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16 September, 2012


 I have wanted for quite a while to do a little exposition on the plight of the male in our society, never seeming to find the time.  I decided that the only way it was ever going to be done would be to dive in and have at it.

 An exposition on the male dilemma as I see it requires a bit of preparatory discussion of the dynamics of human relationships and interaction which must, of necessity, be somewhat `technical’ at times.  To really understand what I will say, the reader will have to bear with me and pay careful attention to each point as I build the background.  I believe that, if you will do so, what follows will ring strikingly true to the experiences of men and women alike … and maybe, if we can get this straight some day, we can all have the kinds of relationships we really want and need.

 My views of the male dilemma in the contexts of our culture and of relationships with women have grown out of my education and experience as a counselor.  They have further been enhanced by what was several years of immersion in the female experience and a good deal of sensitization to women’s issues in the process of working with female sexual abuse survivors in particular.

 That having been said let me dive into some of the foundations for my view of men as garbage dumpsters.  If you throw enough garbage into a container, it will start to stink.                



One of our greatest cultural falsehoods about human behavior is that it arises out of, and is solely determined by, the characteristics of the individual. This view, whether by design or accident, often functions — paradoxically — as a culturally-supported psychological defense against awareness of problems which really exist within our `selves’.  To highlight this paradox, I can state in two sentences the basic, fallacious assumption which exists in virtually all relationship conflicts — whether between individuals in a love relationship, at work, or elsewhere:

 “What I think, feel and do are in reaction to `the other’.  What the other thinks, feels, and does is just  because that’s the way (s)he is.”

 Our psychological defenses are such that when I have introduced the dichotomy above, either to an individual or to a group (even going so far as to write it on a blackboard for reference) it has more often than not resulted in slack jaws and blank stares — the `TILT’ sign of the human mind.  People are generally more than willing to accept each of the two, isolated premises as individually true, but have trouble when confronted with the implications of both premises considered side by side.  Such confrontation threatens the entire stability of the subject’s dysfunctional concept of any problematic relationship in question.  The usual wish is to see one’s self as dynamically reactive to `the other’, but to cut `the other’ no such slack, insisting instead that `the other’ behaves on the basis of strictly static, inherent characteristics.

 This fallacious dichotomy is often extended by ascribing passive reactivity to the self but ACTIVE intent to `the other’.  “He makes me feel angry.”  A comment such as “Well … if he can `make’ you feel angry, why don’t you make him feel like making you feel calm?” usually suffices to point out the discrepancy in the attributions of power and intent implied in `make-feel’ statements.

 The actual fact is that the vast, vast majority of thoughts, feelings, and actions are dynamically reactive on both sides rather than idiosyncratic. Are you beginning to get my drift, ladies (and gentlemen) — even if you don’t want to?

 Things start to get a little more complex at this point.  Stick with me and I’ll get you out the other side of the briar patch without losing you or accumulating too many scratches.


Not only do people, in fact, stimulate a variety of reactions in each other, but there is usually an `intent’ involved.  The kicker is that the intent is usually an unconscious one.  This flies in the face of common interpretations of the actions of others as well.  While we tend to ascribe passive innocence to our reactions, we dichotomously ascribe active and conscious intent to the actions of `the other’.

 The `intent’ of interactional projections is to attempt to manage some sort of conflict or problem by getting it into another person.  Before I go on, a brief and simple example.

 Suzie has an argument with Bill and gets quite upset about his treatment of her.  Suzie gets in touch with Mildred and tells her tale of woe to Mildred.  Mildred, who has been just fine today up until now, thank you very much, finds herself upset.  Suzie, on the other hand, is somewhat relieved at having `gotten things off her chest’ (and out of her head, as well.)  Does this sound familiar … at least from the receiving end if not the sending end?

 Interactional projections are a normal part of human functioning and can have two benefits:

  1.  By getting the problem out of self and into another, there is potential benefit from having the other (who has internalized the problem as his/her own) work it over and produce a different, healthier solution.  (Parenthetically, this is a major reason why and how psychotherapy works.  The         therapist allows him/herself to internalize (introject) the problem and the feelings associated with it, and then processes the problem along with other things known about the client, hopefully coming to an understanding of what is dysfunctional about the reactions of the client, and to come up with a better solution.)
  2.  By getting the problem out of self and into another, the person is able to consider it more objectively and calmly since the problem and related emotions are `in’ the other, and not the self.  Often, in both therapy and real life, the projector is able to come up with a solution with no further help than this.  Willing `introjection’ of the problem, along with quiet, interested listening, is often sufficient to help the upset one.

 So … we’ve got two parties involved in a conflict, one which is attempting an interactional projection, and one who is the introjector.


The ideally healthy adult is capable of `holding functions’.  Perhaps the best analogy is that of a container.  What the upset one needs, more than anything, is a secure, calm container into which to place conflicts and problems in order that they both may work it over and `fix’ it.  In actual fact, however, the capacity of people for being holders or containers may vary wildly.  Often, the one who is supposed to introject and contain the problem is either unwilling or unable to do so.  When that is the case, problems erupt in the relationship.  (The real problems are in the selves of each party, of course, but erupt to appear to be in the relationship between them.)

