The Problems with Ritual Suicide

Usually vomiting makes one feel better, yet sitting in a pool of warm alcohol that I had just violently expelled out of what felt like every orifice on my face only made my head spin faster. Surely, this would get me out of this torture my brother’s drinking friends called Caps.

“Did you just throw up your last round?” asked one of my blurry competitors.

“Yeah, I think I’m done,” I answered the identical twin images in front of me.

“You softie. Now you have to drink two shots in the next round,” yelled another competitor.

Then the whole table chanted a derogatory word at me as they placed their hands on their heads in the shape of female genitalia.

The sad part of the story is that these are men that I considered my friends. For many men, this is a common experience—we anticipate compassion, yet we are met with anger, rejection, and, sometimes, hostility.

For men displaying weakness is rarely met with compassion and often dangerous. From an early age, boys are taught to not only hide or overcome weakness, but also exploit it in others.

Many boys are teased or bullied when they display vulnerability. My 6 year old son just got bullied by a bunch of boys when they took his ball and he started to cry: “Baby girl, baby girl, baby girl,” they chanted. This was just a few weeks ago. I thought sexist taunting of young boys had changes since I was a kid in the 70s. Again, some of these boys who bullied my son were kids he considered friends.

In sports, boys are coached to take advantage of the opponent’s weaknesses. In basketball, we call these weaknesses “mismatches.” In martial arts, we call an opponent’s weakness an “opening.” As much as we would like to think differently, we still encourage boys to “sweep the leg.”

I think of the character Andrew in John Hughes‘ film The Breakfast Club. Andrew tapes together the butt cheeks of a nerd just to get approval from his father.

So, I’m…I’m sitting in the locker room, and I’m taping up my knee. And Larry’s undressing a couple lockers down from me. Yeah…he’s kinda…he’s kinda skinny, weak. And I started thinking about my father, and his attitude about weakness. And the next thing I knew, I uh, I jumped on top of him and started wailing on him…And my friends, they just laughed and cheered me on.

I can relate to Andrew. My socially conditioned shame of weakness drove me to the brink of destruction. At the age of 13, after a severe beating from my step-father, I laid in bed with a switch blade aimed at the veins in my wrist. I wanted to end the suffering. I didn’t want to live with abuse anymore, but I just couldn’t make myself jab the rusty blade into my quivering flesh.

I felt so inadequate. Not only did I “scream like a little girl” when I took the beatings, but I wasn’t even man enough to end my suffering. I had been raised on a steady diet of samurai films, where seppuku or hara kiri, ritual suicide, represented the ultimate form of poise, courage, and dignity.

Clutching my legs in the fetal position, I began sobbing at my wretchedness. I felt like a complete failure as a human being, but I also felt relieved to finally release the sorrow in my heart. Suddenly, my step-father pounded on the wall of my room and screamed,

Shut up before I come in there and give you something to really cry about!”

Startled by the interruption, I froze in fight or flight mode. Adrenaline pumped through my body. Immediately, my feelings of helplessness turned to rage. I clenched my fist and fantasized about how I would take revenge on anyone who hurt me again.

Experiences like this taught me that my feelings were not legitimate—that I had no right to feel and express pain and suffering. As a man, I was taught that weakness was feminine which not only disconnected me with my own suffering, but also reinforced a sexist view of women. Weakness and suffering became badges of shame that needed to be hidden or destroyed. Since seeing weakness in others reminded me of my own inadequacies, I often lashed out at others’ weaknesses. Thus, began my journey towards heartlessness.

So when someone I loved told me that they couldn’t get out of bed due to depression, my first reaction was “toughen up.” Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get back on the horse that bucked you off. (The number of cliches for covering up weakness reveals the shame around vulnerability prevalent in our society.)

I even got angry at my lover for letting depression control her. I kept thinking about Top Gun.

“Dammit, Maverick” was how the Navy and the entire viewing audience reacted to Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s bout of grief, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.

In the film, the Navy male commanders treat Maverick’s depression in a predictable manner—they put him back in the cockpit of an F14A Tomcat. Back in the saddle again.

By sheer force of will, Maverick overcomes his depression, re-engages, and saves the Western World. Yay! Everybody wins—except for the tormented soldiers returning from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan who are living on the streets and committing suicide because they feel like asking for help is not manly.

