Cultural values and idealized narratives

Heroics: a masculine ideal

From the playground to the battleground, a boy’s/man’s assertiveness, aggressiveness, daring, and courage build pride. Alternatively, being a sissy, a nerd, a patsy, or a pansy brings shame, humiliation, and disdain.

David’s mother discovered welts all over her 13-year-old son’s back. Getting no explanation from David, she consulted other mothers. She discovered that a cult had formed, led by a classmate of David’s. The boys would meet in the exercise room where the leader, Luke, would point to a boy to be struck with a whip. Luke being the son of a rich donor led the faculty to turn a blind eye. The unprotected boys made it a virtue to never tell. To take the whipping was to be manly; to tell was to be a wimp and squealer, a tattle-tale - a shameful act.

In her evocative paper “The Myth of the Hero,” Chana Ullman (2016) describes the frequent, extreme shame that emerged in the analysis of many soldiers with PTSD. The repeated pattern was that the soldier was tortured by shame, humiliation, and guilt associated with a failure to live up to his ideal of courage. The analyst herself felt torn with counter feelings of admiration for their bravery and service. She knew that if she verbalized her perspective it would sadly have come across as unempathetic to the deep feelings of the soldier about a buddy he should have rescued or an attack on the enemy he had taken too long to launch.

On a less dramatic scale is the shame of the bystander who didn’t intervene when his close friend was being beaten up by a bully. Or the boxer who could have gotten up and fought more when knocked down but didn’t. These specific events in the life of a boy or man will reappear in dreams or associations stirred by their frequent dramatization in movies - like who did or did not make a heroic sacrifice on the Titanic.

When we move from a structural hypothesis to an experience-based approach, values and ideals are integrated with what is being sought, what is being intended, what goals guide the doer’s doings. In fantasies and dreams, values and ideals are holistically included. And the underlying affect tone that reflects the doer doing’s holistic inclusion of whether ideals being met must lead to a feeling of being good or not being met lead to a feeling of failing.

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