My seven-year-old client, drew an “angry daddy who doesn’t like cuddles.” If he did show her any affection she would cling onto him so tightly and for so long he’d thrust her off angrily. We decided that her daddy preferred little hugs and she learned to give him quick cuddles from behind and fleeting kisses on his hand or neck and to then move away. Lack of physical contact ceased to be an issue as he responded warmly to his emotionally spontaneous daughter.
Generally, males are not raised to be vulnerable. Like many men, Lucy’s father was detached from the normal range of softer feelings and being an abuser he was either behaving aggressively or repressing such feelings as hurt, disappointment, shame or fear. His narrow definition of masculinity offered little in the way of options when dealing with the emotional realm of life. His tender feelings were there though, waiting for recognition and expression.
Abusers need help to expand themselves emotionally. They have to learn to recognise their own softer feelings, name them, understand their impact on themselves and others and learn how to communicate and express themselves at an emotional level. Females are socialised to be emotionally expressive whereas males, in general, are not although we are beginning to see cultural changes in this domain.
To deal with their intense emotional feelings abusers are highly likely to self medicate on drugs or alcohol. Constructive calming techniques are unknown to them and must be learned and practiced if they are to control their fierce feelings.
One abuser who had stopped his substance abuse was gradually wracked with what he described as “terrible pain” that he later recognised as normal feelings. He had been repressing all his tender feelings from a very young age and at 33 was actually in touch with those feeling for the first time. “I thought I was going mad but I was simply feeling,” he said.
Emotional expressiveness is a prerequisite for the development of respectful and enduring relationships. We need to help men to achieve this for their own wellbeing and for that of their partners and children.