African man, Nouk Bassomb, from his own contemporary initiatory experience:
As you can see, these rites continue to go on today as they have been going on for 10,000 years. In this case the separation process goes on for almost two years. The ordeal lasts for 90 days.
In puberty initiation rites from earliest times the first step is the forcible abduction of an adolescent boy by the village elders. These elders decide together when individual boys are ready to be taken from the village by discerning when a young boy is strong enough to go through the grueling cultural and spiritual transformation ritual. They hope they are correct in knowing the best time, as boys sometimes do not survive the initiation process. It is some comfort to the boys that they are taken in small groups.
In these rites the boy is forcefully separated from mother, father, grandparents, village: all that is familiar and nurturing to his boyness. The separation is sudden and intense. It is an experience a boy will never forget. He will never see his mother or father or the village in the same way again.
In this chapter I will talk primarily about the psychological meaning of separation from mother. This separation starts the initiatory process for most men, and is the place in our culture it often founders. If a man is able to negotiate this separation from mother he must then learn psychological separation from the father. Both separations must happen if the boy is to become a man. The separation from mother I call the Great Separation for it is the first and most difficult one.
In the excerpt I read, Nouk said, "The elders...kept her from hugging me." This forceful separation sounds rather harsh to our ears. Why not at least a last hug upon leaving? How can a mother's show of love hurt? Don't we all need some encouragement from loved ones to get along in life? Don't we all need human touch, especially from a woman? Where is the wisdom, here, or the manhood?
Though the ritual seems barbaric by modern standards there is real wisdom in these acts. If a boy stayed in the village near his mother's hut, in the world of the feminine, he could not experience the ordeal in the wilderness. Elders instinctively knew that overstaying in the village, especially by his mother's hut, softened a boy and robbed him of the courage and motivation for ordeal, even though individual mothers knew and respected the importance of initiation. They realized that the maternal world could be dangerous and regressive to a boy's spirit as he approached puberty. The mother's comfort would always be a temptation for a boy to overstay in the village. The elders realized that overstaying would be harmful to both the viability of the community as well as the spiritual maturity of the boy himself.
Hugging is symbolic of all that is nurturing, that protects a boy from harm, that tells the boy he is loved, that says he is important. In his infancy and early years that kind of nurturing is essential. A young boy's ability to meet his own needs is minimal. Think of an infant, totally dependent on another human being to protect and nurture its fragile body and ego. The feminine motivation to incorporate the needs of a child as her own, greater than her own, is profound. Good mothering intuits a child's needs because a mother revolves her whole life around that child's well-being.
The result of this good mothering is a deep sense of trust in the boy. The boy trusts that somehow his needs will be met. He learns to trust that the universe is not an impersonal enemy and that he holds an important part in his world. Erik Erikson talks of the first years as the time when a child develops the basic sense of trust, both in other people and in his environment. Nurturing mother energy is probably the ultimate energy that enables a man to keep going in life with some sense of hope. Healthy attachment to loved ones, as attachment theorists have pointed out, provides a foundation for every person's psychological health as an adult.
Especially in the first two or three years of a child's life, mothering energy is vital to protecting the child from being overwhelmed with the pain and frustration of not getting its needs met. Starting at infancy the child is helpless in meeting even primitive biological needs. The mother, or anyone bringing the mother energy, then starts one of the most complex dances in the natural world. At once, she protects the infant from too much deprivation and overwhelming pain while gradually teaching the young child to soothe itself in the midst of pain. This crucial dance requires much balance and finesse. The effects of too much unprotected deprivation can have lifelong effects on the life of a man.
Kindlon and Thompson underscore this point in saying that "when a mother reacts reliably and sensitively to her infant's needs, he will form an internal connection to her- what psychologists call a "secure attachment"- that will provide a strong foundation of trust and love on which he can build other healthy relationships."
If an infant or toddler experiences constant deprivation emotionally or physically he will gradually lose trust. An infant needs touch, consistent holding, loving attention, as well as care for the pains of hunger, cold, and physical discomfort. At the extremes, from a lack of holding and caring touch, a young child can lose the will to live.
Unfortunately, many more infants and toddlers then we realize are depressed. The deprivation the child feels translates into a sagging will to live because the mother is unable to give consistent mothering. This is often caused by depression in the mother herself. For every depressed mother there is a depressed young child. And these depressed mothers are most often loving mothers trying to do their best. These are mothers who are paralyzed by their own deprivation.
