Testicular Fortitude has become a buzzword in the mental health field. I resonate with the phrase as I think it speaks to some real gender archetypes. Stereotypically, women are described as maternal and men are referred to as virile providers. In 2019, in a society where women proudly evoke the feminist cloak of equality and even sometimes superiority, I can hear the women of this generation humming the tune of the song. "Anything you can do I can do better" from the 1946 Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun. The consequence of this feminine power resurgence is that men are losing their footing in the family unit. In this paradigm the woman is over-functioning and the men are under-functioning. As a result, men are falling between the extremes of toxic masculinity and emasculation. This choice or lack of societal support for male consciousness really adds to the breakdown of the family unit, which I see in my clinical practice.BE 2.7K
Last week in my office, I saw a couple who were new parents for the fourth time. The mom complained that the father did not help with changing the baby’s diapers, playtime, and homework with the older children. He simply came home from his job, sat on the couch and asked, “When’s dinner?” Humorously, this scenario sounds like an episode of Archie Bunker's, All in the Family sitcom. This is a great example of traditional roles playing out where men feel that once they have fulfilled the role of provider, they are absolved of household and familial duties. The problem in this example is that both partners in the couple cited above are working. And the wife is the primary breadwinner.
And in this example, for the sake of argument, if this wife and mother were to demand his involvement she would be labeled a nag or accused of emasculating her husband. On the other hand, we come to the topic of testicular fortitude. This is the male idea of taking control and action towards a problem and having the emotional and physical aptitude and willingness to do so. It is about being an intrinsic leader for self and others. Culturally and archetypally speaking this kind of take-charge attitude has been named masculine. This doesn't mean women aren't leaders. This means that gender has played a role in social meaning and expression.
I find in couples therapy, when the husband doesn't have the testicular fortitude to be a leader in the family, issues arise. I hear most women in heterosexual relationships want the guy to take charge. However, by taking charge they don't mean via toxic masculinity where they become rigid dictators but by supporting their spouse in making the flow of the home environment smoother. This could mean taking action on the foresight of female intuition as the emotional barometer of the relationship or could indicate getting a second job for extra funds, spearheading family projects, and/or helping with domestic duties that are typically viewed as woman’s work.
From an epigenetic standpoint, utilizing some of Bert Hellinger’s theories, the male spouse could have experienced a lack of a healthy male role model in his formative years. He could also have not bonded with his mother by her being emotionally unavailable or because of an early death. There could be repressed rage from the lack of attachment. Loose or non-existent attachments are referred to as interrupted reaching out in systemic constellation work. The male figure could also be in denial about how he is showing up in the relationship and failing to ‘acknowledge what is’ and internally infantilizing the ideal family unit. To assist men in individual therapy, one could resource problematic character traits like narcissism, selfishness, stubbornness, lack of emotional generosity to self and others, self-sabotage, anger management, lack of a support system or of de-compression coping skills. A family constellation could identify root causes and start moving the energy toward harmony.
As I listen to pop music and rap I hear a message of the male “beating his ethereal chest” and speaking of his sexual prowess. It's like a modern day mating call. However, the aspects of the chase are around diminished and objectified womanhood and motherhood. So we can't blame the music in my opinion because art mimics life. There are some collective ideas about how men and woman are working out these social derivatives. Like the song !@#% for Free by Drake: the modern day answer to this struggle for men, feeling under-valued, has been to just become over-sexualized. The main question is what supports men and women to better understand each other in modern day society?
In my practice, I guide clients in a dialogue of where changes need to occur in the relationship. The top five issues for couples are money, sex, communication, occupation, and children - in the marriage and blended. I empower the couple to choose the most highly charged topic and delve in deeper. At home, a couple can learn to have these types of discussions as well. From a family systems perspective, a best practice is to identify if the couple is in a genetic loop of inherited or learned behaviors from their parents and if their patterns are a true representation of the marriage/relationship they desire.
Melody Allen MA, PMA, LPC-S
About the author
Melody Allen, MA, PMA, LPC-S, was co-director of the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference. She is a licensed professional counselor in Sugarland, Texas. Her theoretical style blends systems theory, depth psychology, positive psychology, Barbara Brennan Healing Science, mind-body consciousness and Family and Systemic Constellations. Her Ph.D. research is focused on the correlation between epigenetics and family therapy. Melody works with families and individuals seeking life change in her private practice and supervises LPC-interns who are seeking a career in mental health. Learn more here.
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