If boys never die, men never live
An essay exploring the necessity of evolution within masculine psychology.
*Note - If you'd prefer to listen to this essay rather than read it, you can listen here:
The goal of this essay is to highlight the expectations and nature of a man’s life if he does not undergo the development and transition into a more mature psychological structure. Often, we feel elements of dis-ease in our life but have trouble pinpointing their origin and so suffer from a sort of low-resolution ache that appears incurable. When this is the case, the common remedy put forth is to further numb our feeling function through neurological manipulation. I.e. We take drugs that make us feel better. While all modes of treatment have their place in maintaining psychological hygiene, a holistic approach will seek to go beyond the presenting symptom and find its root. What follows is a list of common symptoms and their probable roots. In light of the fact that there are few cultural incentives to undergo this transformation from the consciousness of a boy to the mature consciousness of a man, the modern man is particularly susceptible to moving into later life without ever having felt the pain innate with the death of their egoic consciousness.
If a man finds himself in a position of leadership, (familial, professional, or otherwise,) and he still possesses the basic psychological structure innate in boyhood, he’ll continuously find that in order to feel in control over his own dominion, he’ll be forced to oscillate wildly between chaos and tyranny. By way of metaphor, the evolution of masculine psychology can be understood as moving from that of a prince to the archetype of the good king. A prince who never learned to identify and meet his own needs will not be able to meet the needs of the kingdom simply because he wears a new crown and assumes a new seat at the table. Experientially, this leader will find himself experiencing bouts of feeling on top, even unstoppable and god-like, separated by periods of immense frustration and growing isolation. The poles he experiences will be the result of malformed maturity - the tyrant is always a closeted weakling. His lack of autonomy born from a lack of strength of character will render him impotent to fully organize his own internal world. His external affairs will follow suit, consumed in the chaos he cannot seem to “get a grip on.” It is a hallmark of fully developed masculine psychology to be capable of acting as the ordering principle.
To make up for the weakness, he’ll leverage excessive force, hence the bent toward tyranny. This force will be aimed at both himself and others who he hopes to control or destroy. He will spend his life entrenched in an inner war, fighting himself to get done what he wants or needs to. Because all force creates an opponent process, he will find that he is always torn between opposing forces and internal peace will be impossible to maintain for any extended period of time. When the psychology structure matures, he finds the opposition in the world around him, and even the opposing parts within him, become allies in his quest toward wholeness. It’s as if his internal and external world all begin marching in the same direction.
If a man grows into a position of considerable power in this state of stunted maturity, he’ll constantly try to vanquish what he deems as the “other” in the world, unconsciously hoping that it will allow him to tame the “other” in himself. The “other” in himself, psychologically speaking, is anything in himself that he finds utterly unacceptable and is unwilling to face. Character defects will be swept under the rug or hidden behind his persona. Others will see them, often quite easily, but he will not. The boy who grows old must remain in willing ignorance in order to preserve his own picture of himself. What he does not face in himself, he will find over and over again in the world. In this case, rather than fulfill the purpose of his life as a unique individual and accomplish on earth what only he is uniquely positioned to do, his life story will amount to chasing ghosts and boxing with his shadow.
Author John Eldredge, in his book Wild at Heart, asserts that “deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” If said man has not undergone the death of his boyhood worldview, the various battles he fights will be fruitless and meaningless. Rather than fighting on behalf of the oppressed and the disenfranchised, he’ll create them, contributing to the catastrophe of the world rather than its healing. He’ll always be in pursuit of a new beauty as he is unable to sustain intimacy for any length of time. The boy who never becomes a man will have plenty of adventure and that will be the appeal to staying the same. The possibility of what and who could be next will always beckon him to leave the monotony of the real world. If, however, he takes a step back to notice the quality of his adventures, he’ll notice that they all seem very similar. The nature of the adventure will not change because that would require that he changes. He’ll feel after a while that he is living in a very cyclic way; unable to find the depth in life that he secretly longs for in his soul. The life of becoming and incarnating that he might have with Wendy will be continuously traded for the high-flying fantasies with Tinker Bell.
