You can’t grow flowers in poisoned soil: when men live from the wounds of little boys.

By Yolo Akili

So much of it starts with the little boys we used to be. It starts with the ideas about the world that these little boys created in order to understand the confusion and the pain around them. Those ideas often stay with us, especially when they were traumatic. They become unconscious and we find ourselves grown men; acting out or living from the wounds and rationale the little boys we were created.

For instance, as a little boy I thought everything would be better if I was just “good.” When people were upset or angry, or things were bad at home, I thought it was because I was not being “good”, and that if I worked hard enough, If I pleased everyone enough, things wouldn’t be bad anymore. I took responsibility for everyone else’s pain and how they acted it out. No one told me this. My parents or family never said “It’s all your fault.” But just like any human being,I was trying to make sense of what was happening around me and that was the rationale that I, at that stage of development; was able to comprehend.

As an adult, I found myself in an unconscious pattern of doing the same. Being “good” and loyal and trying to please. Hoping that if I could please whomever more they would treat me better; or not be angry; or attend to my own needs. It took me a while to realize that the little boy and his emotional scripts were backstage running the show. To change it I had to go back to that little boy’s pain, express it, and re-imagine it. I had to tell a different story that wasn’t making me responsible for everything when it was “bad” and stop believing I could “please” someone into behaving differently.  I had to understand that other’s actions and behaviors were their own responsibility, not mine. It was and is not easy.

If it wasn’t for my friends and therapy, I’d likely still be in that pattern. And so my question to you is: What did the little you believe about the world? How did you explain to yourself, as a little one, the things happening around you? Are you still carrying those understandings? What did the little person you once were come to believe because of the things that happened to you?

In my intervention counseling with black men, I saw the little black boys within them show up in the room every session. I remember one man, telling a story about how he had “snapped” one day when he saw his son standing in the kitchen.  His son had his back turned to him, with his hand on his hip. He recanted that after seeing him he “blanked out” and the next thing he knew he was standing above his son screaming and yelling.

When we explored the situation further, we learned that as a little boy his own father had radically policed how he moved through his body. Every time he was caught with his wrist limp, or his hand’s on his hips, his father would slap, pop or hit him. Eventually learning to be stiff in his stature became muscle memory. He had never taken the time to process how scary it was for the little him, to have a much larger and stronger man unexpectedly hit him at random intervals. The act of seeing his own son with that posture triggered that past trauma. The little boy in him hadn’t healed. And so he reached out to terrorize and body police his own son; as had been done to him. This is how patriarchal socialization works.

So let me ask you again: What did the little person you once were come to believe because of the things that happened to you?

I have often cautioned my black male colleagues; there are a great deal of us seeking attention, pleasure, and fame with a little boy in the drivers seat.  Sometimes it’s because the little boy in us believes dad or someone will love us if we get more accolades, money or success. A great deal of us may feel pressure to over achieve in order to make up for what we believe is “letting down” our parents by being gay. Some of us learned to lie to protect our parents and are lying still. Some of us learned that love was always distant because Daddy was, and so we spend our lives chasing unavailable men. And sometimes we ruthlessly fight to get power in our careers so we can feel like we have control over something, because our emotional lives and childhood feel/felt so out of control. It shows up in many ways.

So one last time: What did the little person you once were come to believe because of the things that happened to you?

If you don’t know, I invite you to re-connect and ask yourself. I invite you to pause and consider how that past pain may be driving you now. I invite you to start a path of intentional healing. As I wrote in my book, Dear Universe, “Healing is not about a past wound going away; it’s about having a relationship to a past wound that will not hinder you in the present moment.”

Healing is an ongoing process that has to start at the root. You can’t grow flowers in poisoned soil. A great many of us need to dig up the dirt to see what has been rotting underneath there. Some of that “poison” can be re-purposed and help us grow. But we gotta do the work.

We gotta do the work so we can co-create a better world. So we can heal and support our communities. So we can take the emotional burden off of black women. So we can cease the pattern of pain being passed down to boys, those assigned male at birth, all of us. We gotta do our work.So, if you haven’t already, let’s get started. That little boy/girl/person has likely been waiting for you. Don’t let them down. They need you. We all do.

Yolo AkiliYolo Akili is a writer, yoga teacher and author of the social justice themed book: Dear Universe: Letters of Affirmation & Empowerment For All of Us. His writings on masculinity, emotional health, spirituality and sexism have appeared in the Huffington Post,  Ebony, Everyday Feminism, The Atlanta Journal Constitution and more.

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  1. I appreciate reading this, I wanted to hear more. There is a critical need for healing in our community, I believe most of us are ready to heal, we just don’t know where to begin and we know the pain will not just go away no matter how much we wish it would, we have reached the bottom.

  2. I am glad I stumbled upon this article. It hit home. I am an ACOA but Im white the feelings are the same. This article is food for thought. Thankyou.

  3. powerful, powerful words.

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