"To function effectively in our job, you must annihilate, smother, and suppress normal emotions like fear, anger, revulsion, and even compassion. To do so otherwise is to invite overwhelming doubt or hesitancy when decisive action is required. The penalty for your achieved competence is a mindset that might as well be a foreign language to your social contemporaries. We are…victims of our own success. When these same normal and appropriate emotions…surface in personal relationships, we automatically shut down and wonder why, over time, that the people we care about the most complain that we are aloof, cold, and uncommunicative." — Lt. Al Benner, San Francisco Police
One of my clients in law enforcement shared this powerful quote with me, and I wanted to share it with you, too, because it really touched me. Firstly, it really allows us to get inside the world of the police officer, the soldier, the first-responder, to empathize with what they see, what they carry, and how they might need to shut down to carry out their duties. What a powerful thing to keep in mind, too, as we have more conversations as a society about the relationships between police officers and the communities they serve.
But this also touched me more generally, as this quote is thoughtfully addressing the toll that trauma takes on us. How living through (or growing up in) traumatic circumstances so often requires we come up with strategies that aid us in our survival, but become a hindrance as we move past our trauma and try to live and thrive in the world.
Thirdly, this is a story that many men know all too well, given the often toxic attitudes about masculinity we have in our culture. So many men are raised with the attitude that you must always be invulnerable (rub some dirt in it, toughen up, don't be a wuss, boys don't cry), you must shut down feeling to be acceptable and valued as a man…and so, at great cost to themselves, men often do that. Only to find their intimate partners, children, and other loved ones frustrated with them for becoming exactly what they've been told they're supposed to be. It's a terrible paradox for many men, and the story of so many withdrawers.
This clip explores the toxic pressures on men to hide their feelings and how we (still!) give boys and men the sense that they must be completely invulnerable in order to be masculine. This seems to be a key reason so many men shut down and withdraw with their partners, out of the fear that they'll be seen as weak or unattractive if they share their vulnerable feelings and needs with their loved ones.