Sometimes a child's deprivation is caused by physical abandonment due to physical or mental illness. In this case so much attention needs to go to the mother that the family unknowingly neglects the child. I have worked with many men who have not realized that they were deprived of needed mothering for extended times in their childhood because of their mother's illness. They have not made the connection from this deprivation to their periodic sense of depressed motivation and feelings of hopelessness.
Fortunately most deprivation is not constant. The depressed mother will move out of depression periodically and often be an attentive, excited mother. Or a mother will recover from a physical illness and renew her good mothering. Sometimes a grandmother or aunt will come to a deprived household on a regular basis and give the nurturing attention.
Some long-term depression in men is caused by this kind of sporadic deprivation in the life of a young boy, especially before age three or four. Because of inconsistent mothering the boy turns into a man who alternates between feeling sometimes comforted oftentimes empty. He may also feel sporadic motivation problems, getting up for a project and then losing steam as the project wears on.
Terrence Real, in his book on male depression, speaks of deprivation situations as one cause of trauma in a man's life. Disruptions of nurturing, emotional and physical deprivations, he calls passive trauma. These are traumas of neglect and happen much more in our culture than we realize. These traumas can cause a post-traumatic depression that inhibits a man from moving on developmentally.
Real moves further in asserting that depression is much more prevalent in our society than was previously realized because of the "normal" emotional trauma men grow up with in our culture. He believes what most other psychologists in the field say about men's emotional deprivation. He asserts that men are systematically deprived, too early, of emotional nurturing and understanding, especially from mother figures. As he says, "Studies indicate that from the moment of birth, boys are spoken to less than girls, comforted less, nurtured less." Misguided standards of masculinity and childrearing then cause widespread passive trauma in boys, causing widespread, hidden depression.
Though I disagree with William Pollack on issues of mother separation (as with Real) he also makes the strong point that, for boys, premature mother separation is socially supported in our society. Therefore, mother deprivation is institutionalized as an abusive practice done to young boys. The Boy Code, his term for the faulty training manual, forces a young boy to turn away from mother and those things considered "feminine" or not be considered "a real boy". As he says, "But I have come to understand that this forcing of early separation is so acutely hurtful to boys that it can only be called a trauma- an emotional blow of damaging proportions."
Kindlon and Thompson reinforce this view of the cultural emotional abandonment of boys in their belief "that boys, beginning at a young age, are systematically steered away from their emotional lives toward silence, solitude, and distrust." These authors see the trauma as keeping a boy from contacting his inner life, the same inner life that leads to his manhood.
Most of the men reading this book will have a depression caused by some deprivation of mothering energy in their lives. This depression, often hidden by addictions, has a cultural and psychological basis that men need to understand in order to heal. This depression is often the cause of a man's unconscious yearning to stay in the world of the mother, to get what he feels is his natural right to the comfort and understanding he missed. The emotional truncation causes a man to look for mother love in all the wrong places, causing havoc in his personal life. This depression of emotional frustration also causes much of the burnout that men experience, even as they prove a "success."
Serious depression brought on by massive deprivation is beyond the scope of this book and is dealt with better in books that deal with serious attachment problems with mother figures. This kind of depression is often hidden behind serious addiction or abuse problems. For men with serious deprivation problems this book will make no sense. Books by Terrence Real and Karen Walant, that also talk about healing serious mother deprivation, may give more understanding. Programs that have a 12 Step focus give concrete ways to deal with serious addiction on the way to healing serious, underlying depression.
For most men their depression is not serious enough to keep them from going through their necessary psychological separation and continuing the initiatory process. But this deprivation depression does cause a man to resist the process of psychological mother separation. For within the culture there is the unconscious assumption that more mothering will bring him happiness and satisfaction. Unfortunately, there is a certain part of the psychological community who enable a regression to the mother by asserting that mother separation is a myth, neither necessary or desirable.
Stuck by Mother
Most men in our society have had good enough psychological mothering even though cultural deprivation and faulty training is a problem. Their flesh and blood mothers have given them what they need to move on to the next stage of development. The problem for men is that our society does not know how to properly handle this mothering energy for boys so they can move on.
