Men Suffering on “The Never Enough Hamster Wheel”
Clients come to Waypoint for a vast array of concerns. In this blog I am going to be speaking to the tired, worn down, and weary male client that has been exhausted by the hostile manipulative behaviours of a person or persons within their life story. As I listen to the individual accounts of men who express difficulties with others, that is, difficulty with those who exhibit narcissistic type characteristics, I am never surprised at the level of fatigue, lack of motivation and pure exhaustion exhibited in my client’s body language or speech. As the session roles along and with probing questions what surfaces is typically a coping style that resembles a hamster wheel stuck at the level of “never enough”. It is though the lever had been stuck at this setting as far back as they can remember. They do not know how to do life at any other level. In a nutshell it goes like this: the person (s) in their life yell “jump” and the client attempts to please, respond, anticipate, and appease the never ending demands of the narcissistic type. For the record reinforcement is taking place from both sides, but note the end result. These men end up hating their lives as much as they are now hating the narcissist and then they start fantasizing of a new life free from the tyranny of that hamster wheel.
I offer empathy and slowly work with clients to re-gain, or for many for the first time, foster a sense of the “self.” Again as things surface it is obvious the more dysfunctional the family of origin (those families with rigid prescribed roles) the less of a sense of “self” the client exhibits. So what is the remedy to all of this? How can men take responsibility for their lives, assert themselves and march to the beat of their own hearts instead of the demands from those around him?
My clients’ are trying to make sense of the conflict within their own lives and truly want to be part of healing, but don’t know where to start. In coaching we always start with the only person who can exercise any control in any given situation and that is the client themselves. Once a client begins to internalize that they have agency (choices) they begin to notice a sense of “existence” within themselves. At this point they are coached to exercise this sense of “self or I exist” within the context of their lives. This is where the relational problems actually get much worse before they get better. This is when the client needs the most supportive coaching possible. Those who are accustomed to manipulating the male are typically going to up the ante (increase what is at stake for both sides).
So what is at stake when the dominated male wants to exercise their own “self?” Two major reinforcements of behaviour are at play. The dominated male will often acquiesce in order to get his legitimate needs met that have been driving his unhelpful behaviour all along. That is, the need to belong, the need for acceptance and simply the legitimate human need to be loved. On the other hand the narcissistic type, that is, the demanding person ups the ante of “coercive control” in order to get their own needs met. The thing is the narcissistic person’s “needs” often come from a place of deep insecurity and not vulnerability.
Typically these needs include the need for control; reassurance, comfort on demand, and the need to recruit allies. More often than not the narcissist’s own lives are filled with turmoil resembling a battlefield. They have spend a good deal of their time in relationships using war like tactics in order to fulfill themselves. Unfortunately for them they are never truly fulfilled. This is why they repeatedly move on to soft targets (unwitting males seeking love). Think of the narcissist like a drug addict. The need for the next fix, that is, public recognition, control over their own narrative, delusions of grandeur (not based in current reality etc) and a drive and lust for admiration. When these wounded souls connect they get locked in a dance where one partner becomes increasingly passive and the other becomes increasingly demanding, diabolical and destructive all the while blaming the more passive compliant partner. Let’s take a look at the typical pattern. In this case we are talking about a male client, but the converse is also true for a female client suffering under the weight of becoming passive in a narcissistic relationship.
Most often the manipulative person will start off controlling their partner with lower level manipulations and increasingly “up the ante” along a continuum in order to gain the upper hand against the more passive male. It often starts with infamous pouting, murmuring under her breath, rolling her eyes, grumbling within listening distance, being passive aggressive, gaslighting, creating no win situations, sabotaging, yelling, & especially blaming. The manipulative person does not see the world as a place where different perspectives exist. For them the only perspective is their own. If these destructive behaviours do accomplish getting the dominated male to capitulate then the narcissist graduates their tactics to include punishing. Punishing is often displayed by targeting the dominated male in much more severe ways; such as being excommunicated from the group, children and grandchildren used as pons, personal boundaries being crossed, publicly disrespected, smear campaigns spread by gossip & slander, as well as dirty looks especially in public etc.
I knew one male whose best friend died and his seethingly angry sister showed up to the funeral and made it clear that she didn’t want to talk and walked away when he said hello. The fact that someone would treat someone in mourning in such a disgraceful way speaks to the fact that nasty people are really good at one thing. They have perfected the art of being nasty. Think about it like this, when a person acts nasty to get people to give into their demands and compliance is achieved what happens? The nasty behaviours are reinforced and this person truly does get really good at being nasty. The problem for them is that nearer the end of their lives the only remaining people within their circle are those there due to fear of reprisal. Not a recipe for love for sure, which is the more vulnerable need they are missing in their lives.
