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NCFM PR Director Steven Svoboda reviews “The Emotionally Unavailable MAN”

June 20, 2014
By

manThe Emotionally Unavailable Man: A Blueprint for Healing. By Patti Henry. Highland City, Florida: Rainbow Books, Incorporated. 2004.  177 pp. (men’s book) + 83 pp. (women’s book).www.allbookstores.com. $16.95. Also available from same publisher as set of 9 unabridged CD’s for $24.95. Available on Amazon Kindle $7.95.

Psychotherapist Patti Henry has finally written her first book, and it turns out to be good enough and different enough to justify being reviewed here despite its appearance in 2004.  (Henry only sent me the review copy recently and I was previously unaware of this book.) “As a psychotherapist in private practice…” she writes, “men keep coming to my office, one after another, hurting, wounded… but mostly unhappy…. They feel like they are trapped, dying somehow. They feel like little boys in grown up bodies.” As we read the book, we come to realize that virtually all men are in some ways emotionally unavailable.

Henry believes that what she calls our culture’s “tradition of teaching our little boys to cut off from their feelings” helps create problems that interfere with men’s emotional development. And so we have ended up in a situation today where “women seem to have gained some advantage over the last 60 years. They have their emotions—little girls are not taught to cut of from that part of themselves—and they have the business world, too. Men, however, have arrived somewhat at a disadvantage. They have the business world. Period.”

The author really grasps in a way I do not remember ever seeing concretized so particularly how women can—intentionally or otherwise—create what she calls a “hurricane” that is “powerful and it is relentless,” that shames and terrifies men and shuts them down. There are many ways to avoid the hurricane, but it is often hard for men to do as it may feel familiar from a childhood hurricane created by a raging, addicted, or overly powerful parent. Also, many ways to avoid the hurricane are dysfunctional and counterproductive–raging, overreacting, passive aggression, running away. If men can learn to face the storm, they can bring themselves into full adulthood. Henry writes that to face the storm, we need certain tools, including the realization that we are not victims, the realization that we also have needs, and the need to set healthy boundaries.

Just the realization, “I am not a victim” can be such a powerful statement to release us into adulthood, as Henry relates it did for her. As far as boundaries go, Henry provides an apposite metaphor: “I liken good relationships to sending a fax. You send your partner a fax and you get to keep the original.” She then gives the reader seven detailed steps in setting and enforcing meaningful, realistic boundaries.

Most of us had programming laid in at childhood that may not be serving us any more. One of Henry’s more inspired metaphors: allowing your (often counterproductive) childhood programming to continue to run things is like letting a five-year-old drive your car.

Chapter 8 contains no fewer than—count ‘em!—twenty-eight suggested methods for reconnecting with one’s feelings, each explained in detail. Clearly, this author really cares. Suggestion 2: Inventory your losses. Suggestion 5: Write a letter to each of your parents. Suggestion 10: Think About Your Own Children (but why does the author assume all readers necessarily have kids?). Suggestion 14: Practice One-Sentence Confrontations. Suggestion 21: Pray, Sit with Nature, Meditate. Henry earns a lot of points in my book for repeatedly urging readers to attend the Mankind Project’s New Warrior Weekend, which–as is probably true for virtually every man who has done it—is one of the most important, powerful things I ever did.

Henry provides a fair amount of atypical advice, as when she counsels her readers not to take items off the table. In other words, if there is some issue that keeps coming up between you and your partner, it needs to be worked out, no matter how trivial it seems, and should not be submerged as it is bound to surface later in a more virulent form. Another example is her advice not to compromise, to go for a win-win but never to agree to something just to end a conflict when your agreement is not genuine. ”Compromise doesn’t work when it means we take turns losing,” she memorably summarizes, later adding even more succinctly, “DO NOT say yes to something when the answer is no.” Finally, Henry believes in the occasional use of retraction, when you agree to something that you later realize just doesn’t work for you and when there is an important principle at stake for you that you can’t override and be true to yourself. The author provides a memorable story of how she uninvited her mother to witness the birth of her child!

This is literally a two-sided book. Start reading from one side and it’s a book for men; start from the other side and it’s a shorter book for women. Everything I have discussed so far is from the men’s book, and really Henry’s focus is on men. The women’s book enables female partners of emotionally unavailable men to support their partners during the process she outlines. She does provide some memorable points in the women’s book too. For example, don’t wait to start your life until you have a partner. When you have a partner, neither make him your “project” nor live parallel lives with him. Rather, stay connected while holding onto your individuality. The author also looks at and even lists the numerous “secondary gains” that can hold us back from improving a relationship due to comfort and vested interest in the status quo, even though it may be miserable. She also provides sage advice on overcoming resistances, on creating safety for one’s partner, and on how love in a relationship should be conditional, not unconditional (another unconventional yet wise point in her favor).

Some examples fall flat or just don’t seem to quite fit. But those that do are often stunning. The other odd thing I noticed is the author’s repeated assumption all her readers have kids, which doesn’t interfere with the flow of the book or invalidate her points but is just a bit jarring.

Henry’s originality means that the numerous examples are fresh, often taken from the author’s own life or those of her clients (suitably anonymized of course), or even from Sea World (her example of how Shamu is incrementally changed to do the trick where he leaps out of the water is simply stunning). In a word, what is most special about this book is its sympathy for men—Henry really gets men—and its originality. This is a book not to be missed—and you can listen to it in the car if you prefer that to reading.

fatherless day

The Emotionally Unavailable Man may help many men with their relationships.

What man couldn’t use a bit of help? Give it a read.

One Response to NCFM PR Director Steven Svoboda reviews “The Emotionally Unavailable MAN”

  1. jacklabear on June 24, 2014 at 2:38 PM

    There is a new reason for men to repress their feelings.

    Expressing outrage at the rampant misandry promoted by our culture will result in accusations of misogyny, shaming, ostracism and possibly loss of job and mate.

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