As mentioned earlier, most men have been culturally separated too early from mothers, told by society to be tough and not a "mama's boy". They are taught to act like men while still feeling like boys. There are also some men who have been smothered, fearful of the world of men, staying close to their mother's attention and hut. These men both crave and get angry at their mother's smothering attention, often not even bothering to act like men. Both types of men , though taking different routes, end up in the same place.
Most men are stuck in the psychological world of the mother, even those who seem to go through cultural separation. Hidden under the cultural separation is the boy's continuing need for a mother bond. Not so hidden is the need of the man who has not even culturally separated, who literally still lives at home or runs to his mother at the first signs of emotional discomfort. Both types of men experience a need, like an addiction, that limits any ability to move on in their psychological development.
The problem for men today is that we are all taught by society to stay in the village, emotionally, long into our adulthood. An unhealthy condition has become the norm. In the village we are taught to keep eyeing the hut of the mother for our ultimate refuge. We either look for the mother that kept on protecting us or we fantasize about the mother we never had consistently. We are unconsciously looking to be emotionally taken care of. We are looking for someone or something to take way our pain, for someone to say they understand, for some woman to make us feel good again. This unconscious need for mothering can keep a boy looking for soothing from anyone who will provide some sympathy, or from any substance that will provide relief. This can be the start of a man's habit of looking anywhere but inside himself for an answer to his discomfort. And most men will look for that answer from women before anything else.
Our patriarchal culture teaches men the negative mothering need without even knowing it. Even though there is a cultural separation from mothering the patriarchal society doesn't recognize the buried emotional needs of men, alive but underground. So the patriarchal society leaves men out on a limb, culturally separated but emotionally needy, with nothing of the inner life to meet that need. The only avenue it gives for emotional connection is to hearken back to the mother's arms. The patriarchal culture then becomes a victim of its own ignorance and unconsciousness. Without separation and psychological initiation boys don't grow into men but stay emotional boys. Men do become "productive" but die early and unhappy. The patriarchy keeps control, but of an emotionally empty kingdom.
Indigenous tribes knew the power of a boy's psychological needs and realized it could be regressive to a man to continue to meet those needs through mothering energy. This connection would be harmful to the individual as well as the community. For the tribe needed men to carry on its work and its existence. It also needed mature men to carry on its spiritual tradition. Anthropologist David Gilmore, talking from a cultural standpoint, remarks, "...regression is unacceptable not only to the individual but also to his society as a functioning mechanism, because most societies demand renunciation of escapist wishes in favor of a participating, contributing adulthood." Gilmore points out that he believes that regression to "fantasy as a blissful experience of oneness with the mother" is a cultural threat to a society that needs adult men to protect and support it.
Indigenous tribes did not leave a man hanging in emotional limbo. These tribes did not leave a man with a truncated emotional life. They realized the cultural threat of regression as Gilmore points out. They also realized that mother regression was a threat to their spiritual tradition. They gave men a whole new world, the world of mature masculine feeling, to enable a man separate from the mother's hut. Then they introduced men to the other side, a place of connection and emotional fulfillment where their true identity and their spiritual tradition resided. In the same process initiation gave men a productive place in society as well as a personal sense of fulfillment from the inside out. Initiation then transferred the spiritual truths of their society to the next generation.
The Mother Complex
On the archetypal level Robert Johnson talks of this regressive mother need, the need for escapist wishes in every man, as a mother complex. The mother complex is the negative side of the mothering dynamic. The complex causes a man to look for personal mothering much past the time he needs it. This complex causes a man to act like a boy emotionally, like a boy stuck in the village. It is important to realize that this need, and this complex, is in the man, caused by society's inability to guide a man in handling his inner life. The complex is rarely caused by a human mother.
In his book, Lying With The Heavenly Woman, he describes the mother complex as a man's "wish to regress to infancy again and be taken care of, to crawl into bed and pull the covers over his head, to evade some responsibility that face him." As such Johnson remarks that this complex "will destroy his life more quickly than any other single element in his psychology."
The mother complex is the dark side of the mother archetype. The mother archetype is positive at the beginning of a man's life and, in a different form, is essential in the midst of initiation and afterward. However, when mothering becomes smothering the dark side emerges.
The mother complex causes all men to have a secret need to be smothered, to be adored, adulated, propped up even if not warranted, to always be "understood." We all have the need to be told it wasn't our fault, that the other guy has the problem, that we are a victim of tough breaks, that our mistakes are totally understandable. In a word we all want someone to cover for us and think we're wonderful, even when we're not. Men unconsciously looking for this type of love in the real world are in the grip of the mother complex and unknowingly stuck in the village.
