Once upon a time, there was a boy whose mother fell ill the day he was born. She got what is called postpartum psychosis and was not able to take care of the kid. Later that day the father took the boy home. Over the following days and weeks, the dad drove the boy to the hospital every day so that the mother and the boy could get to know each other. The first period of his life, his father cared for the kid with help from family and friends. Eventually, the mother got better and was able to return to the family home. But the mother wasn’t well for long; she fell ill again after some time. The family tried to care for the mother in the home during the periods when she was sick. The father had to keep the mother and the children in separate rooms as the children were scared of her when she acted in peculiar ways, said unpredictable things or when they didn’t feel any contact with her.
My name is David Pilbäck, and that little boy was me. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay at home with my mother until I was six years old. We had our garden where we grew our potatoes, vegetables, and berries. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, she fell ill at my birth in something called postpartum psychosis and was after that ill on several occasions during my childhood. I learned that even though life was idyllic, this idyll could at any time be switched to silence, fear and loneliness. I was encouraged by almost everybody around me, my father, relatives and family friends, to talk about my experiences. But I never felt that I had a container to rest in and give expression to my emotions. I have been searching for such a container all along my upbringing.
My belief is that I have an insecure/avoidant attachment style with some elements of traumatic attachment. Traumatic attachment is the kind of attachment a child gets from having a fearful or dangerous parent. Traumatic attachment is an attachment style I first came in contact with from Dr. Carista Luminaire’s work. Luminare is a doctor in Psychology with attachment as a specialty; she wrote her Ph.D. about attachment. Today she holds courses together with her husband Lion Goodman and these courses are about how our early attachment plays out in our close adult relationships like a dance between the narcissist and the codependent. You will find one of their courses here.
In my relationship with my woman Annika, I am, like so many other men, dancing the role of the narcissist. These are the imprints I have to deal with in our day to day life. Now I do not want to give the impression that I am a particularly well-functioning person with a total check on my inner life, I’m not. I am an average man that struggles; I’m struggling to keep the emotional connection alive towards the rest of the members of my close family, struggling to be courageous enough to admit mistakes, struggling not to be irritated and angry when things aren’t ending up the way I want in our everyday life. I’m struggling not to give fear and panic, triggers and drama a large space in our life together. To be authentic with my emotions and to reconnect with Annika as fast as possible if (when!) I have broken the connection. My struggle is not in any way easy, and I am getting more and more clear about the fact that there is many people with little or no understanding of this silent struggle on the inside of me and so many other men in recovery.
My personal journey has inspired me to write a thesis on the connection between movement and emotions. My writing was more of a compulsion, but inspiration sounds better. This thesis led to me founding the organization men’s movement. Men’s movement is an online community for men regarding men’s health education and support; the domain is mensmovement.com. Anybody interested in these questions can create a profile here, get feedback and support, read texts and find courses in personal development, attachment, men’s groups and relationships, among other topics. Mensmovement.com is one of these containers where we can become healed and complete persons, whatever this may look for the one man. But let us return to the boy and the emotions.
“It is easier to build strong kids than to repair broken men.”
One of the problems with using this famous quote of Douglass when it comes to boys is that it is so universal. There is a widespread understanding that boys who zoom out and becomes silent are strong, I do not believe this is the case. Boys who stop expressing their emotions freely, who are holding back, are in many contexts seen as a sign of strength, I do not believe this is the case. We are teaching boys that emotions are to be held back for the convenience of us adults. Boys who cry are forced to give explanations as to why they are crying, they are entertained, they are distracted, in the worst cases even ridiculed or threatened into submission. These boys do stop expressing their emotions, through facial expression, sounds or movements. We take this “submission” for social adaptation, yes a dysfunctional adaptation where the child is not allowed to express what is there, is not authorized to be heard. Today, I often see adults who are not taking the time to let the child finish thinking, to take the time to let the child finish his emotional expression is then an impossibility. Where should the boys get the space where they can be who they are if the “normal” is dysfunctional? We need to create rooms where they can fit in with their whole self.
Many men are walking around with an axe in their forehead. The persons he meets says: You have an axe in your forehead! The man replies: I know, but it is ok. The axe symbolizes a deep emotional wound, which is evident to all the involved except for the man himself. It is utterly impossible, with an ax in one’s forehead, to be a container for the emotions of a boy. Apart from this, boys do not crawl up in the lap of someone who has an ax in his forehead; boys have an intuitive knowing that these man-boys often suffer a deeper emotional void than the boys themselves.
We need a conversation in our society about what a safe attachment between the young child and his or her mother looks like. We need to dare to point out and term the axe. Our own and others’. These men were once boys who couldn’t or didn’t get to express what was there, they didn’t get mirroring, they haven’t found rest in a suitable container. Do we need to ask ourselves if we want yet another generation of men with an ax in their forehead?