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Building Sandcastles March 16, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in Q & A.
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Daniel’s Question: Why do men, including myself, continue time after time to take any situation into their own hands and try to solve problems through trial and error and, after failing, then we get emotional and frustrated?

Dr. Smith’s Response: Thanks for your question, Daniel. It’s an important one! I’ll start with an illustration:

Have you ever watched kids playing in the sand at the beach? Little Annie is having fun with her favorite pail and shovel while her mother watches from a few feet away. Another child, about Annie’s age, comes along and watches for a few moments, then grabs Annie’s shovel. Her mother immediately takes action! She retrieves the toy and promptly returns it to her daughter, comforting her little girl with a hug and scolding the other child as she does so.

What did Annie learn? She learned that others will be there to help her, to take care of her. She feels valued, though she won’t be able to express it quite that way. She feels secure.

A few yards away on the same the beach, little Tommy is building a sandcastle while his mother is reading a book nearby. Another child, about Tommy’s age, comes along and watches for a few moments, then tromps on Tommy’s castle, smashing it flat and destroying his work in a matter of seconds. Tommy’s mother turns her attention toward her son, but she doesn’t move. Tommy starts to whimper and immediately looks toward his mom, but she makes sure he doesn’t notice she’s watching. She waits. The other child walks away, and Tommy again looks toward his mom. She has already turned her focus back to her reading. So Tommy goes back to rebuilding his castle.

What did Tommy learn? No one is going to help you. You feelings don’t matter. You have to figure stuff out on your own.

Now repeat those themes over and over for 10 or 20 years. In what ways do women and men respond differently to problems?

Generally speaking, women turn to others to help them process and understand life’s difficulites. They want to be comforted and understood, and they believe they will be able to find the help they need…or at least that they have the right to ask for it.

Men, on the other hand, have be taught (socialized) that they must figure things out on their own. The thought of asking for help feels weak and unmanly.

Even so, men are not omnipotent (all powerful). They cannot solve everything on their own. They’re human, and they have feelings: strong feelings they frequently have to bottle up. They handle the difficulty for a while, but when it doesn’t get resolved, the emotional pressure reaches explosion level. Then others shame them and tell them they have “anger issues.” Who wouldn’t? They’re trapped: Don’t ask for help. Don’t get emotional. Don’t be weak.

It’s a tough row to hoe.
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