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Title: When Good Men Behave Badly: Change Your Behaviour, Change Your Relationships

Author: David B. Wexler, Ph.D.

ISBN: ISBN-13 978-1-57224-346-0

Type: Fixer

 

Summary: 

“When Good Men Behave Badly” focuses on men’s feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and perceived threats to identity that can lead to acting badly in otherwise good men with good values, who want to make good choices instead of being emotionally hijacked by their limbic system. It offers these men acknowledgement and an understanding of their emotional life with the goal of equipping them with new behavioural options.

CONTENT WARNING: This book contains examples of domestic violence and examples of derogatory language

 

Presentation Style

This is a self-help book for middle-aged, white, cis-men written by a middle-aged, white, cis-man. On the one hand, this framing is useful because this to create a tone of (white) men talking to (white) men about shared experiences which may be difficult for women (and others) to have sympathy for when they are on the receiving end of the described bad behaviour. On the other hand, the advice is very binary oriented (men and women only), heteronormative (heterosexual and monogamous assumptions), and doesn’t discern between different groups of men (one size fits all *sigh*). It doesn’t specifically state that it is about white men, but with a white man on the cover… it doesn’t do anything to move away from white men as the default. I’m agender, I don’t exist in this book.

Speaking of the cover… I hate it. My edition has a white man in a dress shirt holding flowers behind his back. My mind jumps to the assumption that the man is in the “doghouse”. A focus group somewhere may have determined that this is brilliant marketing, but it makes me cringe. The irony of the cover is that the book warns of the importance of perception by telling the story of one of the author’s clients, who had a great session with him, but never returned to therapy after the author recommended a book that had the phrase “verbal abuse” in the title.[1]

“When Good Men Behave Badly” is a relatively short book (199 pages + references) that overviews and introduces a selection of ideas, explanations, exercises, and suggestions. It uses examples heavily (see content warning) and fiction examples which may be dated (I don’t recognize most of them, but that didn’t make much of a difference to understanding). This is introductory material. If you want to go into the topics in depth you will have to follow up with other material [2] or seek out a therapist familiar with men’s issues.

 

Chapter Breakdown:

1. Good Men and Broken Mirrors — Introduces mirroring, broken mirrors, and twinning through the concept of selfobjects (someone or something that helps us feel cohesive). How the broken mirror experience can trigger acting out. 

2. The Power of Women — What men are taught [by toxic masculinity] to expect from women and how emotional dependancy on women for missing needs can lead to resentment or withdrawal, and a perception that they have power over men.

3. Fathers and Sons: Curses and Blessings — How fathers may expect sons to be positive mirrors, react to them as broken mirrors when they don’t measure up, and what this does to boys. 

4. Midlife, Affairs, and Projections —What people do when there is a gap between what is and what they expected in their life. This talks about self-awareness, distress tolerance, taking responsibility and how these can help when it feels like something is missing.

5.  Men’s Brains —What it is like to be hijacked by your limbic system and the effects of anger. Some strategies for dealing with these.

6. Odysseus, Relational Heroism, and Imaginary Crimes — How to be a Relational Hero through self-awareness, preparation, and doing things differently. How to let go of Imaginary Crimes.

7. Guy Talk —How men talk to themselves and other men, and how that sets the frame for behaviour.

8. What Women Can Do —For those women who read the book, a short chapter on dealing with men (and raising boys) within the context of the author’s “good men” hypothesis with some concrete “try these” ideas. It also recognizes that there are men who are dangerous and not just behaving badly.

 

My Opinion:

This is a book about how toxic masculinity fucks over men.

 

“When Good Men Behave Badly” presents itself mainly as a relationship repair guide, but it is more about how men can have better relationships with themselves through self-awareness, emotional regulation, and understanding the influences of masculinity in themselves… improved romantic and family relationships is a (very positive) side-effect of being able to navigate one’s internal landscape without being capsized or swamped. I think it is important to healing and growth that men have acknowledgement of their feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and missing needs, and I like that this book acknowledges this as something that women do for men while at the same time pointing out that disowning responsibility for those needs ultimately undermines the ability to get them met. I like that the author manages to navigate recognizing the subjective reality of these feelings while disassembling the idea that it is women’s job (and men are helpless) to emotionally regulate men. The author strongly believes in men’s positive ability to learn how to regulate and manage their emotional needs well. 

 

That said, as an agender person who is regularly misgendered as a woman, I’m struggling to find a way to get this book into the hands of the men I think who would benefit from it (possibly even enjoy it), without giving the impression that I think they are broken and harmful people. The book goes in a much different direction than that, but that doesn’t matter if first impressions means they don’t get past the cover.[3] Even beyond the usual problems with giving self-help books to people[4], I think it may be especially difficult, due to the topic, for a woman to give this book to a man without it being potentially perceived (accurately or inaccurately) as shaming. That is unfortunate.   

 

I think, therefore, that this is a book for men to read and then share with other men in an act of twinship mirroring. 

 

-------------------------------

Footnotes:

[1] One of Wexler’s areas of specialty is domestic abuse. He has a number of other books on the topic as well as a book about men in therapy, which (according to the blurb I read) apparently does deal with groups of men other than white cis-men. 

 

[2] Such as the work of Terrence Real (author of “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” a book on male depression) which is quoted and referenced in this book. 

 

[3] Being known as someone who reads a staggering number of self-help/psychology books does help diffuse this “I’m giving this to you because you’re broken” vibe, but still… “Hey! I found this fabulous book on [insert taboo topic here] that I think you will love and get lots out of!” isn’t a great party topic for most people. My friends have figured out how to run with it, but they are also used to seeing books on conflict or trauma (for example) on my coffee table.

 

[4] Self-help books don’t make good gifts folks. They are specifically aimed at fixing people and giving them will *always* have an underlying message that needs to be managed. I love self-help books but there are books on my shelf that just sit there unread specifically because of the framing of their gifting. 

 

Disclaimer: I am not a therapist, a doctor, or a professional reviewer. I do, however, own and enjoy reading a staggering number of self-help books and I have opinions. Lots of opinions. One of these opinions is that the underlying assumptions in “self-improvement” and “self-help” books should be unpacked. These reviews may or may not do that, but I will try to acknowledge both some of the potentially useful and potentially problematic aspects of the books I review. 

February 2017

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