As a boy, I once watched a Western where Apaches were fighting the Cavalry. One supposedly courageous lieutenant walked into the open plain with his two guns blazing away. Arrow after arrow struck his chest. Still he continued firing. Twelve arrows later, this man of great courage finally fell face first onto the dusty plain.
There is a fine line between courage and stupidity. As men, we were taught to steel ourselves against pain and to continue through adversity. No talking, no feeling, no crying, no sign of a whimper–even if there were a dozen arrows stuck in our heart. If hit with an arrow, we were taught to break off the shaft, ignore the pain, suppress feelings, and above all, tell no one about the depth of our distress. Just move onward till no more could be endured–then collapse. After all, isn’t that what men are all about!
Wounds are a part of life. They can be minor scratches like skinning our knees or they can be massive emotional wounds like abandonment, shame, or abuse. Some heal quickly; others leave permanent scars. To plant an arrow into a large oak tree will produce a small hole, but to shoot that same arrow at a green sapling will split it in half. Our deepest wounds were inflicted when we were children. Arrows embedded into innocent young hearts cause massive holes.
Wounds are painful, gut wrenching, and torturous. It is often said that from our deepest wounds come our greatest gifts. It also goes without saying that from our deepest wounds come our deepest pain, and, if denied, the source of our destruction.
The real wounding occurs, however, from our adaptation to the injuries. Silence, suppression, denial, and detachment from others have been ways men typically coped with pain. In effect, the poisoned barbs were left embedded in our hearts still emitting toxins. Fears of suffering further wounds developed life-long patterns of avoidance.
Building calluses around our hearts can stop us from bleeding, but the trapped, throbbing pain will eventually develop into a raging infection. An excess of work, sex, or alcohol will provide a temporary anesthetic. However, any attempt at avoidance just re-wounds the psyche and, over time, forms the greater wound. Anytime we deny the existence of deep, profound feelings, we kill part of the soul. Trying to hide an aching, gnawing wound is sure to create ghastly and terrifying shadows.
Nevertheless, to be pregnant with pain can, indeed, be a great motivating force. Books have been written, missions have been created, lives have been reborn. Facing and releasing ourselves from the pain provides the key to healing and freedom.
Easier said than done–especially for men who have watched John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Rambo handle their wounds on the silver screen. With their bodies maimed by bullets, arrows, or knives, their notion of manhood modeled silence and suppression.
Getting a handle on wounds is much more difficult than Hollywood would have us believe, as anyone who has faced their wounds can attest. Since unremoved arrowheads may eventually sever the aorta, finding the source of the wound is a matter of life and death–to the spirit.
Healing is a long and tortuous journey. It requires great courage and dedication. It demands a willingness to be awakened from a numbed existence. It asks that we break the traditional patterns of silence and denial. It calls us to share our story with other men to dissolve the toxins and pointed barbs remaining in the heart.
As we witness other men’s stories and honor the grief work, we assist in the healing process. Acceptance and love provide soothing balm for the masculine spirit as we journey on the road to REAL manhood. Real men do grieve. Real men do cry. Real men do help and heal other men.
Leonard Szymczak (Author, Psychotherapist)