Ryan Berg is a former U.S. Marine Corps combat infantryman and deployed twice to Iraq. In 2004, he was with 2/24 Echo company, Weapons Platoon, in Mahmudiyah, Iraq. In 2006, he served with 1/14 Task Force Military Police and was in Fallujah, Ramadi and Al Asad.
He studied rhetoric at UC Berkeley and completed his MA in Leadership Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California. He is most interested in understanding the ways that the system of patriarchy in America affects male military Veterans – and argues that this system is fundamental in perpetuating suicides in the Veteran community. He is married to his wife Nataly, and lives in Concord, CA.
Editors note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own.
No one gets excited about being vulnerable – and many men have been trained to stay away from it. Vulnerability feels weak, and so as men, and Veterans particularly, we avoid feeling that (from feeling at all really) – especially since we live in a male-dominated, patriarchal society.
I had a conversation with a Marine buddy recently who said that, “Being vulnerable means telling your friends how you feel…how you really feel. That’s scary, because you think they’ll judge you.”
Yes, we men do often live in a state of fear around our feelings. In fact, so much so, that we often fully disconnect from them in order to assume our position among other boys, and prove our allegiance to the patriarchy. We are socialized at a young age by other males to believe that being in touch with our emotions is unacceptable. bell hooks points out that:
Since shaming is often used to socialize boys away from their feeling selves toward the patriarchal male mask, many grown men have an internal shaming voice.
Many male Veterans are often ashamed to acknowledge their inner-most feelings and sensations. I lived this way for a very long time. We’re barely inside of our bodies, instead we choose to hang out in our heads, and our hearts are simply abandoned. We self-mutilate our emotional world in service of what patriarchy has told us it means to be man – at the expense of our own humanity, and happiness. hooks describes how we got here:
The way we “turn boys into men” is through injury: We sever them from their mothers, research tells us, far too early. We pull them away from their own expressiveness, from their feelings, from sensitivity to others. The very phrase “Be a man” means suck it up and keep going. Disconnection is not fallout from traditional masculinity. Disconnection is masculinity.
As Veterans, we know all to well what it means to suck it up. “Embrace the suck” has become so common place that we often live our lives from this place, and even tell our friends in one way or another, to do just that. But what actually are we embracing here? Are we embracing ourselves in a manner that leads to our own happiness, or are we simply trying to love what our lives have become, without calling any of it into question?
We need to stop “sucking it up” and instead start giving ourselves what we really need, which most integrally includes feeling – and getting in touch with ourselves on a deeper, more intimate level. We’ve done far too much “sucking up”, and it’s time to start giving back to ourselves what the military and others have “sucked” from us. It’s time to start a very serious self-care practice, not to pamper ourselves, but one that gives us the best chance thrive in our lives as civilians.
Disconnection is masculinity. Read that again. We’re not only talking about disconnection from our feelings, but so too from ourselves. As men, we must stop shaming other men who are in touch with their feelings. We must stop ridiculing them and participating in the patriarchal system, which convinces males to shut that part of themselves down. Doing so is the single most damaging thing that we do to ourselves and our friends.
We have to find a way, any way at all, to make it back to ourselves – to that playful little child we all once knew so well in our early years. That path begins with experiencing and talking about our emotions as they manifest in us presently. We need to learn emotional literacy, expression, and re-connect with the profound value of our feelings. As a male Marine Corps combat Veteran myself, I am giving you permission to do this work – you will be OK and a ton happier. To begin, I recommend reading this article titled, Emotional Growth and It’s Function – to understand the profound value of feeling and its relationship to moving forward and living a happy life.