Leslie Carol Botha: Thank you Jed Diamond for another wonderful article. You are addressing issues that women – as well as men need to understand what it is like to be ‘emotionally sunburned’. Great term.
Jekyll and Hyde, Irritable Males, and Attachment Love: What Men, and the Women Who Love Them, Need to Know
by Jed Diamond
July 15, 2012
Before I wrote my book, The Irritable Male Syndrome, I thought I might call it The Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome, since men often seem to change rapidly from “Mr. Nice to Mr. Mean.” The book Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydewas written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886 and has become a mainstay of stage and screen throughout the world. It seems to speak to something in the human psyche, particularly the male mind. The story is about Dr. Henry Jekyll who is pursuing his life-long quest to separate the two natures of man to get at the essence of good and evil.
Refused help by his peers and superiors, he begins experiments on himself with his formula. He meets with success, and shocking results. The evil nature of Dr. Jekyll surfaces as a separate identity: Edward Hyde. Hyde begins murdering the members of the Board of Governors who previously refused assistance to Jekyll’s cause. Throughout the story Jekyll fights in vain to keep his darker half under control.
We often see this kind of transformation in how men are in their love relations. In a blog post “Should I Stay or Should I Go Now,” Helena Madsen reports a woman’s experience with the man in her life:
“I had a revelation today. During my son’s graduation ceremony at his high school, my husband came up to me and squatted down to share a story with me. Without thinking I ran my hand over his hair and down his arm. I’m still in love with this guy. He can be very nice. He can be very sweet. I married him because of this. This is why I find his behavior so baffling. I’ve known this guy just shy of 25 years. That is a long time. The meanness, the temper tantrums, the spitefulness is all new. I’ve never seen this in him before. Living with someone for 25 years means this isn’t behavior that has been hidden away. It is brand spanking new. It is why I’ve been blindsided with it. I so didn’t see this coming. It also makes the whole idea of divorce so messy. If he was always nasty this would be a no-brainer. I would up and leave in a heartbeat. But he swings hot and cold. One day he is super nice to me; takes good care of me and even gives me hugs. The next day he is slamming doors and telling me he wants out. I am so very confused.”
In The Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Aggression and Depression, I describe a number of key symptoms of IMS, including hypersensitivity.
The women who live with these men say things like the following:
- I feel like I have to walk on eggshells when I’m around him.
- I never know when I’m going to say something that will set him off.
- He’s like a time bomb ready to explode but I never know when.
- Nothing I do pleases him.
The men don’t often recognize their own hypersensitivity. Rather, their perception is that they are fine but everyone else is going out of their way to irritate them. The guys say things like:
- Quit bothering me.
- Leave me alone.
- No, nothing’s wrong. I’m fine.
- Or they don’t say anything. They increasingly withdraw into a numbing silence.
One concept I have found helpful is the notion that many of us are “emotionally sunburned,” but our partners don’t know it. We might think of a man who is extremely sunburned and gets a loving hug from his wife. He cries out in anger and pain. He assumes she knows he’s sunburned so if she “grabs” him she must be trying to hurt him. She has no idea he is sunburned and can’t understand why he reacts angrily to her loving touch. You can see how this can lead a couple down a road of escalating confusion.