 Culturally speaking, women tend to be PROjectors, and males INTROjectors.  The dynamic can and does go either way, of course, but the predominant pattern is females as projectors and males as introjectors.  Females in our culture tend to have much better connected support systems — not only with friends but with family as well.  When Suzie gets upset, she tends to make an immediate attempt to connect with another person and get the problem out of herself.  When BILL gets upset, he tends NOT to connect and project.  (You might flash on the `strong’, silent male here.)  Bill tends to harbor the upset and be uncommunicative.  What happens if Bill tries to do this but can’t `hold’ the upset?  Bill acts `badly’ — acts out the tension.


When there is a mismatch between the projector, the magnitude of the problem, and the holding capacities of the introjector, the relationship between the two becomes dysfunctional.  The manifestation of these dysfunctions can be categorized, from most to least healthy, as follows:




                     UNITED FRONT

 (I have to give credit here to that relationship genius, Dr. Murray Bowen, for the above hierarchy.)

 To keep this as simple as possible for now, I’m only going to talk about the first two types of relationship dysfunction.


Does the following sound familiar?

      SUZIE: “What the heck is Bill’s problem?  All I want is a little closeness with him and he is always running away or shutting me out!  Why won’t he sit still and talk to me?”

       BILL: “What the heck is Suzie’s problem?  I’m trying to get some things done (make a living, read the paper, fix the car, etc.), and she is always chasing me around and hanging on my neck like a damned boat anchor!”


  Does THIS sound familiar?

      SUZIE: “You’re the one who (blah blah blah)”

       BILL: “Bullshit!  YOU’re the one who (blah blah blah)”

 What the Sam Hill is going on here?  In the distant relationship, Bill attempts to avoid the interactional projections, and avoid introjecting the problems and getting upset, by creating distance in the relationship … limiting contact.  In some ways, this is fine by Suzie (though she may protest) since it allows her to continue her projections.  Successful interactional projection requires a willing `other’ who will, at least, not ward it off.

 In the conflicted relationship, Bill gets a little less passive and actively tries to throw the hot potato back into Suzie’s llap.  “Not ME, babe … it is YOU who (blah blah blah)”.  Though the DISTANT relationship is, in some ways, more healthy than the CONFLICTUAL one, it won’t get anyone anywhere.  The wise therapist tries to stimulate a bit of conflict as it is only through conflict that healthier solutions might arise.

 Let’s pause for a moment to review what I’ve said:

      * Thoughts, feelings and BEHAVIOR are much more REACTIVE than idiosyncratic

      * People TRY to stimulate thoughts, feelings and behavior in each other through a mechanism called INTERACTIONAL PROJECTION.  There is INTENT in the related communications, though it is often unconscious.

      * By cultural determination and related `training’ beginning  in childhood, females are primarily PROJECTORS and males INTROJECTORS of problems.  Females, being in generally better connected with others, have any number of outlets for their interactional projections.  Males, being less well connected, tend to harbor problems (both their own and those which are introjected) until their coping mechanisms become overwhelmed.  At that point, they ACT OUT on the tension … often with `bad’ behaviors.

      * Interactional projection is, at its root, healthy in nature, but can go wildly wrong under certain conditions.

      * The two `healthiest’ patterns of relationship problems that arise out of these dynamics are DISTANT and CONFLICTUAL relationships.  This being the predominant  kinds of relationship problems most of us here encounter, we can take heart in the knowledge that they are, comparatively speaking, `healthy’ — and offer hope of  resolution.

 Those of you who have been following me closely thus far through this exposition probably don’t even need me to say any more.  Even so, using this background as a springboard, I will now make some assertions about men, women, and the male predicament.  They won’t be in any particular order as REALLY tight writing simply takes more time than I want to invest at this point.


Of course they do.  At the outset, I started with a sort of self-quote to the effect that if you dump enough garbage into a container, it will start to stink.  If and when women truly want men NOT to be such beasts, one of the things women are going to have to do is to become aware of just how much and how often they expect their men to be the containers of their own upsets.  Anybody who has enough upset stuffed into them, especially when they have their own to cope with in the first place, is going to erupt in `bad’ behaviors.  (I can wax briefly literary here in pointing out the classic example in Melville’s saintly Billy Budd who, finally pushed too far and unable to do anything else with the upset, strikes and kills a ship’s officer — and is hung for the offense.)


 This does not mean that women can’t confide in their men.  What women CAN do is be aware of the potential dynamics, be more sensitive to the pre-existing level of upset in their men before they begin to tell him what Bitchy Bertha did to her.  You can also help him to relieve himself of HIS upsets as well.  This won’t be easy due to all the ingrained training of men as the garbage dumpsters of society.  In a future, related piece, I’ll talk more about male-female communication.  The title will be something like “SO YOU WANT YOUR MAN TO TALK TO YOU?”

