I’m writing to let you know I’ve kept a secret. I’ve hidden from you how priceless your mother has been to our family, an incredible person who’s brought much value to my life personally, my career, the family I want to call mine. I hid it intentionally. I made her look small to make myself appear better, superior, admired.
I now want you to know, she’s the glue that has kept what I most value in my life together.
It’s not easy to admit this. Or to own actions I took in the 20+ years of our marriage to intentionally devalue her voice, thoughts, contributions, to make her and others think less of her. It’s been a process.
I made this discovery in the last few years, starting with an announcement that she would no longer participate with my treating her like a second class citizen. She was prepared to separate, but agreed to return to couples therapy with, this time with me more engaged, and agreeing to focus on my getting help to own and end what the therapist labeled “emotional abuse.”
At first I felt shocked, disappointed. I did not think a man, a husband, a good provider like me should be made to feel he was wrong in how he treated his wife. I expected the therapist to side with me, and scold my wife to make her come to her senses, to admit my actions were deserved and even beneficial for her. I really thought, at the time, that this was normal because I was a man, and this is how men should be treated!
I wanted to quit therapy. I tried to get your mother to agree with me, and find another therapist. She would not budge. Your mother brushed off my protests. She saw right threw me, and knew I what I really hoped for was a “boys will be boys” therapist that would let me have my way.
I believe her refusal to allow the status quo treatment of her was the best thing she could have done for me, our family and you. We’ve been in couples therapy since then, steadily making progress.
And that’s why I’m writing this letter. I have amends to make. My past actions sent a message that it was okay for men to casually dismiss, ignore, discredit, silence, and feel annoyed when the woman in their life complains or makes attempts to feel heard.
In my old way of thinking, I thought it was my job, as a man, to “teach” the three of you to be “real” men, and that meant to display my power to dominate and prove my superiority as a man.
It was wrong of me. It is never okay or justified for one human being, man or woman, to treat another person or group, as less than human, less valuable. It is also cruel to claim and violate the rights of another human being.
This letter is from a now more awake husband and father, a work in progress of course, a man who wants very much to heal and mend his relationship with himself, the woman who’s been the best partner he could ask for, and his sons.
My hope is that this letter opens your eyes to see women and men in different ways. To recognize, for example, how men in our society are manipulated by certain fear-activating beliefs from boyhood into thinking they must prove they are “real” men, and that dominating and violating the rights of women, or others they label as weak or objects, is fundamental to “who a man is.”
I have made several discoveries in this time. These discoveries have forced me to question and unlearn certain conditioned beliefs that once literally made me think and act as if it were my job, as a man, to terrorize and make my wife feel less small, less than human.
I discovered that this and other beliefs I’d held regarding what it means to be a man, father and husband, which men are socialized to believe from boyhood, blocked and kept me blind.
These beliefs are lies; hate- and fear-activating propaganda.
This awakened in me to several new realizations I want to share with you. Here are a few:
1. I realized that being human is what matters most in life.
I was raised to believe that: a “real” man proves his worth to the extent he displays superiority and dominance, and subverts the will of those deemed inferior, namely women and children. I thought my ability to subjugate and terrorize*** my wife, and to some extent my children, would cause them and others to admire and respect me. I’ve realized bullying others is not a strength at all; it traumatizes the bully and bullied alike, raises levels of anxiety for all, thus hampers chances for forming healthy relationships with others, and self.
This belief kept me blind to what really matters in life, which is being human. Being fully human is the strongest, most courageous and vital endeavor a man (or woman) can strive to cultivate inside! Regardless of gender or age, being human requires far more intellect, courage and strength than being a bully. As a bully I felt a lot of stress, anxious and worried that others would discover how clueless I was about relationships, how worried I was about my image of being in control, how this isolated me from those I love, how on guard and at war with myself and others I felt I had to be, and so on.
