raised like a girl
August 6, 2010 1:25 AM   Subscribe

I am a hetrosexual man who was rasied an only child by a strong independant mother. I can't help but love her for the effort, but I was rasied in many ways like a girl. I feel deeply betrayed. I can't seem to shake a sense of self-loathing.
posted by dabcad to Human Relations (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
age? personality traits? Any male influence? background? culture? Hard to help when you only post 4 lines of information.
posted by Takeyourtime at 1:34 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

What does "raised like a girl" mean?
What do you dislike about it?
Do you have a specific question?
posted by emilyw at 1:34 AM on August 6, 2010 [17 favorites]

I think I know what you mean from my experience, they can't help it. We all use 'gender projection' and use our own experience to think what the opposite sex feels, needs etc.

If you want to feel better about it, I suggest doing 'man' things you're interested in...combat sports, weights, mountain climbing, hard drinking and pulling women...whatever appeals to you, and making friends with guys, then eventually hopefully you'll feel better about it and see the advantages of having a fluffy feminine side.
posted by Not Supplied at 1:42 AM on August 6, 2010

Dabcad, you don't say what this self loathing centers on, the ways in which you were raised like a girl, how often you feel this way, how long, your age, etc. But the array of complex, intensely emotional issues suggests that a well-meaning stranger on the Internet can offer little.

What mental health resources are within your reach? Talking about the details with a competent professional often does wonders, and it's your best bet,

In the meanwhile, let me ask about the word "betrayed." Betrayal implies a conscious and malicious act. Is that really the likeliest explanation? Or was this an honest effort by your mother to do her best while lacking the knowledge or resources to raise you in the way you feel she should have?

You clearly perceive some failings in her parenting, and (knowing nothing of your childhood) I can't argue either way. But would focusing on her intentions (likely very good ones) help reduce the feeling of betrayal?
posted by wjm at 1:45 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unless by "raised in many ways like a girl," you mean she instilled a pathological sense of shame about your male body, then the source of the sense of betrayal and self-loathing seems to be coming from the idea that there's something wrong with either gender nonconformity or femininity in general.

Either way, see a therapist.
posted by Marty Marx at 1:46 AM on August 6, 2010 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry to be indescript, have never posted to a forum thing before. Male influence was mums gay male friends and strong woman who on the whole are great people. Mum never has had another relationship ( i think ) since my dad ( left when I was 5 ). I am a 32 years old, sensitive guy, electronic engineer, played lots of sport, have good male and female friends. Having no confidence with woman is my main problem although I can relate to them well. I don't necessary "dislike" it but feel I cant help but be a "nice-guy".
posted by dabcad at 1:48 AM on August 6, 2010

Seconding Emilyw: is there a question lurking in your post?

I do sympathise as it echoes my own experience being raised by a single mother.

While she did an outstanding job and struggled hard in challenging circumstances, a mother cannot be everything. Primarily, a mother can never be a father. So a kid growing up without a father will lack those influences. And even if the influences are negative, they're important in shaping the balance of a child.

It took me a long time to unlearn some of the habits taught to me by my mother, especially in terms of relating to men and relating to women. Then it's a matter of integrating the good aspects of one's feminine side with the good aspects of one's masculine side.

Not Supplied's advice is good...make efforts to spend more time alone with a group of men.

You may be interested in reading some David Deida, for example his book Way of the Superior Man...though be careful not to turn into a "Deidabot" as his is just one way of looking at the world and there's plenty of dodgy stuff in his philosophy too.

Consider joining a men's group - there are men's groups in cities across the world - where you'll find men who make you realise how relatively un-messed-up you are!
posted by skylar at 1:50 AM on August 6, 2010

What is your question?
posted by halogen at 1:52 AM on August 6, 2010

This is a process of understanding, accepting (what was) and integration of the situation - mainly your mother's own upbringing that led to dysfunctional and wrong parenting. It is very confusing to even begin to understand why she did the things she did and her motives. Maybe it will never be completely understood and that's ok. It's enough to know that under the circumstances, she did what she knew best to do.

I think that at this point you do need to air this out and gain perspective on the past so that you can move forward. Some 12 Step groups such as ACOA can help you identify the illness and the codependent relationship that emerged between you. Congruently, I would seek out a good therapist who works specifically with men's issues and also I'd seek some kind of spiritual path that will address the much Bigger Picture on how this all fits in to your Journey in life and to glean wisdom from it all.

