Toxic vs Divine Masculinity — My coming to terms with myself

I’ve gotten much better the past few years (or maybe just months — you’ll have to ask my wife) about understanding my own feelings and emotions and expressing them in healthy ways. This is me as a work in progress — recognizing some of my issues, actively working to address them, but not in any way claiming to have mastered them.

My anger tended (tends?) to be explosive, creating a mushroom cloud of shrapnel assaulting everything around me, regardless of whether they were connected to the cause. As I learned what anger felt like — the stirring of it rising, the haze taking over my brain, the approaching lack of clarity where I will misinterpret everything as an attack — I found myself better able to prepare, and redirect that into something more healthy (typically photography). Before I could learn to deal with it, I had to learn what the emotion really felt like through experience. Even deep joy/happiness is a relatively new phenomenon for me — just the past few years. The feeling of my emotions, the experience of connecting with that emotion I’m feeling — still seems somewhat alien to me.

Perhaps this is how dealing with anger works, or perhaps its how Michael needs to deal with anger. I’m an engineer, not a psychologist, dammit!

I recognize a combination of family values, religion, and culture that felt stifling to my emotions growing up, which pretty much encompasses most of the things involved in a person’s life. It’s not like “my dad didn’t know how to express emotions so I’m repressed”. Or “my particular religion feels like it built shame into all my emotions”. Or “the USA is so full of tough badass dudes, I should be that way too”. It’s a pretty complex, multifaceted beast, with no clear silver-bullet solution. Well, there’s sort of a bronze-bullet solution. It’s not really gonna work overnight, but it’s a start.

I’ve found that start to be same as other issues— recognize that you have a problem, and do the work to fix the problem. Just as you can’t overcome addiction overnight — even the cold-turkey crew has to deal with withdrawal — you can’t go from being angry to suddenly figuring out how to handle it perfectly without some time and thought. Recognizing the problem is the beginning, but is insufficient for real change. You have to actually do the work. My past inexperience with being unable to deal with emotion is a learned, practiced bad habit. I need to learn my own emotions and practice new habits. Insert rant here about the internet and instant gratification gamification breaking human’s ability to do deep focus on work by removing our biological reward system driving motivation to do those things. #dopamine

But, back to recognizing the problem — I think that if you don’t recognize you have problems connecting with your emotions, and haven’t looked into the issue, you do have the those problems, simply because most of western society and institutions are structured to build humans that way. Everyone’s journey to recognizing their own self is unique, but we all tend to have work to do. If you don’t look inwards, you will never know.

I’d wager many healthy, emotional people feel things less strongly than I do. I’d also wager my wife feels things more deeply than me. It’s not a race towards being more emotional. I do feel there’s sometimes a movement to over-emotionalize people, rather than get them in touch with who they are, but that’s probably a whole other thing to write about. I also grapple with the issue of the feminization of masculinity, but again, a whole other topic.

An important start is for parents to being this process with their children — teaching them healthy ways of accepting and working with feelings, instead of teaching control and suppression. It’s incumbent on the individual to learn how to understand and deal with their own emotions and humanity — but it is unfair (or at least makes things harder than they should be!) to expect a child to come to understanding of emotions on their own, at a young age, while being taught what ends up being functional suppression of many emotions. (I also understand that many religious folks view their forms of expression as the healthiest in God’s eyes, but I think what we know about how brains work provides solid evidence that they are wrong.) I’ve worked through a lot of my own anger towards my upbringing, and understand that is now my responsibility to deal with. Recognizing that there was (generally speaking), no ill will from family or church leaders (I can’t know if that’s true for government leaders), and that they genuinely were teaching what they believed to be true helps me defuse my anger towards individuals, but does not do much to alleviate my anger towards institutions that function in ways that are inconsistent with their stated belief system. That’s a burn directed at religion and politics at the same time. Nor does it help when I understand that I am now the one who needs to do the emotional work much later in life than I would have liked to, but I find that thought leading me down a path of victimizing myself. It’s important for parents and adults to come to a proper understanding of their own selves, otherwise, how will we teach the tiny ones?

