Jian Ghomeshi and the problem of narcissistic male rage

Posted on in Child & Family Debates

TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – Jian Ghomeshi, in all his traumatized dysfunction and for all the pain he has inflicted, may have done us the favour of waking us up to a larger problem.
Nov 04 2014.   By: Gabor Maté

His public persona shattered, Jian Ghomeshi’s overweening narcissism has become the subject of public scorn. His reported violence against women, whether inside or outside sexual interplay, has been rightly denounced. Yet making this scandal all about Ghomeshi, we risk ignoring the broader sources of male narcissistic rage towards females. We are dealing here with far more than the pathological quirks of an apparently disturbed and charismatic individual.

We live in a society steeped in male narcissism, one in which aggression towards women is deeply entrenched in the collective male psyche. Nor is male sexual predation confined to a few “sick” individuals: that we see it portrayed, relentlessly and voyeuristically, in movies, TV shows, and advertising is beyond obvious, except for those mired in denial.

Acknowledging such realities is not “a tremendous slur against men,” as one denial-mired national columnist suggested recently; it is not to label men as “pigs.” It is simply to recognize that Ghomeshi’s reported behaviours arise from a misogynistic culture that degrades and confuses people of all genders. Few men enact extreme hostility, but few are those who do not harbour anti-feminine aggression somewhere in their psyche.

As a man, a husband and the father of an articulate and proudly feminist daughter from whom I have learned much, I know that Ghomeshi’s alleged actions — hitting women even as he hits on them — are symptoms of a larger problem. Inside what has been called a “rape culture,” many men are familiar with fantasies of non-consensual sexual dominance and violence. Although not in physically violent ways, I, too, have acted out male rage, including toward the woman with whom I am about to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary. Much as I regret it, it’s the truth.

From what dynamics does this narcissistic male anger flow?

A narcissist sees and experiences the world primarily with respect to his own needs. It is all about him; other people merely supply or frustrate these needs, seeming to lack individuality, dignity or needs of their own.

There is a time in life, in infancy, when we are all narcissists. In this early developmental phase we implicitly believe the world revolves around us, and properly so: we have but to feel a need, and the world moves to meet it. The people who remain stuck in narcissism, whether everyday narcissism expressed as ordinary self-centredness or the extreme forms we label as pathological, are the ones who never fully developed past that early stage. We graduate from a developmental phase only if our needs at that stage were fully satisfied. And in our society, most children do not get their needs met.

The growth of a healthy self depends on emotionally rich, attuned interactions with parents who are emotionally present and available. Stressed, depressed or anxious parents, or those who were themselves traumatized, may be incapable of providing their children with such interactions. In our increasingly alienated, isolating, and hyper-stressed culture, many children grow up under conditions characterized by what the seminal psychologist and researcher Alan Schore has called “proximal separation”: the parents are physically there but often emotionally absent. In this context healthy human development is impaired. Thus narcissism pervades our culture.

The rage against women is rooted in what the late feminist scholar Dorothy Dinnerstein identified as the “female monopoly of early child care,” where an isolated woman is seen by the child as the sole source of nourishment, physical soothing, and emotional support. In a mobile and economically unstable society, it falls upon an individual female to become the entire world for the child. The male child, finding his needs frustrated, develops rage. As the brilliant Canadian psychologist Gordon Neufeld points out, “frustration is the engine of aggression.”

Rage against the mother later becomes generalized into rage against women. In pathological cases, that hostility is acted out precisely in moments when intimacy is sought, such as sex, because it was in early moments of vulnerable intimacy that the narcissistic wound was sustained. The rage is an implicit memory of intense proximal separation. Many boys also witness and absorb the hostility of their overworked and emotionally alienated fathers and, unconsciously, blame their mothers for not having protected them.

The problem is worldwide and as old as civilization. We fool ourselves if we believe that our advanced society has come even near to resolving it. A new consciousness and a new conversation are needed. Jian Ghomeshi, in all his traumatized dysfunction and for all the pain he has inflicted, may have done us the favour of waking us up.

Gabor Maté, M.D., is a Vancouver-based author and speaker.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/11/04/jian_ghomeshi_and_the_problem_of_narcissistic_male_rage.html >

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2 Responses to “Jian Ghomeshi and the problem of narcissistic male rage”

  1. Tracy says:

    I first would like to say that as a parent who has been traumatized over and over and is currently fighting to save her son from continued emotional negligence is up against all the institutions that are supposed to act in the best interest of them! The children are still without a voice in 2014. Every self governed institution has unprecedented numbers of causing emotional and lifelong scarring on children and act without remorse or by mandates implemented by government.

    To paint a wide brush stroke of people with mental health problems such a stress or depression who were traumatized themselves is stereotyping. I am personally appalled by this as I have ensured to be always present both in proximity and emotionally connected. This is why my son who is generally grounded most of the time and has remarkable social skills, empathy and a deep sense of right and wrong as does my full grown daughter. I have been told thousands of times what a great mother I am and how great both my children are. It is with immense frustration that as an abused single mother that was diagnosed with PTSD with a history of depression is being labeled delusional and paranoid by two government institutions that seek to use my history of mental health concerns to protect themselves from investigations of misconduct. Suffering abuse since the age of four at the hands of men, a highly stressful combative divorce where untruths and smear tactics were utilized not to mention a corrupt justice system where warned to consent to joint custody or become the access only parent is exactly why I have to deal with unlimited amounts of stress. I have and continue to put the welfare of my son who suffers from anxiety due to being court ordered to spend time in an environment that further causes him emotional trauma by proximal separation and separation from the one person who has been his whole world. Trying to protect him from the narcissistic father has resulted in him being subjected too live scared. Facing permanent residence in a place that is filled with anger, memories of abuse and fear of never coming home to what he has always considered a safe, loving, positive, communicative environment without fear of being who he is and wants to be.

  2. Liane Costin says:

    To Whom It May Concern:

    This letter is in response to the article “Jian Ghomeshi and the Problem of Narcissistic Male Rage.” I applaud you for examining the Ghomeshi’s case from a broader lens that examines an issue that is still prevalent today. As you mention in your article, aggression towards women has become entrenched in the male psyche. This has become reinforced with messages in the media; specifically movies, television shows, and advertisement. Although many are responding to the article by generalizing Ghomeshi’s behaviour to all men, I do not believe this to be the case. I do believe however, it is important to recognize that a misogynistic culture still exists, and those who deny its existence allows this ideology to continue.

    At the end of this article you state “Jian Ghomeshi… may have done us the favour of waking us up.” Although in many ways this is true, I would like to ask the question as to why this is the case. As author Denise Balkissoon states in the article “Sorry, We Haven’t Reached a ‘Watershed’ On Violence Against Women” many were shocked by the allegations against Ghomeshi. But why now does violence against women face a ‘turning point’? Why not when Robert Pickton dismembered women’s bodies? Why not because hundreds of indigenous women are missing? Is it because of how much public attention Ghomeshi’s case as brought forth?

    I am resistant to believe that anyone has “woken up” as a result of Ghomeshi’s case. It is my hope that the media will continue to bring attention to the issue of violence against women – but not just because of one isolated incident. All issues of violence against women need to have cause for public outrage until the day that violence against women no longer exists.

    Sincerely,

    Liane Costin
    BSW Student
    Laurentian University

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