It is common for a father to guide his son by reminding him when his eyes get too big for his appetite. The father, in this case, acts as a grounding principle until the boy can internalize that grounding and learns to balance his capability and his enthusiasm. If, however, the boy does not go through the pain of sacrificing his endless potential for the commitment of his finite and limited everyday life, he’ll find that his foundation will not be strong enough to hold the house that he desires to build in his dreams. As he recognizes the mismatch between what he can dream up and what he can actually incarnate, rather than accept the disparity and get on with the noble task of building his life despite its parameters, setbacks, and limitations, he’ll retreat more and more into the fantasy in his mind. Every time the fantasy has an opportunity to touch down in real life, he won’t be able to stand it. He won’t know why but every encounter that threatens to get “too real” or to tie him down will trigger a flight response.
If he commits to his real life, he is simultaneously committing to his real death. The two are merely different sides of the same coin. One implies the other. This commitment will forfeit him the opportunity to spend his life sailing atop the clouds with the gods and all other beings that are free from the pain and limitations of an incarnated life. What he does not know, however, is that by not committing to his death, he has set himself on a course to experience one of life’s only true tragedies. To have come all the way here to earth without ever having really lived. His inability to stay with the real will destine him to live what is called the provisional life. That is the feeling that one gets when they go through the motions, perhaps even check all of the boxes that make them admired by others, and yet, can’t seem to shake the feeling that their life is passing them by. They see it going on in front of them but cannot seem to grasp it, to taste its marrow.
The ancients understood the need to place boys in the heat of initiation where elders could guide them into the death of who they thought they were and into who their life and community need them to be. They understood that an uninitiated boy allowed to masquerade and assume the roles of a man would threaten the stability of the entire village. The initiations functioned as a liminal space. (Liminal from the Latin limen, meaning threshold). As they crossed through the sacred rite, the part of them that remained will have been purified by the heat of the passage.
It is facing the heat of a man’s life that allows him to properly temper his soul and makes him characterologically fit to care for other beings in a benevolent way. The necessary ego death puts a man in touch with what is essential about him by stripping him of his exterior identification and sacrificing his earliest patterns of behavior. Only when a man relinquishes these patterns and bowes to the guidance of that which is greater than himself can he begin to understand what he is doing here and why. The confusion and anxiety most commonly associated with modernity are caused by a separation from our essence - that which is essential about us. That is to say, we suffer from our lack of connection to the soul. Disconnected, we’ll chase everything but feel the fulfillment of nothing.
In a world where boys have been allowed to grow old without ever having transformed into men, the blame will be everywhere but suspiciously, fault will be nowhere. The lack of ownership will make reconciliation between warring factions impossible, so conflict will be endless. Oppression will only grow more widespread because the strength and courage to stand against tyranny will not have been developed. The disenfranchised among us will only grow in number as those with the means to do something about it will be too selfish and too self-indulgent to care.
Playfulness will be slowly siphoned out of culture because hiding within the boy who refuses to grow up is an increasingly harsh man. His cold, hard, and at times callus attitude will surface every time life demands he participate in reality. Over time, this part of his personality structure will grow and grow until the resentment of an unlived life consumes the lion’s share of his thoughts. He won’t frame it like this in his dialogue though, instead, everyone else will always be the problem that thwarts his happiness.
It is a common mythic motif that when the king is sick, the entire kingdom suffers. If a man grows up unable to actualize his own potential, time will only take him further from himself. The result will be that he develops a sort of unquenchable homesickness that starts as a dull ache but that enough time will turn into an existential agony. All along, the medicine he needs will be on the other side of the psychological death that he refuses to undergo.
Doing so would require that he face the fact that life is a letdown in comparison to his fantasies. Not ultimately, but certainly in the short term. He’ll have to grieve the fact that his highest hopes have never been manifested. The trade-off is that he gets to participate in the ongoing work of creation which holds a future more meaningful than any fantasy the mind can conjure up. To get there, however, he’ll have to come to grips with his own pain points, inadequacies, and vulnerabilities, no longer content to sweep them into the shadows. Until he comes to grips with his own suffering he will be a liability to inflict suffering on others - which he will do both consciously and unconsciously depending on his temperament. Only when a man owns his own faults, seeing them in the light of day, will he suffer enough to learn how to love properly. Only when he learns how to love properly will he become the kind of servant leader that his destiny and the betterment of his world needs him to be.