English: Cases of PTSD and Severe Depression A...

A new investigation by the Department of Veterans Affairs reports that a military veteran commits suicide almost once an hour. Semper Fidelis!

My point is that men live under the ideology that any weakness can be overcome if you aren’t too much of a “pussy.” In her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, Brene Brown states, “Basically , men live under the pressure of one unrelenting message: Do not be perceived as weak.” I really focus in on the words “pressure” and “unrelenting.”

Men are glorified for single-highhandedly conquering any weakness that is thrown at them. We all cheered when Tiger Woods limped to victory at the 2008 US Open on a left knee with torn ligaments. Michael Jordan, suffering from food poisoning and a 102 fever, leading the Chicago Bulls to victory in the playoffs against the Utah Jazz remains one of the greatest sports performances ever.

It took me years to realize that some things cannot be solved with bootstraps. Too much “toughening up” leaves a man isolated, lonely, and heartless. Sometimes compassion, empathy, and lovingkindness are the appropriate responses to weakness. And sometimes we are powerless to help. No matter how big our tool set, we can’t fix everything.

Lately, when my 6 year old son cries about something that I see as trivial, I put my arm around him and try to feel his pain. I’m less worried about him growing up to be a “cry baby,” than I am him being a lonely, sexist, heartless man who lacks compassion for loved ones who have a tough time getting out of bed.

55 comments

    1. I agree, TD. We all need help sometime, but men are shamed just thinking about asking for help. Glad I didn’t have to drug and hypnotize you to get you to agree. {{{Hugs]}} Kozo

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      1. The first time the little prince is bullied we will see how I respond…
        But, for now, he knows it is okay to be hurt and need comfort. He’s still so young though that he often looks to us first to see if he should be upset or not and basis his reaction on our own.
        In time, I will have stories to share.

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  1. Every parent should read this, but especially those raising boys. I have no doubt your sons will grow to be extraordinary men from the lessons you have instilled in them. Compassion and empathy would go a long way toward helping the world if more people embraced it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I totally agree with your last sentence, NAPR. My mission is to get the rest of the world to see it that way. I am so grateful for the opportunity to at least share the message with my sons. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo

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  2. I just knew when it was your turn you’d blow us out of the water, Kozo. This is so raw & real & sadly a problem for so many men still.

    The bullying & pressure seems like almost part of “the code” and I’m glad you’re helping break that cycle. I know a lot of men/boys that read this will find comfort.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, J. Now I have to scramble for 3 more articles. haha. I hope men/boys find comfort here or somewhere. God knows they need compassion in these crazy times. {{{hugs]}} Kozo

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  3. This is so true. People tend to few a “man” as a person who is devoid of human emotion. Men cry, men get upset, men can get emotionally wounded or discouraged. Society needs to realize that a man is a human person.
    Aul

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    1. So true, Aul. Society needs to let men be human. We are so often told to “stop crying” or “toughen up.” Hopefully, the tide is changing and men can be deeply emotional (read: human) again. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo

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  4. This was a triggering artical for me…Im female but had a father like that…tormented us for any kind of weakness. Nothing was allowed.In college I took Judo, there was a two yr period where I struggled with commiting suicide the Japanese way….that way appealed to me, not taking some pills…..I guess because I wanted to inflict as much pain on myself going out ….because that was what I was use too.

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    1. I feel you, Nessa. I tortured myself for years because I thought that life was about pain. The drinking story kind of hints at that pushing the boundaries of fun and torture. I’m glad that we both made it through without committing seppuku. {{{Hugs]}} Kozo

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  5. Excellent post, Kozo. I was bullied throughout childhood and I fought back the best way I knew how – I bullied others. There were two boys that I was merciless with until one day our high school coach slammed me against the lockers and gave me a piece of his mind. He and I had a good relationship before and a better one after. Slamming me against the lockers may have been a bit much, but he said all the things I needed to hear.

    I feel bad for those I bullied and hope they are doing well. I wish I had a way to make amends but, unfortunately, I don’t even remember their names. I guess I made the best amends I could by raising my daughter to be a loving, empathetic young lady.

