This book is a Get Out of Jail Free card and a passport back into the playground.

The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.

The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.

How to Be Free is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, iBooks in some countries, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

It is also available in paperback from Lulu or Amazon for $10 US, plus postage.

The ebook version currently has received 593 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

"Toxic Masculinity" or Toxic Idealism?

How often does domestic violence take place because the perpetrator doesn’t know that it is wrong? Assuming that we are talking about violence inflicted upon the physically weaker individual, it is one of the most obvious of injustices. It is true that some highly regarded religious texts attempt to justify it in some cases, taking the same kind of reasoning which has been used to justify the corporal punishment of children - i.e. a theorised larger benefit for the individual through violence-induced self-discipline, so the possibility is there, especially in those cultures still dominated by such religious belief structures. But I think that it is safe to say that educational programs based around telling us that domestic violence is a bad thing will not have a major effect in minimising the problem as they are telling us what we already know.

As with any other form of destructive behaviour, domestic violence is counterproductive to the larger best interest of the perpetrator. Any relief from pent-up frustration experienced in the act of violence is liable to be offset by the longer-term disadvantages - feelings of guilt, possibility of punishment, progressive decline in benefits available from the victim through decrease in physical and emotional health. This may seem very cynical, but I present it this way for a reason. We have to understand that, even from the most clinical viewpoint, the abuser experiences a net loss. Once this is established the emphasis falls on the question of how the individual can gain the ability to behave differently - or, to look at it from a different perspective, what is driving the behaviour which is unhelpful both to themselves and to the victim.

Domestic violence may involve violence by men against women, men against men, women against men or women against women. There is also violence by adults against children, children against children and children against adults. But since a large slice of the problem is violence by men against women, this tends to be the main focus of educational programs aimed at addressing the problem.

One radical feminist approach which is gaining popularity describes aspects of archetypal masculinity as “toxic” and attempts to re-educated males out of them. I think this provides a good example of how an idealistic approach to a social problem can exacerbate rather than help it.

Before we take a look at the problems inherent in an idealistic approach to the problem, lets look at what we might achieve through a more pragmatic approach. 

Domestic violence is usually a form of expression for feelings of anger. So, given that anger is occurring, what can we do to channel it into something other than violence. As Bernard Lafayette said : “Violence is the language of the inarticulate.” Anything we can do to encourage people to give verbal expression to their feelings of anger is liable to reduce the incidence of violence. And this applies also to those who might end up on the receiving end of violence. A person who feels able to express their anger outwardly rather than adopt a submissive approach to life is less likely to end up being victimised by others. If walking away or seeking help are options they will be more likely to take them more quickly.

But where does the anger come from in the first place? Each of us has our character armour - our personality structure - the purpose of which is to protect us from threats internal and external. An internal threat might be feelings of worthlessness. We may have particular kinds of behaviour on which we pride ourselves because they carry the meaning for us that we are not worthless. Essentially the character armour is built from the conditions of our self-acceptance. If we use the example of an archetypal masculine persona, a young boy may have been taught that he’s not a real man if he cries. Thus not crying becomes a condition for his self-acceptance. All of us have some form of character armour. Playing on other’s pity by crying excessively and playing the victim, for instance, would just be another form of armour.

Insecurity in the armour can lead to outbursts of anger. When we don’t feel under threat, everything is peaceful, but when we feel our self-acceptance is under threat we will defend it aggressively by expressing angry feelings toward the source of the threat.

The more self-accepting we are, the less prone we are to anger or violence. Of course this doesn’t mean that people who don’t feel angry are necessarily self-accepting. The negative feelings can be directed inwardly rather than outwardly, thus many non-self-accepting people become depressed rather than angry.

Through cultivating unconditional self-acceptance we can increase the integrity and thus the health of our personality structure. If we have many conditions for our self-acceptance then we are like a hollow tree which many things can break. If we are self-sufficient in the maintenance of our self-acceptance then we are like a healthy tree which can resist or bend as required.