As we become adults we don't realize that we are often connected through the mother complex to the woman we love. When a man says he is looking for "unconditional love" from his wife he is really saying he wants his wife to be his emotional mother. When a man says he is looking for the "right" woman to make him happy he is usually fantasizing about a mother he never fully had. When a man spends most of his time fantasizing about women he is emotionally stuck in the village, close to his mother's hut, even though he hasn't seen his actual mother for months or even years.
When we project our mother complex needs onto another woman we turn her into mother. Most every relationship a man has with a woman in our society is contaminated by this dynamic. Even though our society tells a man not to be a wimp or a mama's boy, it also teaches him that ultimate happiness for a man resides in a woman. Unfortunately, this is the woman of the mother complex. This double message regarding mother shows how unwise our culture is, how lacking in understanding of the inner life. It is such an irony that our whole patriarchal culture is really secretly controlled by the mother complex.
Sam Keen gets this idea of archetypal energy across in his fine book Fire In The Belly. He talks of men looking for WOMAN, bigger than life and ready to meet all our needs. WOMAN is this grand mothering archetypal energy that both attracts and repulses us. We are often attracted to the WOMAN in our women, especially to the pleasure-giving, nurturing side.
Mother To Mother Object
Most men will unconsciously turn a wife or a lover (including another man in a gay relationship) into a mother through a psychological process called transference. In this situation transference allows us to find mother substitutes in other people, or even other things. In counseling I have to make mother transference clear to most men because they believe they have separated from their mother when they left home. They believe that cultural separation is psychological separation. They don't realize how they have taken their mother with them, in the form of their needs and dreams, only to later transfer her to another beloved woman. That is how WOMAN migrates around our environment.
The beloved woman then becomes a mother object. Mother object is another psychological term that I will use often in this book. The word "object" tries to convey the reality that the man is reacting to an impersonal archetype, like a mother machine, and not to a whole person. Object also conveys the meaning that the woman is not literally the man's mother. Through transference a woman loses her own personality and becomes a mother to the boy inside. A woman referred to as a 'sex object' comes from this same psychological idea of impersonality.
Unfortunately, women are taught an unconscious part in this drama, too. In this drama women are just as oppressed psychologically as men. In our traditional society the woman is taught that she must "take care" of her man. The woman is taught to identify closely with the mother archetype and goes about trying to please and pleasure her man as a sign of her womanhood. So a man is taught to find a mother object and a woman is taught to act as a mother archetype. Both treat the other as an object and lose intimacy in the process. The man stays a boy emotionally. The woman unknowingly keeps her man a boy while yearning for a man. Traditional industrial and agricultural societies have worked like this for hundreds of years.
A man who can't find mother in another person is forced to look elsewhere or face the pain of his depression. He then often chooses to find his mother comfort in an addiction. In this case a substance becomes a mother object, giving him instant, on-demand pleasure. The substance can be alcohol, hard drugs such as cocaine, or soft drugs such as nicotine. He gets hooked on the mother object because it consistently takes away pain, mostly the pain of depression. Temporarily, the inner regressive yearning is satisfied.
Addiction is winked at in the village. It is even seen as manly. Getting roaring drunk for the first time is an example of an empty initiation ritual for young adolescents that is accepted, even encouraged. Addictive euphoria is seen as a pleasurable reward for hard work or a manly way to drown sorrows. As we shall see, addictions are a normal part of village life in our society and a primary way that men get stuck by the mother. Addictions are one of the strongest tools of the mother complex.
Just as there is a mother complex in every man pulling him back to the village, there is the initiatory archetype in him pushing him toward the wilderness. This initiation archetype will surface first in a separation experience. A contemporary man will most often experience the start of initiatory separation as an abandonment and betrayal brought on by the withdrawal of a loved one. This loved one will most often be a wife or lover who is a mother object. And the uninitiated man will be devastated by the experience of abandonment.
Separation often comes suddenly, like elders in the middle of the night. A man's wife may tell him she has had enough and wants him out of the home. A man's lover, whom he has dated for years, says she has found someone else. A spouse is no longer interested sexually and is becoming distant.
