Part 2: The Traumatic Roots of Male Violence
Abused Boys Grow Up to Become Abusive and Violent Men
It never occurred to me that my life-long anger and depression and later my two broken marriages had anything to do with my past. All that changed in 1998 when I learned that I had 4 Aces. Let me explain. ACEs stand for Adverse Childhood Experiences and the concept was developed by Vincent Felitti, M.D. and Dr. Robert Anda.
They have conducted more than 70 studies since then that demonstrate the connection between adverse childhood experiences and later physical, emotional, and relationship health.
Participants were asked about different types of childhood trauma that had been identified in earlier research literature including the following 10 ACEs:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- Exposure to domestic violence
- Household substance abuse
- Household mental illness
- Parental separation or divorce
- Incarcerated household member
They found that each ACE a person reported increased the risk of a host of adult physical, emotional, and relationship problems. ACEs are common and I had four of them. Four aces are great as a poker hand, but very bad for our health. Drs. Felitti and Anda found that those who had 4 or more ACES compared to those who had none had:
- a 4- to 12-fold increase health risks for alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and suicide.
- a 2- to 4-fold increase in smoking, poor self-rated health, having more than 50 sexual intercourse partners, and sexually transmitted disease.
- a 1.4- to 1.6-fold increase in physical inactivity and severe obesity.
To understand the male violence we also have to understand the systemic forms of wounding and humiliation that include poverty, racism, sexism, economic inequality, climate disaster, and the loss basic necessities of life including clean water. As Scott Harrison, founder of Charity: Water reminds us, “Dirty water is responsible for more deaths in the world than all forms of violence.” Of course, destroying the life-support system of our planet may be the ultimate form of violence. These systemic problems impact our lives through our families.
Following my birth, my father became increasingly depressed when he couldn’t find work to support his family. I still remember the day I overheard my mother and her friends talking about their husbands. They all had complaints about the men’s inadequacies. I can’t remember the exact complaints, but I’ll forever remember the ridicule, scorn, contempt, and pity, I heard in their voices. I felt ashamed for my father and humiliated as his son. At four years old, I was enraged. I made a vow that I would die before I ever let a woman talk about me like that. It was a vow that nearly killed me.
Shortly after I turned five, my father took an overdose of sleeping pills. He didn’t die, but our lives were never the same. More layers of humiliation were added when my father left, my mother had to go to work full time and I was left with others and learned to fend for myself. It took many years for me to recognize that the ACEs of my childhood led to humiliation which expressed itself in anger and depression which caused health problems and broken marriages. It gook many more years until I was able to get the help I needed to heal.
I recount my own wounding and those of other men I’ve worked with over the years in my book, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression and I offer guidance for healing in 12 Rules for Good Men.
Our Partnership Roots and the Origin of Systemic Male Violence
I met the internationally acclaimed scholar and futurist Riane Eisler in 1987, shortly after the publication of The Chalice and the Blade. She contrasted two human social systems. “The first, which I call the dominator model, is what is popularly termed either patriarchy or matriarchy—the ranking of one half of humanity over the other. The second, in which social relations are primarily based on the principle of linking rather than ranking, may best be described as the partnership model.
She has deepened and elaborated on this model in numerous books including her most recent, written with peace anthropologist Douglas P. Fry, Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future. They describe our nomadic forager ancestors, that lived on the planet for two million years prior to beginning of large-scale agriculture, as the “Original Partnership Societies.”
They describe how these four features of partnership systems, or Partnerism, were key features of our human heritage for more than 99% of human history:
- Overall egalitarianism
- Equality, respect, and partnership between women and men
- A nonacceptance of violence, war, abuse, cruelty, and exploitation; and
- Ethics that support human caring, prosocial cooperation, and flourishing.
If violence, war, abuse, cruelty, and exploitation are not inherent to being human, but occurred in more recent times, I’ve always wondered when dominator cultures began and why. One compelling theory comes from the research of Dr. James DeMeo. “Saharasia is perhaps the most important book I’ve ever written, though certainly not the most popular,” says Dr. DeMeo. “It presents a major discovery on the role of early human armoring in the origins of war and social violence, in the mid to late Old World Neolithic period of around 4000 BC. The findings in Saharasia powerfully challenge nearly all conventional theories of human behavior and the origins of violence, including those of ‘violent genes’, ‘the naked ape’, ‘blank slate,’ and ‘original sin.’”
Dr. DeMeo goes on to say that his findings, “confirmed the existence of an ancient, worldwide period of relatively peaceful social conditions, where warfare, male domination, and destructive aggression were either absent, or at extremely minimal levels. Moreover, it has become possible to pinpoint both the exact times and places on Earth where human culture first transformed from peaceful, democratic, egalitarian conditions, to violent, warlike, despotic conditions.”
DeMeo pinpoints the place as “the old-world regions (notably in North Africa, the Near East, and Central Asia,” the time “around 4000-3500 BCE,” or 5,500 to 6,000 years ago, and the cause, which were “major environmental transformations, from relatively wet to arid conditions in those regions.”
He even ties his findings to specific theories by Austrian physician and psychoanalyst, Wilhelm Reich. Dr. DeMeo says, “Reich’s theory, which developed and diverged from psychoanalysis, labeled the destructive aggression and sadistic violence of Homo sapiens a completely abnormal condition. Reich claimed humans became violent from two major causes: firstly from abusive and neglectful treatment of infants and children, and secondly from the repression of adolescent heterosexual feelings.”
DeMeo also saw the connection to Riane Eisler’s work that was published just after his own. “After completing and publishing my research findings between 1980-1986, I subsequently learned about Riane Eisler’s work, The Chalice & The Blade, which argued for similar cultural transitions in Europe and the Mediterranean.”
Healing Men, Healing Relationships, Healing the Planet: The Work We’re Called on to Do Now
My book, The Warrior’s Journey Home: Healing Men, Healing the Planet describes the ways dominator culture harms men, and the women and children who love them. It shows the way in which dominator culture becomes both addictive and destructive. The time for unified action is more urgent now more than ever.
Psychologist Sam Keen says: “The radical vision of the future rests on the belief that the logic that determines either our survival or our destruction is simple:
- The new human vocation is to heal the earth.
- We can only heal what we love.
- We can only love what we know.
- We can only know what we touch.”
Now is the time to go back to the future. We must draw on the wisdom of “the original partnership societies” of our two-million-year history, heal the humiliation from the last 6,000 years of dominator culture violence, and create the new partnerism for the future. As Riane Eisler says on their site Parnerism.org, this is a time for “power with, not power over.”
Thomas Berry was a priest, a “geologian,” and a historian of religions. He spoke eloquently to our connection to the Earth and the consequences of our failure to remember we are one member in the community of life. “We never knew enough. Nor were we sufficiently intimate with all our cousins in the great family of the earth. Nor could we listen to the various creatures of the earth, each telling its own story. The time has now come, however, when we will listen or we will die.”
In order to end male violence we need to tell the truth about the humiliation we are causing males in our families and in our world. This has been my work for fifty years now. Humiliated men, humiliate women, children, and other men. If you’d like information on how you can help stop the cycle of humiliation and return to our partnership roots, drop a note to Jed@MenAlive.com and put “heal male violence” in the subject line.