I have many issues to work through regarding my upbringing — recognizing the value and beauty where it exists, and recognizing the things I need to take ownership of. I understand terms like toxic masculinity in a new light for myself, but hesitate to use them. I feel that sometimes terms become too loaded, and we begin seeing concepts of masculinity and patriarchy as being inherently negative, instead of looking for the positive concepts in them. I think there is a danger in simply swapping masculinity for femininity —there are toxic aspects to both. I certainly understand the current negativity towards toxic masculinity though — men are in power through most of the world, so that’s what is going to get attention. It’s the same way that we must respect the spirit of Black Lives Matter — it’s not that they believe all lives don’t matter, it’s addressing a very real issue in America. Blue Lives Matter-ing is also true, but it’s addressing a different issues.

The beauty arrives in uniting the best parts of what we traditionally identify as feminine and masculine values. (I’m not trying to incur the wrath of those with other gender identities — feminine and masculine are labels that can help people understand concepts that lead to healthier behavior).

I like the term divine masculinity to serve as the antithesis (or perhaps remedy?) of toxic masculinity. These terms are likely impossible to fully define, and unfortunately, due to differences in cultures, may be defined totally differently depending on one’s perspective.

For my purposes, I want to dramatically, drastically, and incorrectly oversimplify things. It makes me feel a little sick to do that, but then I realize that’s all media has been doing for awhile now, so why not do the same thing to be lazy? I mean, for a purpose that I believe is good?

Toxic masculinity for me can be understood at the root as lack of emotional intelligence, or failure to use it appropriately (especially when in a position of power). Emotional failures result in both damage to the individual, and to the group around them — family, children, company, country, religious group, cultural enemy, etc. This creates negative cultures of control, dominance, and anger. Elevation of a man’s ego allows him to, essentially, be his own god. There is tendency to ignore criticism, and forge ahead with the divine goal — yet this goal may be accomplished in a highly toxic way. The goal may be achieved, but people are hurt and deep sacrifices are made. Unfortunately, these hurts and sacrifices tend to be ignored. Culturally, this is accepted — we accept, and in fact, glorify, an individual man’s accomplishments, despite the cost. We know Steve Jobs was kind of terrible as a human being — but he did cool stuff with Apple, so many people still aspire to be him. Being a complete fucking asshole is an incredibly effective way to be a leader and get shit done. If the goal is simply doing the thing, maintaining control of the family, building the company, making a lot of money, running the government, or winning the war, the strong, patriarchal, asshole leader may be the best way. We also see the Weinstein’s among us using power to get sex in exploitative and manipulative way. This isn’t to say that people aren’t naturally attracted to men and women in power, or that I even view it as wrong to have a variety of human relationships on different tiers of power — but to use the power to exploit is the toxic part.

For the Jobs or the Weinstein, there are few consequences in this world, and it’s difficult to say if there are consequences in the next world, or if they will simply be reincarnated as turtles. Then again, perhaps turtles are higher up the karmic chain than humans….

The consequences they do face tend to pale in comparison to the damage they cause. This leads to a cycle of leadership where the followers repeat the same damaging behaviors. If the type of world we want to live in doesn’t match the current world, we need to change things. There needs to be consequences, and removal from power for the unapologetic. The toxic parts of masculinity are built deep inside of us. There is always room for forgiveness and change. It’s very possible for a leader to move from a toxic to a divine masculinity without removal — again, our tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater is incredibly strong.

There is a twofold path to working on this problem that I see.

First, each man needs to resolve to understand his path to a divine sense of masculinity. I have resolved to do this for myself. My flavor involves a lot of traditional masculine things — allowing myself reflection with a glass of bourbon, sit with nature, and growing in myself strong feelings of being a shepherd alongside traditional leadership roles. To strive to harness my ambitions and drive to pull forward humanity, rather than sacrificing humanity at the altar of myself. To embrace the masculine in myself in a healthy, holistic, and balanced way — which includes an understanding of concepts like the divine feminine to balance my divine masculine.

Second, each group needs to resolve to put in place leaders who embrace the divine sense of masculinity, in order to change the culture of the group they are serving. I hope to do this and continue to do this as I grow my businesses, and am fortunate to have a totally baller wife who holds me to a high standard in way that I can understand , and has led me to a greater understanding of her divine femininity — in a way that is not demeaning, but constructive and leads to building a better marriage, life, and world.

Yin and yang, twin flames — the unity of the divine masculine and feminine is a particularly beautiful flavor for my mind right now.



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Michael Anfang

Michael Anfang

synthesizing buckminster fuller and alan watts