The man will be surprised, not necessarily by the physical separation, but by the strength of feeling he didn't know he had. He will be shocked by the depth of his pain at feeling alone, abandoned, and helpless. He will not have realized how much he counted on his loved one, a loved one he had taken for granted. He will be shocked at the depth of his emotional yearning.
Invariably a man first calls me for counseling in the deep pain and hopelessness of separation from a mother object. This separation is triggering his initiation but he doesn't realize it. Instead, the man sees himself in a crisis of deep pain. He doesn't realize that he is being separated unwillingly from the village, represented by his wife or family. All he knows is that his world is turned upside down and he is terrified. His first words are usually, "how can I get her back?" Like the young, startled boy he would give anything just for a hug from her.
The deep pain in the man comes from the boy inside who suddenly realizes that he is disconnected from what he perceives as the source of his pleasure and security. Suddenly the man feels very empty and uncomfortable. Often, in the privacy of my office, he cries for the first time since childhood. Sitting before him I sometimes image a desperate 3 or 4 year old child who realizes that he can't find his mother to comfort him. This helps me see the genuine pain the man is in. The boy in the man's body has taken over all feelings. The boy's only goal is to reunite with the bearer of his maternal solace or to keep her from leaving. I understand the boy's pain because my boy inside has suffered the same pain.
I know that a man hasn't had initiatory separation when he talks in counseling of being afraid to be alone. He will usually describe a history where he felt he could count on his wife or lover to be at home when he called or returned. When he pictures his home without a woman's presence he becomes extremely agitated. He will not be able to be at his house alone. If he is home after separation he will be continually on the phone talking to friends about the woman who left. He will either continue to try for a reconciliation or he will very soon try to find another mother object to take her place. He will talk of being unable to imagine even a short period of time without a relationship with someone.
At this point it is not helpful for me to show my understanding and tell the desperate and hurting man that he is experiencing a great and crucial opportunity, that he is experiencing the Great Separation as an initiatory event. What I do make clear, though, from the beginning is that I am not the person to come to if he wants just to feel better. If that is his goal I can't help. I would be doing a disservice to the man if I, too, identified with the mother archetype and protected him from his initiatory pain just to make him feel better.
I do tell him that his pain is nothing to be ashamed of. I tell him that his pain is not a sign of weakness or lack of courage but is actually a sign that he is ready to do the work of manhood. I also tell him that I will be there with him through the process of facing the pain, because men need other men to go through these crises. I appeal to the warrior in him to summon the energy of separation and look toward the possibility of moving on.
The defense of numbing is important to mention at this moment. Men who have not gone through a Great Separation have unconsciously stayed connected to the mother object as a way of holding off their separation. Many men in our society are in this place and because of this defense, and the numbing it causes, can not relate to their own hardwired knowledge. Deprivation depression adds to the numbness. Men are defended against their interior life. Numbing and unconsciousness makes counseling seem ludicrous and meaningless. Lack of pain provides lack of motivation. Lack of separation keeps a man from moving toward the wilderness where authentic feeling resides.
Numbing happens because a man has not lived his own life. He is living someone else's life and doesn't know it. In this case his lack of separation keeps him connected to the life of the WOMAN rather than his own life. He finds most of his good feelings reside in pleasing her. He finds great pressure to live his life based on her decisions and her agenda. When he looks inside, as he gets older, he finds he really has no directions for himself. He finds himself looking at the world through the eyes of a woman. He believes in the sweat shirt saying, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." He lives his life unconsciously warding off abandonment from an unhappy mother object.
The uninitiated man, left without direction from his interior life, turns to his mother object for direction. The unguided boy is left without guidance from anywhere else but an unfeeling patriarchy. But then an unfortunate thing happens. He starts to feel controlled. He feels consciously controlled while not realizing his unconscious dependence. He becomes paralyzed between his fear of being engulfed and his fear of abandonment and separation. He lives out the unfortunate saying, "you can't live with them and you can't live without them". He doesn't realize that he is imprisoned by his own dependence. He doesn't realize how much he needs the very person he feels controlled by.
This man feels engulfed. His life feels circumscribed by the mother. He feels cramped, claustrophobic. She becomes the "ball and chain". He starts wanting "space". He doesn't realize that he is the one whose connection keeps him a frightened boy. He puts the blame on this mother object when it is his own mother need, the mother complex, that is to blame. Eventually he expands the habit to blaming everyone but himself for his unhappiness.