In contrast, to form a healthy relationship, each person first and foremost needs to learn to see and treat self and other as human, ensuring each feels valued, loved, heard and known as a unique being. I still struggle to empathize, just taking baby steps really; I can however see how invaluable it is to see your mother’s heart, to recognize the gifts she brings to our family, and to feel thankful to have another chance to keep her and what matters most to me in my life.
2. I realized that “male dominance and superiority ideals” are in fact hate propaganda — and not a biological norm!
I was raised to believe that the concepts of male dominance and superiority were biological norms, or ordained by god, and thus, any “means” of maintaining this social-order based was beneficial to all. This belief system caused me to behave toward your mother in ways that kept me disconnected from feeling human or seeing your mother as human. It also caused me to live 24/7 with a lot of anxiety, always on guard, protecting my image and “masculinity,” regarding my family as I would a dangerous jungle with wild animals out to devour me! To protect myself, I wore an armor that kept me emotionally distant and harsh to protect my image. This kept me in denial of the pain I felt inside, feeling isolated, fragile, unloved, inadequate, unprepared to deal with vulnerable emotions, except to disown and blame others for how miserable I felt inside.
We are not meant to relate to one another with fear, ever on guard. This traumatizes us, and keeps us in survival mode, which blocks our ability for higher thinking. It is true that: the only thing to fear is fear itself. Our capacity for higher thinking is critical to our health and happiness. Human beings are unique from other creatures in the wild however. No other creature has the capacity to reflect upon their own thinking, to envision a better world, to step out courageously to create it, and in the process to learn and grow ever wiser.
Now I’ve come to understand these are arbitrary standards for performance are a set of conquer-and-divide tactics. They are used by self-appointed oligarchs who feel threatened by truth and democratic relations, and thus strategize attacks to discredit them as “weak” or “inferior.”
Oligarchs use misogynist beliefs to turn men against women, and in turn to get them to participate in their own oppression. That’s how all cults work; they use “us versus then” hate propaganda to instill fear of other groups. And simultaneously they portray themselves as “saviors” who are going to rescue them from the “evil” groups. In reality, they strategize to justify perpetual war, rage, violence and the like, in order to stay in power.
3. I realized that training some persons to feel “entitled” to mistreat other persons with impunity not only goes against many values of moral persons — but also may be the root of most all relational problems in marriages, families and society at large.
I had been taught that this is what “real” men do, that is, to display a callous disregard, gaslight, silence, exploit and tear a woman down, and so on. I was fooled into believing that women and society in general admire men who prove their strength by being dismissive, and showing no remorse for keeping a woman in her place. For decades, I refused to allow your mothers words, needs and wants to be treated as valuable; instead, I interpreted her attempts to reach me as “emotional craziness” of the female sex, and that it was my job as a man to fix it. It was not until I realized I may lose her that I started to reexamine the value of these beliefs, and to see them for what they were — lies, misogynist teachings, hate propaganda, conquer and divide tactics, and the like. I now also realize that men are manipulated and victimized by these beliefs, albeit in different ways than women. The beliefs lure us into thinking we are a “special” group and that we are entitled to expect admiration, obedience, special treatment, and so on. In reality, this belief keeps us ignorant, and led to ongoing disconnect between me and your mother, caused by my efforts to block her every effort to create a fully human relationship with me. I’ve realized it is wrong for our society to raise men, as a group, to believe “fear- and hate-activating lies” as evidence or proof of their “masculinity” and thus their worth.
4. I realized that justifying the inhumane treatment of another person, or group of persons, as “necessary” to protect the “masculinity” of those in authority is the biggest “craziness” of all!
I had been taught to regard and treat the woman who most had my back like an enemy, and to act much like a soldier on the battlefield, to feel I had to “get the enemy before the enemy got me.” My beliefs taught me to believe my abusive actions were a favor, after all, I was trying to fix her so-called “emotional craziness” and “love stuff” talk. And because I was taught to believe a man should never feel fragile or anxious, I blamed your mother for any pain I felt, denying what was mine to own. This resulted in doing hurtful things to the woman I most loved and treasured. Now I realize what really matters in life — is knowing how to form healthy relationships with those that matter most to me, your mother and you, and other family members.