We achieve unconditional self-acceptance by learning to accept all of our thoughts and feelings. Let’s take a man who has been violent towards women. Telling him that his masculinity is “toxic” isn’t going to help him be more self-accepting. He feels angry. He wants to beat a woman. So this is the place for him to begin. He needs to accept that it is O.K. to feel angry and that is O.K. to want to beat a woman. He will feel these things whether he thinks they are O.K. or not, but recognising that the thoughts and the feelings do no harm in themselves and can be accepted in themselves will help to take the pressure off. The fact that he has, in the past, been violent, is an indication that his particular character structure and situation have resulted in a level of pressure pushing him towards violence which he was unable to resist. A demand - from the individual’s conscience or from others - that they be different from the way they are when they have no way of accommodating this demand can be a source of unbearable pressure. Drawing a distinction between the deed and the thoughts and feelings which lie behind the deed can be enough to free the individual from a good deal of this pressure. If they are made to feel that they are unacceptable for feeling like beating a woman then there is far less motive for resisting that urge. And if insecurities about self-worth are what lie at the heart of the character armour then we are hardly helping someone to free themselves of a destructive form of such armour by insisting that they are a bad person.

Copyright: alphaspirit / 123RF Stock Photo

Let’s look at a little myth or parable about the masculine and the feminine to see if we can put that aspect of the issue into some kind of historical context. The virtue of this format is that it allows for simplification.

A tribe live in the jungle. Both men and women spend time looking after the infants. Leopards from time to time eat one of the infants. The men make spears and head out into the jungle to kill the leopards and protect the women and children. (As child bearers the women are too valuable to be hunters.) Hunting requires the cultivation of competitive and aggressive abilities. The hunting culture comes to clash with the nurturing culture. The women tell the men not to be so macho when back amongst the tribe. Suppressing the voice of the nurturer within was a necessary part of becoming a successful hunter, so giving in to the critical voice of the nurturers would endanger the group, but resisting that critical voice means an increase in the behaviour which is being criticised. It is a negative feedback loop. This cultural divide between men and women determines the structure of our character armour with some of those made most insecure by the negative feedback loop feeling the need to exercise more and more control over society.

We can’t know if things actually happened like that, but I think that the pattern of criticism leading to an increase in the thing criticised is something we can see in society today. Constructive criticism is helpful to the secure individual, but if the negative behaviour arises from a state of insecurity then reestablishing a state of security is a prerequisite to being able to change for the better, and in this case criticism can be counterproductive.

While idealistic criticism leads to insecurity and retaliatory hostility, idealism itself is driven by insecurity. The more someone doubts their own worth the more addicted they may become to “proving” their worth by championing “the good”. If we have a lot of psychological room then we can think about all the shades of grey regarding any moral issue and we can recognise the underlying psychological issues which need to be addressed if we want an improvement in people’s behaviour. But if we are so insecure - so backed into a corner by our own dark side - that only a simplistic division between good and evil is possible and no strategy more complex than an insistence on the good can find a hold in our mind - then idealism is the result.

Which brings us back to the idea of trying to educate young men out of their “toxic masculinity”. This reminds me of the Chinese Cultural Revolution or the discipline and “consciousness raising” approach of religious cults. Education should be about giving people facts and tools, not trying to shape intentions and personalities. The shaping of intentions and personalities should be an autonomous process. We may be able to “educate” people to be submissive to our demands, but a society of such people is a dictatorship waiting to happen. If we want a truly healthy society it needs to be made up of individuals with the kind of integrity which can only grow naturally.

The concept of unconditional self-acceptance is very simple. At its heart is the idea that thoughts and feelings, in and of themselves, do no harm, but, no matter how apparently sick, may be steps on the way to a healthier mode of being. It isn’t an attempt to “educate” anyone out of anything as it is offered as a tool to be used only if the individual finds it useful.

Carl Jung said : "The healthy man does not torture others - generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers." If we apply this to those in our society who are given to violence, we are left with the question : “What is the nature of the violence which has been done to them?” Is it not possible to conceive that that violence is/was a lack of acceptance of some kind - a message conveyed by those around them (from parents to peers to religious teachers) that they were, in some essential way, unacceptable? Is it not the same kind of invisible violence that drives so many to suicide?

Of course here we find another negative feedback loop. The more violent acts a person commits the further recedes the possibility of the acceptance - both from themselves and others - they might require to lose the violent impulse.

It may be easy to lose hope for our society - torn as it is between those whose insecurity makes them cling to various forms of idealism and those who are driven to hostility by the wounds that that idealism’s lack of acceptance inflicts upon them (neither of those positions being mutually exclusive). But each of us who learns - through unconditional self-acceptance - to achieve reconciliation between the warring factions of our own psyche is an island of strength in a sea of weak and frightened individuals. The advantage lies with us.

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