A numbed man has unconsciously handed over his life direction to a mother object in exchange for security and protection from pain and confusion. As we will see, he also hands his life over so the woman can make him feel like a man. Later he blames his wife or lover for his lifeless existence. His favorite expressions are "I don't know", "I don't care", "what's the difference". If he is younger it might be "whatever".
Most men are stuck in the limbo between regressive connection and separation. This psychological limbo shows a man's ambivalence toward smother love. A man both wants to be smothered and is afraid of it. He is afraid to be engulfed yet afraid to be abandoned. He wants security and adventure. He ends up feeling neither good about himself or good about his partner. He is depressed about feeling deprived of a mother object yet he is depressed about not feeling the aliveness of the initiatory journey. Numbness is a two-edged sword. It cuts off pain. It also cuts off the way to a man's soul.
Men Need Men
The man experiencing separation needs balancing masculine energy to move on developmentally. He first needs the masculine energy of the father archetype and then the masculine energy of the elder archetype. Masculine energy is the way for a man to move on. It is also the way for a man to satisfy his deepest yearnings, while bringing his regressive mother yearnings to closure.
As we will talk about in a following chapter masculine energy is separating energy. It is a hard energy, but it is the next step for the boy. Masculine energy stands between the boy and the door of his hut, not allowing him to go back. Masculine energy, first in the form of a good father, tells the mother very forcefully to "leave the boy to me". This energy gives a boy he courage and strength to face his pain. Masculine energy, in the form of the elder, then leads a boy to the wilderness of his soul. It is only an elder society that can teach a man how to be in right relationship to the mother archetype throughout his lifetime.
Some psychologists feel that the answer at this crisis time is for a man to get more feminine energy, that boys need more mothering not less. The theory is that men need more relatedness and woman teach relatedness better than men. The assumption is that men enter the inner life best through the world of the feminine. This is feminist theory that some psychologists, writing about men, have also espoused.
It is true that boys from a very early age are told to go it alone, while not being encouraged to explore their inner life of feeling. This is part of the flawed training manual that men labor under. However, my clinical experience has shown that most men already see the world through women's eyes instead of their own, either in trying to win a woman as the ultimate happiness or in believing only women's rules of relationship and intimacy. Men don't really go it alone. They have an unseen mother object with them at all times. They have the feminine around constantly, causing them to be unconscious psychologically and emotionally passive. The feminist answer tends to mire a man in the world of the feminine, a place for women but not for men. Archetypally and psychologically, this approach can be very regressive for men.
Culturally there is truth here, in that men need to relate to their inner life as strongly as women. And most men need much more of a network of relationship. But men need to relate more to men, or the masculine experience, for healing. Wiser men are best equipped to lead a man away from the mother's hut and his own mother complex.
This is not to put the feminist answer down. Feminism has done a great deal to transform our culture into a more human place, especially through emphasizing relatedness. It has also saved many women from the oppressive patriarchal training manual. But I insist that the way to the inner life for men is through the masculine world not the feminine. Men have been let down by other men, not women. And older men need to right that wrong by presenting a more authentic masculine experience. The latter part of a man's healing then involves fully understanding the feminist answer. As we will see, later on in his development a man will reunite with the mother archetype in a healthy way.
Most men come into counseling in great pain in the middle of an involuntary separation. They are desperate, and understandably so. Their mother dependence comes out as the need to please or appease in order to avert a separation. They have come upon overwhelming painful feelings they never knew existed. They are like a wild animal suddenly caught in a vice-like trap. They look desperately to me to take away the pain.
Then a strange thing often happens in my office. In the midst of terrible pain and confusion a man will hear my words of necessary separation and additional pain. After getting angry at my message something will happen. He will hesitate. Even in the middle of his negative whirlpool of feeling he will know that what I am saying is true. That hardwired knowledge seems to show up in the crisis. And he will often, very courageously, tell me to keep talking and tell him the next steps.
We then start talking about boundaries. Boundaries are conscious emotional separations. They are the psychological equivalents of completing separation from mother objects. Here is where positive warrior energy is needed. Here is where men's innate courage shows up. Men have little training in psychological boundary setting since they are taught they have already separated. It is their most important work at the beginning of therapy. Boundaries is what I always work on first when a man gives me the signal to go on.
Copyright © 1999, Larry Pesavento