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Here's a closely guarded secret: Women have more influence over men than they think. Psychologist Jay Carter talks to Michelle Burford about male self-esteem, the criticism that could demolish a man and what male intimacy is really about.
Twenty-six years of counseling men and couples have given Jay Carter an unusually clear window into men's hearts and minds. Carter's observations are so eye-opening that we asked him about everything from finding the key to a man's inner life to the best way to chew him out when you're mad:

Q: You've written that most women have no idea of their power to wound men. Where does this power originate?

A: During a boy's most important developmental period—his first five years—he usually gets his self-esteem from his mother. I think some of Freud's theories are hogwash, but I believe he was right about at least one: Whereas a girl might choose to grow up to become like her mother in certain ways, a boy tries to be becoming to his mother—to make her proud. Years later, when he meets someone he wants to spend his life with, he unconsciously gives her what I call his "jujube doll"—a kind of voodoo-like name I have for the part of a man's self-esteem that's vulnerable to a woman's opinion of him. If she sticks a pin in his doll, he recoils. Most women I talk with don't realize what kind of influence they have over men.

Q: Doesn't a woman likewise hand over part of her power to the most significant man in her life?

Yes, but she does it by sharing her most private feelings. The seat of a woman's soul is her emotions. A woman usually believes you know her when you know what she feels. But the seat of a man's soul is his intent or purpose. That's why when a woman bares her soul by disclosing her feelings, a man often doesn't recognize that as significant. He's been socialized to discount feelings. For him, baring the soul means shaing his hopes and dreams. He may say things that seem boring, silly or outlandish: "You know what I'd do if I had $20,000? I'd invest it in lotto." But if a woman really listens, he'll share more. After a failure, a man might express his intentions by saying, "I know I've messed up, but here's what I wanted for our family." When a woman understands this, she can begin to share her own intentions as a way of drawing him closer. Men respect hopes and dreams. That's a language they speak.

Q: In your book Nasty Women, you state that men are more word-oriented. But aren't women considered more verbal?

A: Yes, but research on gender differences has proven that men tend to take words more literally and to hear them in more sweeping terms. Let's say a woman asks her husband to pick up a half-gallon of orange juice after work. When he arrives home empty-handed, she's irritated. She might offhandedly say, "You are so irresponsible." All he hears is the word irresponsible. He beleives she's saying he's irresponsible in general. He thinks, "What about all the months I paid the mortgage? Does one slipup erase all my effort? And why is she overreacting?" With his self-esteem wounded, he may launch into a defense about what it means to be responsible. She gets frustrated because he's so caught up in words that he doesn't acknowledge her feelings—and that's usually because he doesn't remember how important feelings are to her.

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