I had a fascinating exchange on Twitter yesterday. It started out when “Marine Now” took issue with a friend named Melissa who posted angrily about how her taxes went up. She has to pay a tax bill this year and she is really upset about it. Marine Now, who I’ll call MN for the rest of this post, first questioned the Melissa’s reality and ability to comprehend her own taxes, then pivoted to her choice of her career. She was a “writer” which in his mind clearly showed that her problems with money were due to her “emotional” choice of career. He then posted patronizingly about people like her are always letting their emotions cause problems for them. She replied to him in good faith trying to draw him out. He expanded into a tirade against “Little Suzy” who becomes a social worker because she cares so much and then she can’t pay her student loans. He further revealed himself when he unexpectedly diverted into immigration. Of course, MN was extremely hostile to illegal immigrants. No surprises there, but the fact that he brought it up was particularly telling, as no one on the thread had said anything about immigration. For some reason, taxes, caring people, social workers, writers, and immigration were all connected in this person’s mind.
I engaged with MN for a while and he revealed a few more things about himself and his career in the Marines. His profile pic was stereotypically masculine with buzz cut hair. He liked to talk about how much money he makes and how much taxes he pays. I got the distinct impression he was exaggerating, and I told him as much. He also seemed very concerned that everyone agree that taxes went down and that the country is doing great. In my typically direct Twitter way, I called him on his psychological projection of emotional volatility, saying that it was he and not Melissa that was letting his emotions lead him into assumptions, unrelated issues, and personal attacks. I explained that he was failing to take a rational and dispassionate look at the evidence: Mellissa paid more in taxes this year. The GOP was and is saying there was a tax cut for middle class Americans. She is a middle class American and feels cheated. The fact that MN in fact paid less in taxes while earning more money overall doesn’t change that reality, but does bring more questions to mind about the overall fairness of the tax situation. He was uncomfortable that Melissa’s account was threatening his beliefs about the tax cuts. He needed to own his own feelings and then engage with the facts at hand.
NM was really angry at me by this point. Naturally. His emotional reactiveness in which he was in denial about was then projected onto me. I was now the personification of “Little Suzy” the knowledgable social worker who was married to his friend and likely tried to help him with his possible PTSD or other emotional health issues. Clearly, I was overcome with emotional nonsense and buried in debt. I was this hated individual who was responsible for all his pent up rage, and I am not really a person, just a profile picture, and so he could freely vent his rage at me. He was blocked of course, and I take good care to protect my identity on Twitter. Safety first! Besides, this type of person picks fights wherever he goes. I would be surprised if he hasn’t already made a dozen enemies since breakfast.
The internet is a fascinating place because people who ordinarily don’t engage with their emotions and never express them, seem able to do so from behind the computer screen. We tend to see this as a bad thing, but I’m not sure it is. After all, MN was angry before he engaged with Melissa and I, he just doesn’t understand how to deal with it. Almost certain that he probably hides behind his job and his military career, concealing his rage which he only vents to strangers online. We, not his friends, family, and co-workers see the real man. Whether this venting is actually helpful to him, I don’t know. I do know that talking about emotions is good.
Talking about emotions is terribly healthy. Even when they are only projections. It’s wonderful when we can own our emotions, understand them, and control and manage them in our relationships, but even when we can’t, even when we can only project them, it is better than keeping them inside. For example, I scream at my counselor, “You don’t understand me! You just think I’m crazy like everybody else does. Of course I can go join the circus and make a career as a trapeze artist!! It doesn’t matter that I am out of shape, I have neck problems, and I’m terrified of heights. You just think I’m crazy. I’m going to prove you wrong!” Then I think on what I have said and my counselor says quietly, “I don’t think you’re crazy. Why do YOU think I think you are?” Now we can get somewhere. Suddenly my zeal for the circus life is fading and I come to see the reality that I feel like everyone thinks I’m crazy and incapable of succeeding at my goals. My anger at this injustice is clouding my judgement and sabotaging my efforts. Now that I am self aware of my emotions, I stop projecting them and make more reasonable goals based on my real needs and not on the perception that I need to change other’s opinions of me with a rash career shift to the circus.
Instead, MN and others conditioned in toxic masculinity cannot own emotions, so they project emotion onto everyone else. If they don’t see emotionality in others, they will provoke it with insults or pestering. Once they get the emotional reaction they are looking for, they can then project their emotionality onto the other person and get a little bit of relief from the emotional pain they are in by blaming and shaming the other person, usually a woman, but sometimes a child or a less toxic man. I suspect this parasitic process underlies a lot of unhealthy relationships and will continue to do so until these men allow themselves to feel.
I don’t imagine that my clinical approach to NM will result in his ownership of his own emotional demons. However, my refusal to allow him to provoke me into an emotional response was good. My ability to maintain a sense of compassion and understanding for him even in the face of his cruelty and bitterness shows that although I have my own emotional baggage I am carrying, I am still capable of love and patience with those who refuse to own theirs.
Speaking of emotional baggage and masculine issues, Austin again threw his crib across the room again last night. How does a three year old do that? At least he isn’t suppressing his emotions, right! I hope I can always teach my boys that real men don’t suppress or deny their emotions. Emotions are part of what make us human, and when we use them properly, they can magnify our minds, channel our efforts, and fuel our creativity. Compassion, empathy, understanding, and courage are all virtues that are made possible with understanding and applying the the principles of emotional health, and they were exemplified by the greatest man who ever lived, even Jesus Christ.
As Pilot said, “Behold the Man!” No man who ever lived had more mastery of his emotions than He. He was sensitive as a mother with a sucking child at her breast, and courageous as a soldier in battle in his clashes with Satan. He demonstrated the exalted form of masculinity that transcends the confines of this Telestial world. As we learn of him, as we study ourselves, as we seek to bring His divine form into our own hearts, minds, and bodies, we will become saints in deed. This is my prayer!