One of the most widespread consequences of toxic masculinity and patriarchy is the trauma that others face when subjected to it. This trauma ranges from physical (bodily harm, physical abuse, sexual violence), to mental (manipulation, condescension, attacking mental stability), to emotional (unreciprocated emotional labor, exacerbating emotional disorder symptoms). Each of these forms of trauma, which are all forms of body terrorism in their own ways, can often be very upfront, such as hitting another person, or they can be subtler, such as daily demeaning actions that cause another person to question their self-worth.
While the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of trauma all play into each other, the emotional aspects, as well as the mental aspects, are typically on the subtler, daily side. Men are often at fault for causing emotional trauma in the lives of those who surround them, whether they are aware of it—let alone willing to admit to it—or not. Each instance of negging, or mansplaining, or any other emotional subjugation is an opportunity for the “innocent” or more often ignorant actions of a man to end up in a traumatic experience.
As cliché as it sounds, the first step in trying to resolve or alleviate any issue is to admit there is a problem at all. Every man, in one way or another, has subjected someone, or maybe many people, to some level or emotional trauma in their lifetime, and it is important that we do what we can to help whoever we hurt heal from our actions (that is, of course, if they’re lucky enough to still have contact with the victim).
I know that I have struggled greatly over the years to specifically identify what emotional damage I have caused, but doing so is something that I believe is vital for being someone dedicated to ending Body Terrorism and eliminating toxic masculinity. Below, we look at 6 ways in which men may start helping those they have hurt heal, or at the very least address, their emotional trauma.
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Listen to them to understand.
For men, one of the hardest parts of facing someone we have hurt or traumatized is actually listening to what that person has to say. Men are taught from a young age to, well, “act like a man,” which often involves avoiding blame, not admitting to fault, or not wanting to hear what another person has to say because you don’t like it. The way men are taught to handle these situations is to react and take control as opposed to actually trying to understand the situation. This is an extremely violent and irresponsible way to handle conflicts or uncomfortable situations.
It is pertinent that men actually listen to those they’ve hurt to understand what they are dealing with as opposed to try to react or get the upper hand. This means giving them the time and space to unpack and process everything they are thinking and feeling, especially as more is bound to come up as the conversation proceeds. It is your job in this case to make sure they know you are listening, whether it’s with a simple nod and eye contact or by giving short and appropriate verbal responses when a full response isn’t needed or appropriate.
Think before you talk.
In the same vein as “listening to understand as opposed to reacting,” it is important that you are giving yourself the time to respond in as level-headed and calm of a manner as you can. Talking back or responding without proper thought as to what you really want to say can only worsen the issue you are trying to alleviate, causing more trauma and causing them to trust you even less than they might have before. It may sound difficult to both listen to someone else speak while trying to keep your own thoughts in line, but this is an essential part of making sure any conversation is balanced. Plus, by trying to talk to the person for whom you’ve caused emotional trauma, you are expecting them to keep their thoughts in line while listening to what you have to say as well, so it is only fair that you do the same for them.
Don’t let the conversation die.
Full disclosure: this is something I struggle with a lot in my more serious, emotional conversations, and I am sure that I am not the only man who struggles with this part of talking to someone they’ve hurt. It is easy to shut down when faced with emotional adversity, especially with someone that you love or care about. You don’t want to admit you’ve done something wrong, so you want to avoid facing the reality of the situation, even when you’re in the thick of it. You have to make sure that you do not let the conversation die when you are faced with an uncomfortable question or proposal.
This can seem tricky, especially when you’re trying to give yourself the time to answer a question appropriately. However, it is typically better to let the person you are talking to know that you understand that what they’re saying is important and that you might need more time to think about it rather than trying to overthink it in an insufficient amount of time and shutting down because of it.
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Don’t unload your emotions.
Again in the vein of thinking before you talk, you have to remember that this conversation, or series of conversations, is not about you and your emotions. At the very least, these conversations are meant for you to show that you can put in the emotional labor necessary to make this person you care for justifiably trust you again. If you aren’t able to put in that kind of emotional labor, you should reconsider if this attempt at working with the person you hurt to heal from their trauma is actually going to be beneficial for them.
When you are talking to this person you care for, putting in that emotional labor means that your emotions must be kept in check. While showing sympathy and allowing yourself to cry are perfectly normal emotional reactions in these kinds of situations, you have to understand that excessive amounts of your own emotional display or you unloading your emotional baggage onto the conversation is not only selfish, it may even exacerbate the trauma you were hoping to help heal from in the first place.
Think before you act.
The easiest way to turn an emotionally intensive moment of vulnerability on the part of the victim into another traumatic experience is to act inappropriately in response to what they are saying. The biggest examples are definitely more violent, whether it’s the escalation to a physical altercation, raising your voice, or even walking away abruptly. This can also be on the subtler side, just like I mentioned before, including touching the person you’re talking to without consent (even in a consoling way), trying to incite humor or being sarcastic, or trying to divert the conversation. Even staring at them in a confused or menacing way can cause further damage, as that can be perceived as you taking issue with what they are saying. It is important you think about the actions you take in this conversation in the same way it is important for you to think about everything you’re saying.
Understand you can’t fix everything.
Although this might sound a bit defeatist, this is honestly the most realistic way of helping someone deal with the trauma you have caused them. It is important that you realize that the damage you have caused someone, no matter how “innocent” or “non-malicious” you may have intended to be, can often be permanent. This means that often the only thing you can do to help the person you care about heal is by leaving them alone and doing your best to stay out of their way.
Giving them that emotional and physical space can be the thing that makes it easier for them to come to terms with and heal from their pain.
But that doesn’t mean you will automatically get to be back in that person’s life once they’ve found peace, since that peace might be reliant on the fact that you are out of the picture. This is the price we sometimes must pay when we hurt the people we love, and the best lesson we can take from this sort of situation is to be better to those we love and care for in the future and ensure that we aren’t contributing to the everyday occurrences of Body Terrorism that come at the hands of toxic masculinity and patriarchy.
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