“Yeah, the avoidance of pain is a real mistake. It’s the real missing out on life. It’s those very things that shape us, those very things that offer growth, that make the world a better place, oddly enough, ironically. That make us better.” -Brad Pitt
At 53 years old, life began to crumble for one of the greatest Hollywood starts of my generation and of our time, Brad Pitt. Admittedly recovering from alcoholism and substance abuse issues, Pitt authentically shares his ongoing healing process through the roots of his addiction, which he references as his struggles with emotional awareness and expressing vulnerability. From my experience working with men in my practice and facilitating men’s healing groups, this is a fantastic interview about the inner landscape of the men’s healing journey.
Common Themes and Process of Men’s Healing Journey
It is a well articulated lived experience which, provides powerful insight on the process of recognizing and embodying what healing looks like for many men. I have been wanting to write a piece on men’s healing for some time now, as I have just started another men’s group this week and this interview provides the springboard for my counsellor’s voice. In it is are themes of the hyper-masculine male conditioning which, when embodied through lived experience, serve as the basic components of mental health and addiction issues for many men: defense of and the view of vulnerability as weakness; stifling of emotional expression resulting in limited emotional awareness; general acceptance of anger as the route to express emotions; the need for control (disguised as “justice” in this interview) to feel safe; avoidance and denial of emotional pain; emotional numbing and subsequent relational patterns such as disconnection/distancing, emotional inaccessibility.
Underlining his healing process, Pitt refers to these very themes in this interview, in relation to his childhood. Pitt talks about life with a “baby boom” generation father who embodied this common hyper-masculine gender role value system as a parent. What is beautiful about this piece of the interview is that this insight is not expressed from a place of toxic blame but only with heart-centered awareness. He speaks candidly of his father - raised during war-time with a war-like persona - who operated as “ruler” of the home. Who furthermore, mirrored to young Pitt that showing limited vulnerability whilst operating from a power and control mentality was normative for men, promoting authoritarian orientation and understanding of self and in relation. In turn, a life with self and others understood from an orientation of power and control falls short when inevitably, the illusion of control over others and life in general is exposed.
Pitt claimed he “loves therapy” and considers it a powerful opportunity for growth. He speaks to learning how to let go of control, embracing a sense of vulnerability in self and in the context of relationship and learning to express oneself with an unshielded heart. I particularly enjoyed the part of the interview where he speaks to his process of healing through exploring, connecting, expressing, transforming and containing his healing process through artistic, tactile practices that involve body consciousness like sculpting. His healing process speaks to an holistic approach to healing and involves the integration of body consciousness with that of mind, heart and spirit into the overall therapeutic journey.
Of course, these are not unique male patterns, men and women of all gender, sexual orientation will likely orient and operate themselves and their relationships from a place of power and control - intentionally and unintentionally - to gain a sense of normalcy, familiarity and safety in their lives. However, these issues stemming from the wounded heart consciousness are hallmarks more commonly seen in the healing of cis-gender heterosexual males and furthermore, are the result of harmful, toxic hyper-masculine conditioning.
Specifically, it is a challenge that most men will find themselves in more often that women due to the harmful effects of male conditioning bestowed upon them by a patriarchal system of power. This system positions men powerless in terms of emotional well-being just like this patriarchal system renders children, women and other marginalized groups powerless through other forms of oppression. Simply put, the perceived power, rationality and immunity to emotionality (falsely understood as irrational in this system) is truly a white man’s powerlessness in our society. Men are conditioned more than women, to power over the other in the context of relationship through the avoidance of vulnerability and this negatively impacts necessary development of emotional awareness. There is a reason why aging white men have one of the highest rates of death by suicide. Emotional awareness is a basic tenant for health and well-being and without it, suffering ensues as to which, Pitt so bravely alludes. Deconstructed without judgement and the binds of hyper-masculine conditioning, the process of integrating vulnerability and emotional healing brings whole-ness and balance to men seeking healing in their lives and their relationships with others.
Embracing the Recognizance of Privilege in Healing
Without a doubt, Pitt lives a life of privilege. He is white, male and rich. This could make his story unrelateable at first thought but in fact, when embraced with empathy and without judgement, the privilege makes it a stunning story of a mighty fall and sobering journey of its own right. Over-represented as white males are in privileged spheres of society, we do not hear enough from white men – albeit wealthy and famous - about their vulnerability and fallibility. We typically hear these stories from marginalized groups overcoming their own forms of oppression. We do not often hear of a white, wealthy, famous man connect his inherited power and privilege as part of his problems. We do not hear from the privileged white male how their privilege brings them suffering and we do not hear from this population - nor many others - about suffering without an over-identification of victim-hood. For enmeshment with victim-hood can easily and unintentionally become the shadowed and toxic privilege of the victim; a journey of healing in and of itself.
We do not hear a sense of victim-hood from Pitt, we hear empowerment: accountability and a zest for authentic living through his suffering. In this way, this interview is a gift in that Pitt uses his privilege to humanize and deconstruct his privilege and stigma around men's mental health and addiction issues. In turn, he creates the space to connect and inspire others to recognize their own illusions and privileges be it gender, sexual orientation, age, physical/mental ability, race or socio-economic class. Transformed and shape-shifted by his suffering while in it, to a true male warrior of the heart: open, vulnerable, interconnected, contextualized in relationship; an empowered male leader.
It is fantastically satirical that GQ photographs Pitt in thousand-dollar sweaters and interviews him from his multi-million-dollar home and former hangout of none other than Jimi Hendrix and I urge readers to connect not to judgement of a person of privilege but to the beauty and sadness of this contradiction of power and the powerlessness of which Pitt embodies and expresses in the interview. I invite readers to transcend the conventional power and privilege we are conditioned to associate with wealth and see the poverty of spirit, the ineffable and invisible homelessness within which he embodies and is motivated to embrace; an exercise of empathy if you will. He, like any other human with a heart beat on this planet is vulnerable to psychological strife, wounding suffering; these are natural, universally human conditions which know no boundaries, nor are reserved for race, socio-economic class, privilege or lack of privilege. There is no weapon money can buy with which, addiction can be exterminated. It can only be healed and it is healed by a process of grand opening through the heart and the journey of living from this vulnerable space with courage. The strength and power it takes to live, feel, touch, see, witness and experience life with an open heart knows nothing about the almighty dollar, and this interview is a reminder of the power of unresolved pain embedded and unaddressed within unconscious.
Thanks for reading. Get out there and embrace your vulnerable hearts.