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    1. We have the same strategy, Bradley. I’m trying to raise my sons to be compassionate partly to amend all the suffering I have brought in this world. “Hurt people, hurt people” is one of the truisms in my life. Now I’m trying to live “healed people, heal people.”
      I recently had a talk with my younger brother who was never hit by my step-father. I told him how he had it easy while my older brother and I had to suffer. He said that we used to tell him that he wasn’t our real brother, that he wasn’t a true Hattori. I realized that I hurt him and abused him out of spite and jealousy. Like Robin Roberts says, “everybody’s got something.”
      {{{hugs}}} Kozo

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  6. Well said. I remember we teased my little brother when he cried. And now I look back and wish I could yell at myself. He didn’t deserve that from his family. He’s always been sensitive, and that should be praised…for being understanding and empathetic.

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    1. Not your fault, QC. We live in a society that reinforces the commandment that “boys shall not cry.” I’m sure you were trying to protect your brother from future harm. {{{hugs}}} Kozo

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  7. I wish more fathers felt like you. One of my b-i-l’s favorite sayings to his sons is “suck it up”. I’ve called him out on it more than once. Great post.

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    1. I hear you 1jaded1. “Suck it up” can mean to suck in emotions and never express them again. A lot of men suck it up until they die prematurely. I want my boys to live full human lives. I’m sure you feel the same. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo

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      1. Absolutely I feel the same. He plays the you don’t have kids and you are a woman cards. I say eff that. It isn’t about having kids or not, and gender shouldn’t matter. It’s about humanity. Hugs back.

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  8. This is a gorgeous post, Kozo. Thank you.

    I have a 10 year old son. I want him to be strong, but not in the way society defines it. I want him to be strong enough to make friends with the kids the other kids scorn, for whatever reason.
    I want him to feel his emotions, and know that they are NOT a sign of weakness but a sign of life.

    When he gets sad and tries not to cry, I hug him. I tell him to “lean into” the sadness. I want him to feel it and express it before he moves past it. Skipping a step will not serve him.

    I’m going to tweet this post from The Sisterwives blog; it’s an important post and everyone should read it.

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    1. I love how you offer your son to “lean into” the sadness. So beautiful. Research shows that this is how true healing takes place. Many men are robbed of this healing process. Glad your son will be a wholehearted human. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo

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  9. This was so powerful and well written. I want to send it to every parent I know…starting with my very kind, but often strong-willed husband. Your words brought me tears as I think/wonder how my soft-hearted old soul teenage son makes it through his days knee deep in the trenches of school and competitive sports. I don’t worry about physical bullying as much as I do the emotional kind. He’s the kiddo who stands up for someone else and then gets ridiculed (by friends!) for doing so.
    Love your quote from Brene…that woman helps me every day. Thanks for such a poignant and honest post.

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  10. I want my 15-yr. old son to read this. I imagine that in his school he struggles between two factions: the bullies and the bullied. I hope and pray he might never find himself entrenched in either group! But finding another way in this world is tough.

    Most teenagers today are feasting on social media – a world in which you can reinvent yourself every hour, and where the internet gulf between you and the person you are interacting with makes it easier to lambast them in ways you might not dream of doing to their actual face. Not a whole lot of transparency going on there, which I believe is the real solve for the problems on both sides.

    That you had no advocate when you were too young to defend yourself is unpardonable! I’m so sorry for what you went through – and so glad that you are not only breaking the cycle for your children, but also exposing a serious epidemic which must be addressed.

    I experienced bullying of a kind as well in middle school (blog link here: http://judahfirst.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/perception-is-everything/), so this problem is certainly not isolated in the male population.

    Thanks so much for sharing this!
    -C

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    1. Thanks, C. for the reblog, honesty, and empathy. Your son has a good role model. I agree that social media does not encourage authenticity or presence. Sorry you had to experience the bullying for something that you should have been proud of. (p.s. I appreciate the link to where “goody two shoes” came from). {{{hugs}}} Kozo

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  11. You know I as I read this I was thinking, this doesn’t apply to me. My friends don’t make fun of my weakness or mock me. And they don’t. And then I realized, they don’t because I was raised by two of the meanest bastards to ever walk the planet. When your friends are terrified to mock you that is not the same as being healthy. And looking at your description of the situation with your son I realized, yeah. I really do have a lot of work to do as a parent because I still tend to act that way towards my 8 year old boy.

    Thank you for calling my attention to my behavior. I truly appreciate it.

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