The men who are entangled with these narcissistic types suffer in silence for years and yet they come by all of this honestly. These people pleasing (and ultimately partner pleasing) behaviours have been programmed into them since infancy. The legitimate need for love and acceptance was dangled before them like a carrot from demandingly harsh parents. In other words, they have been programmed from childhood to be manipulated by their world so when they encounter the abusive types they are often trapped into these dysfunctional and toxic relationships.
Men lose their voice in this world as the result of abuse much the same way women experience a lack of voice after abuse. Going along to get along is often a coping strategy that served a child who suffered extreme punitive antics from hostile and angry controlling parents.
So how does the dominated male deal with this? What can he do when he finds himself in this never ending hamster wheel of never enough? Typically even when he changes relationships the problems remain. These narcissistic types find him at work, on the baseball field, and in intimate relationships. How is that so? The answer to his problem is that he must change how he seeks love. He must no longer jump to the demands of the bottomless pit female or others exhibiting similar traits. He must risk push back in the form of anger, reprisal, & public ostracism as he extracts himself from their selfish ways. He must be coached to recognize the difference between love and manipulation. Love does not demand its own way. Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. Love will demonstrably care about his well being. In other words he will “matter” in the most respectful sense of the word in the context of any relationship. Check out 1 Corinthians 13.
Decision making and movement forward only takes place when the client comes to see they can only control themselves and let go of pleasing others. These men must face the fear of disappointing others and they must let go of people pleasing. They can no longer view their role in this world as making others happy. Letting go of outcomes and allowing the other person to deal with their stuff is not easy, as they will blame shift and use every tactic possible to guilt you and reel you back to where they had you.
It is at this juncture in coaching where the male client becomes stronger as they recognize their right to be loved in the most healthy way possible. They get strong and begin to look within their current situation and examine whether or not they are being manipulated or loved. Knowing the distinction and receiving validation through coaching impacts their lives in ways they never thought possible. Their life begins to change dramatically. No longer are sulky demanding women or demanding insecure males interested in him anymore as they move on to their next target. These types can’t get what they want out of him so he becomes less desirable of a target. In other words he is no longer a “good fix.” He is free of them and seeks out healthier and much more mutually loving relationships.
Although what is said above is true note that this will not be easy. He will need to be more courageous than he has ever been in his existence. The seriousness of the fall out as he detaches himself for the sake of his mental health will come at a cost. The narcissistic types will make sure of it. Depending where he was entangled in this dysfunctional dance he will suffer for taking control of his mental health. Remember he was entangled with those who have severe mental health issues (narcissism and manipulation are a serious mental health issue). Leaving these toxic relationships will devastate many aspects of his life. He may suffer a wide variety of losses through a brutal divorce. He may lose all of his money, his reputation, and his career. He may even lose his children and grandchildren.
These men often stay stuck in these relationships as the threats are real. It takes courage to change and become who you were meant to be, and it takes courage to go through the gauntlet to get to the other side. Both women and men stay stuck in abusive relationship dynamics for good reason. But if you persevere just think of the freedom you will gain in your spirit. Imagine a life where you are no longer made to move by the demands of others or externally driven by the choices of other rather than making your own. Imagine feeling the wind on your face knowing you are good enough just by being yourself.
So what is the other side like? What happens when the dominated male no longer allows himself to be dominated (especially from the women in his world). He grows and blossoms and becomes who he was created to be in the first place. He becomes a man who knows he is worthy of love, caring, and tenderness in a world that is often harsh and self centred. He becomes strong and authentic. He is no longer led around by the bit and bridle of the domineering. He leads his own life with dignity and is someone to be admired. Even his children will come to see what an incredible strong and courageous man he is.
Are you ready to get off of the never enough hamster wheel?
If you are a dominated male caught in the never enough hamster wheel feel free to reach out knowing it won’t be easy, but it will be well worth becoming the man you long to be.
As a word of wisdom and a first step:
Steer clear of those people who exhibit the following character traits: Resentment, bitterness, grudge bearing, meanness, judgment, self-aggrandizing, misery, hostility, demanding, antagonistic and faithlessness.
Look for the following character traits in yourself and surround yourself with people who also exhibit the following: Compassion, love, forgiveness, gentleness, goodness, mercy, self control, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and faithfulness. Those of us who possess these character traits are often found to be on the receiving end of those who have the opposite traits.
Intentionally look for those with good character and start making decisions of who gets to be within your circle instead of leaving your fate up to punitive angry people. Time to take control of our own life. You get to decide.
Take good care,