Relationship Fitness

S21 E1: Vulnerable from Birth

In this episode of Relationship Workout for Men, host Vince Vasquez and psychotherapist Roni Maislish discuss the deep impact of childhood trauma on men’s emotional health and relationships. They explore the concept of complex trauma, emotional neglect, and how addressing these hidden wounds can lead to healthier, more meaningful connections and personal growth.

Vince Speaking:

Welcome to the Relationship Workout for Men podcast, dedicated to helping men be intentional in choosing and being a better partner. In Season 21, we explore men navigating strength, vulnerability, and addictions. Today, I’m speaking with Roni Maislish, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist with 20 years of experience in the psychological roots of emotional eating, food addiction, and obesity. Our first episode, “Vulnerable from Birth,” discusses the role childhood trauma plays in men’s journey through adulthood. Welcome, Roni. What do you think about this topic?

 

Roni Speaking:

I’m so happy to be here, Vince. Wow, I think that for many men, we are not taught by our parents, teachers, or even grandparents how to express our emotions or discuss our inner worlds. You need to learn to be vulnerable and to open your heart because, in our society, we’ve strayed far from our true selves, from our nature. We might not live in a jungle, but we are in a different kind of jungle. In my country, and perhaps in yours, men are often expected to be strong and tough, and showing deep emotions like sadness, sorrow, or loneliness can sometimes be dangerous. You need to have someone who can teach you about emotions, how to distinguish between them, and how you can bring those emotions to the world. You need a safe zone, an area, a community, where you can express those emotions. If more men felt they had this inner strength and understanding, we would have deeper conversations between men, between fathers and children, between teachers and students, which would help more men have more meaningful relationships in their lives. We also said we would speak about addictions. I believe the cure for addictions is meaningful, intimate conversations. 

 

Vince Speaking:

So, how does childhood impact this? Why is it our childhood that gets us to this place where we can’t express our emotions?

 

Roni Speaking:

Many people talk about trauma, and sometimes trauma is a specific event like an accident, a war, or a school shooting. But I’m more interested in complex trauma, C-PTSD, which can be very hidden. It might involve emotional neglect or emotional starvation, something very specific and hidden that’s repeated every day, making you feel that no one understands you, sees you, or provides any guidance in your life. That can also be a trauma, and it’s very hidden. Many of us could be traumatized by these very small events. It’s not like someone was hitting you as a child, but maybe you weren’t loved or understood enough, or someone didn’t walk in your shoes enough to be empathetic. If that happened, you don’t just have poor relationships with people or your family; you have a poor relationship with life itself. You isolate yourself. And then later in life, you might use addictions to help you stay disconnected from life. Being alive can be dangerous because when you are fully present in your life, you will connect with emotions. But if you don’t know how to manage those emotions, you might prefer to stay out of this world.

 

Vince Speaking:

It’s fascinating because if you have this complex trauma, it’s not as overt as abuse, like getting hit. Neglect can be subtle, and you might not realize you’re experiencing this complex trauma and becoming disconnected. Then you bring in addictions to keep you disconnected. Can you connect this back? 

Roni Speaking:

Yeah, I will try. It’s more covert than overt. It’s more unseen. In the last ten years, more professionals, especially in your country, have been talking about covert narcissists. How does a covert, not overt, narcissist abuse someone? Sometimes it’s the mother and father who could be very nice people. They would never hit or say something against their child in public, but they play the victim, so the child needs to care for his mother or father all his life. I think about my patients who have the same tendencies. His grandparents always admired him for becoming grown-up very early. He was five years old, and they would say, “Oh, you’re grown up. It’s beautiful.” But that’s complex trauma because he’s taking care of the whole family in a way. He’s the golden child. It’s maybe lucky for him, or I don’t know if it’s lucky, that he’s not the scapegoat of the family. But also, the golden child in the family can suffer from depression and addiction in their forties or fifties because something changed in their life. Then, only then, after 30 or 40 years, do they realize they were depressed as children. So it’s more subtle, more hidden, more unseen, and I think more professionals are now approaching and engaging with this kind of trauma. 

 

Vince Speaking:

How would someone identify if they’re a victim of this complex, covert trauma? Do they have to wait until they’re in their forties or fifties? 

 

Roni Speaking:

It’s so subjective and individual, but most of the time, some kind of accident happens, and this accident takes them away from their normal life. They must, if they want to continue their physical or emotional life, observe themselves, introspect, and start asking questions. When you start asking questions, it opens a door to start working on your complex trauma. And it’s only the starting point. 

 

Vince Speaking:

Is that the starting point, just asking that question? Because it would seem like every man is a victim of covert trauma because none of our fathers, I mean, they were victims of what you just described from their fathers and their fathers before, right? 

 

Roni Speaking:

Of course. I think because of that, it’s not enough to do therapy work only on the psychic or the inner side of a person. It’s a societal disease. Our society is sick, and most of our parents, teachers, and counselors didn’t have enough emotional tools to work with us. But for me, my work is to start the change with my child, my patients, my friends, my colleagues, and everyone I can be with in a conversation. And I think that men, because of that, most of their conversations, most of their relationships, also with their wives sometimes, are very shallow and on the surface. My work is to bring those conversations more and more into the root level or the inner level of the conversation. And sometimes most of them will have a lot of resistance because it’s kind of a different language. It’s like learning a different language because they didn’t grow up with this language, and sometimes my language or this language is the opposite language that they learned in their houses. In a lot of families, they say you are not allowed to cry here, or anger is not part of this house, you know, all sorts of if the mother sees her child is sad, it makes her sad or terrifies her. So yeah, so it’s like a multidimensional, multi, I don’t know, there are a lot of levels to this kind of healing work in a way. 

 

Vince Speaking:

So it’s like you’re disconnected from your childhood, and you don’t even realize how disconnected you are in your relationships because it’s just what you’re used to.

 

Roni Speaking:

 Exactly. And the, I, I’m, you know, my second program of psychotherapy is named Self Psychology Psychotherapy by a person named Kohut from Chicago. He died 40 years ago. But his second book is called The Restoration of the Self. So how can we help people restore their, in code words, nuclear self, natural self, in the words of Winnicott true self. So this is the work that I’m trying to do with people. What is our nuclear self? Maybe we had our nuclear self for a day. Let’s try to restore this nuclear self. Well, that just sounds like fantastic work. Every one of us needs to do.

 

Vince Speaking:

I think we’re going to continue on this topic in the next episodes because I think this begins, it sets the table for the next episodes we’re going to close on episode one, vulnerable from birth, and in the next episode, episode two, we’re going to discuss the need to have a purpose, which I suspect has its roots in what we just talked about. Thank you very much, Roni, and I will see you in the next episode.

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