I could ramble on about a lot of related issues.  For instance, radical feminism is the most unhealthy possible way to relate to men.  It amounts to the UNITED FRONT (“it’s us against those beasts”) I listed in the hierarchy of relationship dysfunctions.  It offers NO solution whatever to the male-female relationship predicaments of our society.  It relies on the profoundly ill maintenance of projections into eternity.  It is founded upon the idea that women suffer at the hands of beastly men, but men behave they way THEY do simply because that’s the way they ARE.

 I am going to refrain from carrying on too much, and let what I have said stimulate revelation of further experiences and implications in your own thoughts.  I invite your thoughts and experiences.



From → Social Work

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  5. You are a very bright individual!

    • I approved your comment just ’cause it helps to bolster the delusions I use to prop up my scant self esteem. I will say that men seem to be loving the post about Men as Dumpsters. I take that as meaning it rings a bell, however politically incorrect it may seem to be.

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  8. I never thought of those things that way. It does make a lot of things clearer to me. In the past few years I have been working on how and who to vent to and allowing more people to come to me to vent. I can’t say their upsets always upset me, but sometimes they do, depending on the subject and how it affects me. I’m going to try to gripe less about stuff to my husband! 😀 I think it is true, when I think I am venting, he’s seeing negativity and probably frustrated about it. Men tend think you’re coming to them to vent because you expect them to “fix it” but when we women get together and vent, we just want to be heard and some kind of agreement that whatever we’re whining about, yes, indeed, sucks. Then we move on.

    • You are very insightful. Men do have a reflex “Oh no … I gotta fix that” response. That seldom being possible, there’s the possibility of an internal response of feeling helpless and less of a man. The feeling that goes along with that can be irritation with the one venting. That’s not the fault of the one venting. Men need to understand just what you noted … that all that’s required is a listening, understanding ear, and that such an ear is in fact helpful in itself.

      Thanks for the response.

  9. Lilly permalink


    Just glad to see SOMEBODY discussing the notion of people being ‘containers’. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be a negative thing, especially when viewed from the relationship between a parent and a child, and I would think illustrates this beautifully. I would imagine that the ultimate aim within an adult relationship between two adults, would be one whereby each of the adults has come to a place of interdependency. That is easier said than done.

    I experienced, as a child, a parent who used me as a container, instead of being a mother I could turn to and lean on in difficult, as well as joyous times. She so often turned that around and made me the mother figure in attempting to work out all her unresolved and unlearned circumstances surrounding her life. When she finally collapsed mentatlly, I literally did become the ‘mother’ figure whilst I was doing my senior years at school. I also had a father who had been sexually abused by a male teacher, as a child, and never treated for it. I was his ‘container’ for his pent up anger and general anxieties that grew larger as he aged, resulting in both physical and emotional abuse. To bring the story the full circle, I married a man who I knew had been sexually abused growing up, but at the time, we didn’t really understand the long term affects of such, or should I say, that perhaps I was still unconscious to all of this. He had a breakdown at the same age my own father did, and we now have found our lives collapsing in around us. I continue to be the ‘container’, but not only for him, but also for our children, who need at least one parent they feel they can trust and be heard. He feels like another child to me now, and I have had to grieve the loss of any relationship on an adult level. He tries, but is so besotted with his own mental and physical ailments and financial worries, that all I can do is to help carry him further, with the hope that one day he may find some peace in his soul. I have concluded that this life sucks, and that you just have to do the best with what has come onto your path in your life, and it appears to be that I am destined to be forever ‘the container’, with all my hopes and passions being ripped from usunder, as I cannot seem to be able to undertake my dreams for the anxiety that wells within me constantly. I still struggle in vain hope of one day achieving at least one dream, but only time will tell.

    I learnt of this ‘container’ many moons ago by a man called Lloyd de Mause. Google him, and you will find a depth of understanding there, especially in relation to the upbringing of children. He has been cast off by any academic colleagues, in his area of expertise, ‘pyscho history’, as being part of the cinderella subjects, and not worthy of any serious study. de Mause’s writing on this has been a model for me that has helped place so many other things in context.

    I often wonder whether women, rather than extolling the virtues of feminism, and some very rightly so, should not be attempting to meet with men at the half way mark, just like in the healthy relationships you describe, but to bring it to the broader social dimensions of discussion and the impact that the lack of it has on society as a whole, just like the social, emotional and financial impact child sex abuse can have on society as a whole.

    Thumbs up for your writing, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Keep the discussion going, please….

    • Thank you for the visit and the comments. Psychoanalysts have been using the concept of containers for a long time. Please excuse my observation: Sometimes being a habitual and willing container can be a way of avoiding what is within the self. It can be seductive. Since one can be of help to others in that way, there can be a boost to self esteem but the cost can be great. Don’t let being such a willing container be such a distraction that all of your psychic energy goes into managing the conflicts of others. It does help if one can add to their containing functions the ability to be a toilet. It’s okay to willingly allow others to “take a dump” in you if you have the capacity to flush.

      Thanks again. I’m impressed and honored that you would take pains to write such a long comment. You write quite well, by the way.

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