Tag Archives: Adolescence

Men’s Shame (and how to kill it)

10272567_10203620278335393_6146136852354296547_oI’ve mentioned Brene Brown’s work before, but I want to share a story I heard her tell that changed my marriage and my work. I first heard it on Krista Tippett’s wonderful podcast, On Being, last December.

She tells a story of a man in a yellow golf jacket who approached her after a talk on shame.

“I noticed you don’t talk about men,” he said.

“Oh, I don’t study men,” she replied–although you really should listen to her tell the story

“That’s convenient,” he told her. “Because men have shame. But before you talk about all those mean fathers and coaches, let me tell you that my wife and daughters, who you just signed books for, would rather see me die on my white horse than get down off it.”

Whoa.

I was riding home from a visit to my mom’s house with my wife and daughters when I heard this, and I stopped the podcast.

Did you hear that?” I asked my my wife.

“Yeah.” She said, kind of casually, like “ok, what’s the big deal?” ( should interject here.  Contrary to what people usually say about men and women and feelings, I am the drama king in my marriage. My wife is less reactive, more able to take the long view, and much more able to hold on to perspective when things get heated. I need to take breaks to get my head back on when I get upset. She may have suspected I was having a moment.)

“I’m not laying any blame on you for this, but that thing she just said–that phrase about you would rather see me die on my white horse than come down off it–that is maybe the truest thing I have ever heard about about the way I and my friends experience shame.” My voice was thick. It is so hard to say those things out loud.

OK, guys, here’s the dirty little secret:

Shame keeps us silent and distant from our loved ones and our lives and our best, strongest selves by getting us to believe one big lie: It is not OK to be weak or to let people think you are weak. 

I sit with lots of men and teen boys in my practice. And I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth or tell anyone’s secrets, but let me just say one thing about men: I’m convinced that this shame is one of the root causes of much of the violence, aggression, depression, disengagement, emotional unavailability, blowing off school, disrespect for women, and materialistic greed we see in men and boys.

Guys, we have got to start talking about it. Shame dies when we say it out loud to a person who cares enough to look us in the eye and say , “yeah man, me too.”

Maybe I’m being a drama king again, but I really think this is how we change the world for the better.

The [perfectly normal] Silent Teenager . . .

In my thoughts about downtime and boredom, I alluded to my belief that getting your teen to talk may involve a lot of hanging around before s/he decides to open up. That comment has garnered a surprising amount of attention.

And a couple weeks ago, when I was talking with Lorra Lynch Jones about Putting Kids in Charge of Play, she asked if the idea would work for teenagers, too. She even suggested a board game as an activity. I regret blowing off the idea, since it’s such a good one after all. (one thing I love about begin a therapist: you get to think out loud slowly–there’s not so much pressure to say the right thing the first time). Fear not: I intend to make it up to Lorra. Watch on July 30th.

It seems that many parents of teens are wondering how to get them to talk. Tall order. Following are a few tips, not guaranteed to change anything:

  • I think the most important thing to remember when you are wondering why your formerly loving, affectionate child has turned into a monosyllabic  recluse is; “this is normal.” Make this your mantra: “it’s good that my teen doesn’t want to talk. It’s normal. If s/he needed me for every little problem, that would be bad.” Try to get into the habit of “reframing” your child’s behavior as part of his or her healthy development. For example, your child looks grumpy and won’t tell you why. It probably does not mean that s/he suddenly hates you (although it may feel that way). It probably means her/his primary developmental need is to establish an identity separate from yours and the family’s. Maybe s/he wants or needs to solve whatever problem it is by him- or herself.
  • Think about how talking to you might feel from his or her perspective. Do you give unsolicited advice? Do you rush to fix? Do you minimize his or her feelings? If you went to a trusted friend with a painful social problem and she said “Oh I used to feel that way until I got more mature,” how inclined would you be to seek her support next time? When your teen opens up to you, Wendy Mogel recommends the following acronym: WAIT: Why Am I Talking? To illustrate, she suggests making use of two responses most of the time: “‘wow,‘ or with slightly more approbation,  ‘whoa.'”
  • Find ways to connect other than talking. A wise dad I know loved to take his daughter to play tennis because she was more likely to talk on the court than anywhere else. As your kids get older, establish some activity that will be your “thing” with that child, a special time together that nobody else shares and s/he knows you value. It could be a sport, a special restaurant, taking walks, or even driving to lessons, rehearsals, or games.
  • Remember your village.  I have seen children whose parents wondered if they had been struck mute have hour-long chats with youth pastors and coaches. It is hard to accept for some of us, but our kids may have found other adults to talk to about their struggles. I think this is why it is so important to connect with a community of people you trust and who share your values. That way, if your teen picks a friend’s mom to talk to, you know that mom and her values will complement your own. I’ll say it again: this can be hard to accept. I’d encourage you to be kind to yourself as you decide what it means that your child talks with the coach and not you. It’s not because you aren’t understanding or supportive or open enough. It’s probably because you are the parent.

Teens are funny creatures. She feels like a completely different person every time she changes clothes. His emotions are way stronger than they have ever been in his life; and have become that strong before he has the capacity to think through emotions the way he will later. Of course they are hard to live with. Loving them through adolescence is not for wimps. Keep at it.