5. I realized that terrorizing a person that loves you to make them “respect” (fear) you is costly venture. Forcing another to act out of fear is not love, and thus ignorance.
I was brought up thinking that it is of benefit, for the person in authority, to badger family members to get you to do what I wanted. I thought this was evidence of “respect” but really it is just fear and ignorance. I spent decades wasting my energy to protect my image of being “the boss” rather than protect my relationships and happiness and peace of mind. I nearly lost the love of the woman who proved to be just the partner I needed to make our family what it is, my career what it has been, and me an ever better person, father and husband. I discovered that keeping another person in their place put me at risk of losing the love of the person I most valued. It caused her to not want to be around me, to no longer want to make me happy. She was doing things for me out of fear, not love. Now I don’t even understand why I would ever want this, much less think it was okay.
6. I realized that this toxic belief system causes men to see and treat women as less than human, and that’s the “real craziness.”
I really thought it was a good thing, benevolent in fact, for a man to make the woman in his life feel blamed, crazy, self-doubting. I truly believed this was a man’s duty, and to the extent a man made the woman in his life believe she was out of line, feel bad, ashamed for talking about feeling hurt, making her feel she was selfish, controlling or emasculating, a man could feel proud he’d succeeded. I now see these beliefs about “masculinity” and “dominance” are the real problem, the “real craziness” so to speak. I was brought up to believe women are dangerous, and that men need to be on guard and protect “their masculinity” as if it is constantly under attack, even when a wife asks her husband to be human, kind, affectionate, warn and caring. It is these beliefs that cause men to be blind to what really matters in relationships with those you most love.
7. I realized that playing mind games in therapy did not make me the smart one; in fact, it kept me weak, fearful, and arrested my emotional development, left me unfulfilled, complaining, playing blame games, feeling powerless.
I thought I was smarter and that my skills in denying and gaslighting would prevail in therapy, and so it took me a while to take therapy seriously. I first had to learn to take your mother, and her words seriously. For a long time, I went along with therapy and looked for opportunities, so to speak, to jump in and take charge of the processes with the tricks, such as gaslighting and denial, I’d learned “real” men are supposed to use to dominate those they perceive as weak. I saw therapy as “a phase” or “emotional craziness,” and just remained in strategic position to keep doing my duty to “fix” your mother, and take charge again. And so I adjusted the ways men gaslight women into feeling ashamed for complaining about the way men treat them, and to get her to silence herself, wants and needs.
Last but not least, I hope you will keep this letter and read it from time to time in your college years. I’m awake and no longer feeling I have to fight to prove my worth. If I have any regrets it is that it took me so long, so much time I could have enjoyed a more relaxed way of being a man, a husband, a father. And when you find the lady you want be your partner in life, read this letter again, more closely. I’ve never felt more calm, secure, loved and connected to your mother, you and my family. That’s something worth fighting for!
** The above is an edited letter written by one of my clients recently to share with his two sons both of college age. This client was identified with narcissistic personality disorder in couples therapy, and cutting through the gaslighting and denial patterns took a few years of couples therapy. After he experienced a recent breakthrough, which took him to a place where he allowed himself to own his actions as problematic and hurtful to him, as well as his marriage. In this therapist’s opinion, this process involved a wife who awakened to realize her value came from her, not him, and who became energized to do and change whatever was necessary in her own patterns of thinking and responding, to no longer participate in the narcissistic abuse patterns she experienced in their 20+ years of marriage.
*** Yes the word terrorize is objectionable; I had a hard time owning it. But it is exactly what occurs when a person, more often a man due to our socialization, intentionally acts to make the woman in his life, or his children, fear him in order to obey without questioning!