Best wishes. Good luck.
posted by watercarrier at 1:53 AM on August 6, 2010

Response by poster: I think "deep betrayal" was far too strongly emotive wording or reflection. I am she thought she was doing the right thing. I put in effort because I feel if I cant love her, I wont have much luck with myself ( or anyone else ).
posted by dabcad at 1:55 AM on August 6, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies people, this is the first time I have sought to deal with some thing that has been getting to me for ages. My mother is also constrantly critical of me. My question is "how do I find some confidence?". I think I will look into some of these groups you people have mentioned.
posted by dabcad at 1:59 AM on August 6, 2010

My brother-in-law was a depressed, anxious type who always blamed his dad for not teaching him how to be a man.

I used to say to him: there is no secret. There is no method. There is no handbook. You're a man, whatever you do is BY DEFINITION manly. Old dudes who make out like they have some secret formula are bullshitting you. Accepting traditional society's formulaic definitions of masculinity and their implications of secret rituals and understandings* which Real Men (tm) have mastered is a quick road to unhappiness.

If you are unhappy in life, you are unhappy. Seek help from qualified** people. Don't fixate on the past and your mum. If you are worried about your confidence and ability to form relationships with women, that's an issue that bothers many men and doesn't necessarily have anything to do with your childhood.

*Speaking as a middle-aged antipodean male, in my experience this doesn't go much beyond "more than three shakes is a wank". Really, truly, there is no secret.

**Qualified here means -- a person with a counselling ticket who has a track record and whom you like and respect after meeting them, or just possibly an older person of either sex whom you can confide it. Random internet people, including me, do not qualify, unless you can frame your concerns much more narrowly and concretely.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:01 AM on August 6, 2010 [34 favorites]

confide it == confide in. Sorry.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:02 AM on August 6, 2010

I reckon most adults, at some point, realise that their upbringing affected who they are, that their parents were not perfect, and that their parents can be "blamed" for their shortcomings. People with poor parents regret the missed opportunities that money would have brought, and people with rich parents miss the life lessons that being poor might have brought.

Ultimately though, now you're an adult it's _your_ responsibility to become the adult you'd really like to be. Nobody else on the planet did all their learning as a teenager and then reached 18 as a fully fledged wise adult. You're not meant to stop changing and growing when you leave home, and the changing and growing you do as an adult can be as self-directed and focused as you like. You can choose what to do! You can choose how to learn and when to learn it, because you are an adult. That's what the rest of us do.

I think if you consciously go about finding opportunities to learn, to grow in confidence, to be comfortable in your own skin, you'll find that your self-loathing disappears and you come to terms more with your upbringing. Go and get involved in some new hobby, or volunteer, or start freelancing, or do more of something you are awesome at. Observe the behaviour of confident people you admire. Just please don't fall in with a bunch of misogynistic pickup artists just because you think that's what you're missing.

You could also try sitting down with your mother and saying, look, this constant criticism is really hurtful. Do you think you could be a little more positive?

Finally, you could read this snarky article posted recently, which discusses this "nice guy" concept in a way that certainly resonates with me as a woman.
posted by emilyw at 2:10 AM on August 6, 2010 [15 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks , I'll have a read of that. emilyw, I have concidered those kind of pickup books but feel I can't be something I am not.. You people are great, I've loved this site for years and as a lurker I really appreciate the effort you all put in to help me out (which you have). I am off to have some beers with the boys!
posted by dabcad at 2:22 AM on August 6, 2010

It would be good to hear a bit more about your relationship with your mother. Your description of self-loathing and your mom's frequent criticism in fact may have nothing to do with being raised as a girl or a boy, but rather a lot with being raised in a critical, unaccepting environment where you always felt inadequate, unaccepted and insecure. It sounds like you need to cultivate some self-love and I would perhaps try thich nhat hahn's meditation on accepting yourself and accepting your family and learning to love yourself.
posted by zia at 2:40 AM on August 6, 2010

Adult kid of a single strong mom here. I guess I'd say that what works is to deal with the things that bother you about yourself. If you feel like you're not X enough or that you need more Z, then do the things to be more X or have more Z. Your childhood was n decades ago and while absolutely formative, your formation continues, except now it's under your direction if you choose to do so.

If there are things from childhood that trouble you, then talking about them with friends or in support groups might help you to understand or let go of them, too. But I'd recommend at first focusing on yourself today, and going from there.
posted by zippy at 2:44 AM on August 6, 2010

It doesn't sound like you were raised 'like a girl'. It sounds like you feel like your mom undermined your confidence. A lot of us are raising girls with the goal of producing smart, kind, independent adults who feel good about themselves, which isn't a bad way to be raised at all.

Your problem seems to be a lack of confidence and self-esteem. The classic ways around those things are therapy, reading about and learning to practice the skills involved in cognitive behavioral therapy, eating right, and taking care of yourself.

So I would focus on paragraph two there, not paragraph one. Being raised like a girl, or even by a single mother, isn't a bad thing of itself (lots of people who've been raised by shitty dads would agree).
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:57 AM on August 6, 2010 [6 favorites]

"Betrayed" is a strong word.

