A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
In the sixties and seventies, a slew of movies depicted the disaffected American male anti-hero - Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry or the High Plains Drifter, Charles Bronson in Death Wish, Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack, Sylvester Stallone as Rambo, to name a few.
These idealized males were seen as lone enforcers and protectors unfettered by convention, the law, or society. They were motivated by righteous indignation seeking vengeance who would break the law to enforce it. The history of these anti-heroes goes back to the stories of Robin Hood and Don Quixote and goes back even further to classic Greek drama.
What makes these characters enticing is that there generally is an inciting event, usually a death, murder, or some severe wrong perpetrated by the villain against the anti-hero or something seen as valuable to the protagonist, and the remainder of the story is the ruthless pursuit of justice by the anti-hero. Of course, we know that the anti-hero follows a path of moral ambiguity. Still,the emotion of vengeance is the justification for the punishment meted out by our hero.
Whether the codification of males as protectors influenced these stories or a preexisting code always has existed that informed the stories is debatable. Nevertheless, this model of men as overprotectors, wielding violence and lawlessness to justify the ends, needs to be revisited. It may make for great drama, a two-hour festival of schadenfreude, but is this model a model for boys and men to aspire to?
Is there anything wrong with men wanting to be protectors?
No, not necessarily. It is instinctive to want to protect the people you love and who are under your care. Therefore, it is natural to invoke protector mode when circumstances warrant this behavior.
However, vigilantism is another matter. Vigilantism is when someone breaks the law to pursue their own version of personal justice. Taking the law into your own hands to promote violence to seek vengeance is a form of dominance and forced submission. Creating your personal justice to quell a surge of emotional vindictiveness is just plain wrong and, when acted upon by men, gives the masculine instincts to protect a bad name. This attitude translates heavily into other areas, such as politics, religion, and even corporate retaliatory actions, often spurred by egoistic individuals.
A world of wrong-headed emotionalism about a perceived wrong leads to irrational actions that can have terrible consequences for all parties involved. Movies may popularize this notion of rightful vigilantism, but nowhere does humane and just law support it. Instead, our continued worship of anti-heroes and superheroes seems to perpetuate the myth of male exceptionalism, which sometimes requires men to disregard the law and preserve some mythical higher truth or justice.
It’s an embarrassing truth that many American men have adopted this attitude. It traced its roots to the Dark Ages when the medieval aristocratic gentry waged private wars and feuds to exact revenge above and beyond the law. This notion of authority outside of the law created antecedents to what we now term hegemonic masculinity.
When protectiveness goes wrong.
If you have viewed the movie heroes, I listed above, you will note that they take vengeance to another level. It’s not always tit for tat but sometimes goes toward righteous indignation, where the anti-hero is judge and jury meting out punishment often above and beyond the crime.
This type of protectionism illustrates a kind of ownership and dominance that many men feel they must provide for their loved ones. It is often about power and control. For example, the exuberant father who escorts his daughter on her first date, spies on her date, or worse, threatens the young suiter if he broaches the deadline to have her home.
This is not about acknowledging the underlying anger that may accompany a wrong but the controlled behavior needed to remain calm and civilized. Regardless of the perceived wrongdoing, it is not about an individual’s justice but law and order. For too long, we have worshipped the hero that determines the crime and the punishment, the vigilante as the maverick hero.
What is a better model for protecting one’s interests?
For one, you can stop assuming that everyone is out to get your loved ones or you. But, on the other hand, it is not blithely ignoring the reality of crime in our society either. With all things, a sense of balanced vigilance will suit the purpose.
As a protector, your role is to define the boundaries which you will defend if necessary. Boundaries provide a sense of identity and trust, safety, and security. Your job is to protect, not to control. Therefore, consider a measured approach that does not exceed the law.
Learning to control explosive emotions such as anger or rage is important. Emotional regulation is difficult when events seem threatening but remaining calm gives you an advantage even if you are called into an active posture. Not only over your assailant but over your instinctive emotions. Channel as much into legal remedies as possible.
In an emergency situation where life and death decisions are needed, protecting oneself and loved ones is paramount. Be skilled in delivering that protection, don’t go beyond the law, and don’t always feel you are vindicated by invoking violence.
Are anti-heroes a valid model for men?
Why are they so popular in movies? The American mythos of the lone gunman, the maverick vigilante, the expedient dispenser of justice, the fearless warrior, mighty and strong, not asking for help from the law but taking it upon himself to exact revenge. The notion that there is a noble purpose in their vengeance, a special holy mission to provide payback and enact this in an efficient and unobstructed way, appeals to our cultural definition of the ideal male. Much of this cultural iconography comes from our romanticized views of the American West, where miles of lawless territory presided by distant circuit judges far away and the idea that swift popular justice superseded the law—allowed for vigilantism to permeate our mindset.
The appeal is palpable. It’s an emotional roller coaster. First, shock at the perpetuating event, then riding the emotional high to action (fight mode), and then completion at defeating the enemy, nicely wrapped up in two hours of celluloid emotional payoff.
The problem with this model, although perfect for movies, is that it often plays out in real life. We see it in politics, social media, sports, and now sadly and ironically, at the Academy Awards.
This model is not about balance. And, it doesn’t work for most men.
Now, I know that I had experienced anger and rage when one of my loved ones was threatened. But unfortunately, I didn’t find out until after the fact, too late to do anything. As an HSP male, I often wonder what emotions would play out for me under some of these circumstances. We all have hot buttons and can be moved to action by uncontrolled rage or anger. However, as HSP males, we need to learn to regulate our emotions to use emotional energy for constructive purposes. I doubt that HSP males would make good vigilantes, but can we make good role models for calm and controlled defensive action.
We, like all men, must learn to control our rage, anger, and fears. Channel the emotional energy into finding justice under the law. We should and must protect, as would any parent, the family or loved ones, and those we care for without submitting to raging violence and vigilantism.
Please comment with your thoughts.
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Bill Allen currently lives in Lutz, Florida. He previously lived in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.