Men are trained to be strong, independent, controlling, dominant, sexual and competitive by using anger as the “main tool”. Women are trained to be attractive, warm, loving, and caregiving, receptive, sensitive and sexual through the use of guilt as the “main tool”. Many books have been written about differences between men and women, not the least in popularity being “Women Are From Venus; Men Are From Mars”. From a psychosocial point of view, there are clear, clinical patterns that develop for each which, when they might enter into relationships, will play out resulting in many types of problems.
These problems are demonstrated in marriages and other intimate relationships, in the workplace, in political circles, economically and socially. The dominance of men we will call “counter-dependent” and the receptiveness of women we will call “co-dependent”. I should note here that these two terms are not solely restricted to the genders to which I have correlated them but for purposes of this article I will limit their definitions as described. Let me illustrate with an example.
Johnny was 6 ½ years of age when his parents, Tom and Sara, finally separated. The marriage was a tumultuous one in which, Sara, seemed to be at the mercy of Tom’s wrath on a regular, consistent basis. In his eyes, she seemed not to be able to do anything to his satisfaction
No matter how hard she tried. She didn’t make enough money in her part-time employment, she was ineffective as a parent and homemaker and she wasn’t efficient in handling the family finances. At dinnertime, it wouldn’t be uncommon for him to find some problem with Johnny or his brother Frank which resulted in his creating a scene and remanding one or both of them to their rooms. She would become very protective of her children incurring his wrath to an even higher degree resulting in his leaving the home, sometimes for an extended period. Sara had asked Tom to leave the home once before but agreed to take him back after he promised to change his ways. There was a brief “honeymoon period” but he soon resumed his old pattern.
This time was different. Through her receiving personal therapy, she decided to go ahead with a divorce above the objections of her husband. He moved from pleading with her to developing tactics that were underhanded in an attempt to destroy her confidence. Although it was very difficult for her, she “held the line”. Now, Tom was raised in a family where yelling, fighting and the threat of abandonment were the main methods used in child rearing. When the therapist seeing Sara asked him to come in to talk about the effects of the separation on the children he was lambasted with threats and verbiage that was very threatening. He maintained he didn’t need any help and that it was because of the therapist that the couple had separated moving toward divorce and slammed the receiver. It was uncanny how similarly his marital and parenting tactics emulated those of his parents.
Now, Sara was raised in a large family of ten children with her being the eighth in ordinal position. Her father was an alcoholic who would regularly gamble the family’s finances oftentimes resulting in they’re not being able to buy food. He abused his wife on a regular basis both physically and emotionally and this practice was often demonstrated in the children’s presence. Sara maintained that she could not remember having any sort of a relationship with her father and couldn’t go to her mother who was already suffering. As a result, she became very withdrawn and quiet. She barely spoke above a whisper. When conflict would occur, she would often hide underneath the kitchen table quietly watching her mother being abused. Sometimes, she would go to one of her sisters for some solace but generally learned to deal with the environment strictly on her own. She seldom, if ever, expressed any feelings but she would carry conversations on in her head to help her resolve whatever was bothering her. Essentially, she became a “self- contained” person who shared herself with very few people and knew very little “healthy intimacy”. An attractive woman, she tended to date, and later marry, men who demonstrated personality characteristics similar to her father’s. A while after the separation, she began to date men and, they too, represented similar patterns as all of the others.
At about the age of seven, Johnny began to experience problems being away from his mother otherwise called “separation anxiety”. He refused to let her out of his sight. She could not hire a baby-sitter for an evening. In school, he would experience “funny feelings” resulting in his going to the nurse’s office and, sometimes, coming home and requiring his mother to leave her job to administer to him. The pattern continued only to become more encompassing. She told her therapist that she felt sorry for Johnny because something was bothering him about which he couldn’t talk with either parent. His attempts at getting his mother to do his bidding was seen as a manipulative technique. Another issue arose with respect to his visits with his father in that his judgment as a parent was in serious question. Sara felt that allowing him to stay overnight was too risky and began to limit visitation both personally and through the Court.
Johnny became indignant. He refused to do schoolwork, would talk to himself in Class and would not respond to his teachers when they would try to examine problems he might be experiencing. Essentially, he was successful in controlling every adult in his life resulting in their experiencing a sense of helplessness. And here we go again…..
Although the power exemplified in the roles that the men played in this vignette is very clear, what might not be so evident is the power that Sara demonstrated. Her power can be found in her need to be dominated and her seldom expressing the anger that would mount in her but that she would “push down” or repress. This became an “open invitation” for the men in her life to move in and take advantage of her invitation. As much as they needed someone to dominate, it appeared to them that she had a need to be dominated in kind. The “interlocking” of these two types of personalities is not uncommon and often becomes a very serious problem. Although Tom would have nothing to do with any therapy to help him understand and change his patterns, Sara was equally resistant to changing hers as well. This was demonstrated, not only in the marital relationship, but now is evident in her relationship to her son who is “running roughshod” over her.
Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.