Becoming a parent made me realize how ill-equipped I was to be a parent. It made me appreciate that parents do the best job they can and often it's not good enough. It's the worst sort of on-the-job training and the pity is that your learning curve is done on a real, live child that needs and expects you to know what you are doing.

It's helped me to view my own (perceived) parents' shortcomings in a completely different light. Blame turns quickly to pity as you realize just how damned difficult it is. I hope my kids will forgive my mistakes when they get older. I'm doing the best I can.
posted by three blind mice at 3:09 AM on August 6, 2010 [9 favorites]

dabcad, one of the things I realized in my twenties while in the throes of dramatic depression was that I could blame my current circumstances on my parents' failure to do this or that-- or I could make a conscious choice to move forward and be responsible for my own decisions. So I moved forward.

That doesn't mean that I didn't continue to have conflicts with my parents and have some times where I was just seriously pissed at one or both of them. But in general I have tried to be forgiving of the fact that they were just like me-- fumbling through and trying to do their best. (Seconding three blind mice-- becoming a parent certainly reinforces that understanding).

You have to move forward. You may do that by seeing a therapist, joining a group, or simply taking stock and thinking through your issues-- whatever works for you. But looking backward and blaming your mum isn't going to get you anywhere.

(In the process of your taking stock you should spend some serious time considering your understanding of male and female gender roles, since you seem to have some particular issues around that and seem to be a bit confused there.)

But if you're fundamentally looking to have more confidence that's not gendered. The best way to do that is to take responsibility in yourself and grow from there, using some of the tools mentioned above. Good luck.
posted by miss tea at 4:09 AM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

So I suppose what you are concerned about is that you didn't have a male role model or many men around you, and so you're not sure what 'being a man' is? Is it this that concerns you or feeling a lack of confidence?
posted by mippy at 4:18 AM on August 6, 2010

I may be projecting, but I feel I can relate. I grew up fatherless, with a single mother and a step-mother, so (if I'm reading the question right) I got a kind of double-shot of what you did, dabcad. As a result (or so I have often thought), I have essentially always been totally comfortable with women, get along great with them, generally, but have always struggled to shift those relationships into something romantic (since I'm the nice, sensitive guy). In high school 90% of my friendships were with women (girls), and my family used to joke about my "harem", which was extremely frustrating, since I couldn't get next to any of them (or anyone else). Maybe that isn't what you were getting at, but I'll continue on the presumption that it is, even if only in part.

I've never been able to relate to men, especially "strong, manly men". My best friend since age 8 is gay; my best friend from college is very quiet and laid back (but straight and married). I have a dozen uncles, but can't for the life of me figure out how to communicate with them. I have meaningful relationships with a couple of my aunts. ...I eventually went on dates, and "finally" got married, but I still struggle daily with how to balance being what my wife calls "the nicest person she's ever met" and being "a man".

However, I don't think I've ever had any "why didn't you teach me how to be more of a man?" feelings; more likely "doesn't my life suck for having not had a father". I guess this is because I feel quite confident that my mom and stepmom were doing (are doing) their best. As emilyw suggested, part of becoming an adult (I guess?) is realizing your parents did the best they could and even if it wasn't ideal, there's nothing to be gained in placing blame (except, perhaps, in extreme [abusive, etc] cases). Ultimately, I'm sure there are men who grew up with a father who might, for any number of reasons, feel they didn't get what they want/need either.

The good news is that, as zippy suggests, the control now is yours. As others suggest, some therapy might help you come to terms with it, and would probably be helpful, but I don't think you should focus on (nor do I suspect you would have significant success in) trying to drastically change yourself. You say yourself "I can't be something I'm not". I say start from now, and learn to embrace your sensitive side, while working to develop your confidence and/or a more masculine aspect. I suppose the point is that this is probably good advice for anyone, regardless of how they were brought up (or even what gender they are).
posted by segatakai at 4:25 AM on August 6, 2010

We would still need way more details to be able to answer this question. I have no idea what you mom did to raise you "like a girl" or how this has affected your relationships (platonic or romantic).

I'm not one to automatically recommend therapy in every "human relations" question. I think it's recommended too often on this site. But your question is going to require so much background discussion that we can't really answer it. You're 32 years old and it's been bothering you so much for so long -- see a therapist. The way you're starting things off with a vague topic, then gradually filling in more and more details in response to our prompts, doesn't work well on AskMe. Most people are just going to read your initial, cryptic post, not know what to make of it, and move on. You evidently want the kind of back-and-forth structured conversation that would work much better in therapy than on this site.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:54 AM on August 6, 2010

At the risk of being flippant, you have the rest of your life to become the man you want to be. One of the critical starting points in all of this is taking ownership of your own future.

