We all need to be in touch with our female and male sides that reside in the unconscious mind— the anima and the animus. They are within us whether we acknowledge them or not. So, this post focuses on how important it is to healing and survival for:
- women to tap into the power of being confidently assertive, and
- men to tap into the power of being vulnerable enough to express feelings.
On the whole, men do not handle emotional problems well. Too often they desert their wives, mothers, daughters, and girlfriends in times of crisis, whether they themselves are at risk or one of the women in their life whom they love is at risk. Many times, fathers, sons, and brothers are collateral damage if a man is facing the fear of dealing with emotional upheaval and the threat of having to express his feelings in a vulnerable rather than a controlling way.
For example, I know some husbands who drive their wives to our cancer support groups and then sit in the car waiting for them until it’s over. They act as chauffeurs instead of soul mates. It isn’t because they don’t love their wives—it is because even the thought of an environment like a “support group” where feelings are expected to be expressed is a big threat.
In general, men have a great deal of difficulty sharing feelings one-to-one, much less joining a team, which are things women do as a reflex in times of stress. Men are more likely to take a fight-or-flight approach. If they can’t fight it or fix it, they take off. If you are a woman in the life of such a man, be prepared. You are not the problem. The problem is their discomfort, or their dis-ease with disease.
Is this survival behavior? No. Do women live longer than men with the same cancers? Yes, but much of that can be attributed to not only to our biology, but also to our patterns of thinking and behaving. Men need to be given something to do. It can be as simple as a hug, mowing the lawn, or getting out of the way by going to play golf. But, if you are a man who is uncomfortable with disease, you can also do something outside of your comfort zone simply by showing that you know it is your presence that is needed. It is your willingness to listen without trying to “solve” the problem that is helpful. No one expects you to fix and cure everything.
To be fair, there are men who are not afraid of their feminine side and are willing to, for instance, join a healing team. In the same way, some women are not afraid to use their masculine side, and speak up for themselves about their needs when they are a patient in the hospital. If you want to heal, it is important that you be a complete human being and be comfortable with behaviors that are both masculine and feminine.
To be either a fully empowered patient, or an effective member of the healing team, you need to be able to step outside gender-defined ways of behaving. Fortunately, this is somewhat easier in the 21st Century than it was in the 1950s. Today people do not find it particularly strange when a man admits to being scared or a woman makes John Wayne look like a wimp when she is unhappy with the care she is receiving.
Men and women are generally allowed a wider range of emotions and behaviors now, so people may not find it odd that you can be feisty when that behavior is needed, and yet open, receptive, and expressive when circumstances call for that kind of response. To be a survivor, try very hard to see yourself as a fully rounded person, not as someone limited to scripted behaviors society has dictated for your gender.
Moving beyond the traditional masculine and feminine roles can be a matter of life and death. In today’s environment we need to embrace both conscious and unconscious gender features, because they all make a difference to our ability to heal and survive. For a man to join a group where he must develop relationships and ask for help may be very difficult, but it is survival behavior. For a woman to stop the good girl behavior and express her needs more assertively may be a big change from her “expected” behavior pattern, but it is survival behavior.
Each of us needs to become a complete human being, which very few of us are. Men need to stop being afraid to be vulnerable by learning to be comfortable expressing both masculine and feminine characteristics. Women need to stop suppressing their abilities by learning to be comfortable using both feminine and masculine characteristics.
As an example, take a look back in history and ask yourself this question, “Why were women banned from voting in national elections until 1920”? More importantly, ask yourself this question, “How did it finally change?” The answer is that it changed because finally enough men tapped into their unconscious and found that feminine qualities were of equal value to masculine qualities and both were necessary to move society forward; it changed because finally enough women tapped into their unconscious and found the confidence they needed from masculine qualities to take the risk to be assertive.
So, where healing is the question, the answer is right there in your unconscious mind. For men, the answer comes from your feminine side and it is to stop being afraid to feel. For women, the answer comes from your masculine side and it is to stop being afraid to be confidently assertive. Give your children, both girls and boys, the freedom to be complete human beings. Show them by your own behavior that it is healthier to be authentic, and use both your conscious and unconscious mind, than it is to live a role.