Reading your subsequent responses, the issue seems to be that your mum continues to expect you to behave in or be a certain way, is critical and damages your confidence.

One often finds the response on the green to questions like this is to cut toxic people out. The reality is that cutting out your mum is both hard and, more importantly, far more radical than you intend.

One response to this is to move away for a period. Get some breathing space. Engage with people on your own terms. Redefine yourself. I knew a guy who was so keen to start afresh at university he changed his name. Another friend did a similar thing at age 30 when he came out.

Confidence is a cumulative thing and as much as anything is finding that people don't have the low expectations or perceptions of you that you might think. Travel is a great thing for this. So, funnily enough, are big cities, where every flavor and kink eventually finds its own niche.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:24 AM on August 6, 2010

I teach skiing, and sometimes young kids come along with their parents, so I get a good view of how parents treat girls and boys.

The differences I have noticed:

Often, a boy who falls over is given more opportunity to work out for himself what to do. People are more likely to wait for him to get up, to ask him to get up, to instruct him in how to get up, or to help partially (untangling the skis) but expect the boy to do most of the work. With girls, people are more likely to help them up immediately, comfort them, ask "Are you OK?". A boy who cries is told to join in again immediately; a girl who cries is comforted until she stops crying. A boy who is unsure will be prompted to make a decision; a girl who is unsure will be provided with a decision. Boys who are scared are encouraged to get on with it anyway; girls are told "You don't have to do it if you don't really want to".

Boys are encouraged to take risks (particularly by their Dads), whether they want to or not. Girls are sometimes forbidden outright from participating in risky activities. "I would never allow her to go backwards" (WTF).

(Of course, none of this stuff is universal; not all of the parents, or the kids, have this kind of massive gender bias).

If I get rid of the parents, and start off expecting all the kids to solve problems and take appropriate risks, they pretty soon catch on. Kids of both genders can learn problem solving, can learn to calm themselves down when they are upset or scared, can learn to make decisions confidently, and so on. Although, when they catch sight of their parents they often seem to regress to their previously learned behaviour.

Maybe if you can dig into more detail like I have here, you can identify some of the more basic things that you think you missed out on as a child, and work on them individually. Or maybe you can identify some of the things your mother managed pretty well on!

Either way, if you are like these kids and struggle to behave in an adult way around your mother (who probably struggles to treat you as an adult), don't think this has to have a major influence on how you conduct your life when she's not about.
posted by emilyw at 5:47 AM on August 6, 2010 [26 favorites]

With effort, most anyone can modify their behavior. Having confidence with the opposite sex can be a challenge but isn't impossible to attain. Just work at it. I would recommend taking dance classes as a way to build up confidence. Salsa, tango, rumba, etc are good dances to learn.
posted by JJ86 at 6:31 AM on August 6, 2010

Plenty of us grew up in nuclear households with fathers, uncles and grandfathers around and still feel insecure about our masculinity.

Here's some manly advice: you are responsible for yourself. Every adult is.

Sounds like you could benefit from some talk therapy, though.
posted by General Tonic at 8:10 AM on August 6, 2010

So, apologies ahead of time if folks want to blow shit at me for this, but beyond the mostly sensible advice above, you might want to read up on the principles that inform the BDSM community and its approach to issues around power relations, because when you speak about matters of gender identity and masculinity, you're pretty much getting at navigating power relations.

Since for much of human history male power has been used to oppress women, Western society from the 20th century onwards rightly sought to realign these dynamics in ways we've all benefitted from immensely. But like any transition of this scale, there's a lot of work to be done with striking an appropriate balance that serves all members of society. One outlet for thinking this stuff through has been BDSM, which often gets a bad rep due to some obvious cliches and a few nut jobs, but what I'm suggesting is less about the bedroom and more about a general philosophy.

Given the comments you've made, I'll leave it that perhaps there'd be a benefit to reading up on this a bit and seeing if it can inform how you respond to the problems you describe. This is one recent book I've seen. Disclaimer: I'm not the world's expert on this, just an innocent bystander noticing some possible connections.
posted by 5Q7 at 8:40 AM on August 6, 2010

You use the term betrayed right in there but reel it back to yourself with the defense that "I feel if I cant love her, [then] I wont have much luck with myself." Given the rest of the information, namely that you are already not having 'much luck with yourself' then it can be inferred that you already can't love her. Is it you that is betraying her? Or more precisely, do you feel your emotions are betraying your parent? Ok, that is perhaps overstepping armchair nonsense, but I guess my point is simpler. The two emotions (loathing and self-loathing) can feel uncannily similar when you feel you have no right to feel such emotions, think such thoughts. Relating to childhood is a lot like mourning.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:04 AM on August 6, 2010

« Older Half hour at the airport   |   How do I fix iPhone backup/sync problem? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.