As a kid, I fought. I fought my parents, teachers and friends. I pushed against whatever felt restrictive. I often lost, but that didn’t stop me from opposing what I felt was unfair.
As a teenager, I escalated my opposition. I was more skilled at getting what I wanted and I had more authority, so I pushed the boundaries even further. One day I noticed I was fighting with my mother for no reason. I didn’t care if I won or lost… I just wanted to fight.
Realizing that fighting for the fun of it seemed pointless, I asked myself what I was fighting for. The answer I got was: to be free. Free from being a child, free from my mother, and free to do what I wanted.
Not knowing what my insight meant, I continued fighting. I found a perverse pleasure in fighting. I began to see how, as I pushed back against my mother, we grew further apart. That was a bittersweet feeling. I enjoyed the greater freedom, but felt bad that I was causing my mother pain. Many years later, I realized my rebellion against my mother is a natural process of maturing for a teenage boy.
When our opposition continues beyond our adolescence, we sabotage our success. When I had employees working for me, I learned that adults would fight for the sake of fighting. I would even tell them that I was going to give them more than they asked for, but once they started contesting everything, I wanted to give less.
It took me a while to realize what was happening. It didn’t make any logical sense to pick a fight over nothing with your boss. As I remembered how I fought just because it felt good, I began to understand what these employees were doing. They were stuck in that phase of development where their survival or success depended on them opposing everything.
After explaining to these employees on several occasions how they were sabotaging themselves, I fired them. I also saw how their resistant behavior was not only directed at me. Often they had ongoing arguments with their parents and partners. I learned not to take their behaviors personally.
ODD – Oppositional Defiant Disorder
11.2% of men and 9.2% of women are afflicted with ODD.[i] They enjoy seeing others get mad and fight, even at the risk of self-harm. This masochistic behavior continues because it is their preferred coping mechanism. It is their preferred way to deal with stress – their preferred way to survive.
They are stuck in double-binds where they feel damned if they do and damned if they don’t, trapping them into picking fights where none exist. As illogical as it is, we continually perform these dysfunctional behaviors to avoid a scarier pain or fear. Unfortunately, these ODD masters get so good at being defiant, they start applying it to more and more situations.
These days every behavior becomes a psychological dysfunction. Continually fighting for no reasons is ODD. Dysfunctional behaviors exist on a continuum. Most of us have or had many of them to a lesser extent. I certainly was combative as a teenage boy. I grew out of it because if I wanted to get what I really wanted, I had to change my approach to relating to people.
Being a teenage boy means to rebel. We want the comforts of a child and the freedom of an adult—we want no responsibilities yet we want to have the authority of a man. To the extent we out grow our adolescent ODD, we succeed.
Healing Your Defiance
Realizing your ODD tendencies come from feeling you have no voice, power or influence, you can accept your feelings of weakness. I’m not saying accept that you are weak; I’m saying accept your emotions. Much of our “acting out” with ODD comes from how we feel powerless.
I felt shame in how I had no power. It was easier and safer for me to push someone who was safe than to just stay present. I preferred others to see me as a jerk rather than be perceived as weak. I began to move out of this when I realized I had to grow up.
A key to my shifting out of ODD was admitting that I felt powerless at expressing myself. I realized that it was easier for me to pick a fight making a big deal out of a simple need. It was easier for me to push than to ask. I know it sounds stupid— and it was.
In accepting how my fighting was not allowing me to win, and accepting my deeper feelings and needs, I began to move beyond ODD. When you move into what you are avoiding, at first it’s scary, but as you continue allowing yourself to experience what is happening, you gain power. The first step is to turn around and face your feelings and deeper desires.
Growing Beyond ODD
As you take an experience that would had been an ODD experience and move into it, you become more powerful. One of the most empowering acts is to get yourself up after you fail. So when you start picking a fight when no fight is really there, you can accept your failure. Then you start acting from your deeper feelings and desires.
All this gets easier when you have a model of how to do this, or a mentor to guide you. Our free men’s groups are effective at showing you, guiding you, and giving you someone to be accountable to, as you grow.
We all can start chasing our tails. We default to our standard behaviors when there is little reason to change. Yet when you have a mission that is bigger than you, and you can’t accomplish it with your old MO, you start to grow.
Rather than fighting against or fighting others for the sake of it, you now have a cause to fight for. You learn not to start a fight because you are feeling a certain way, because if you do, that guy you are arguing with in one moment may be the guy you need to help you in the next moment.
When you have a mission, being passionate about your immediate needs become less important. It’s not that you are depriving yourself. You are receiving a greater pleasure from accomplishing your mission. Enrolling others in your cause takes you out of being a victim to life; you are now a leader. No leader is a victim. Victims don’t enroll others, only leaders can.
Jumping on your purpose can be like riding a wild horse. There will be times when what you are creating is not in control. This wild horse will take you to places you never would have gone on you own, much like in a relationship will.
Focusing on fixing problems—no matter how good you are at fixing—becomes boring. Using your skills to achieve your purpose will keep you engaged. Being called in to fix others problems is good; being the one who helps others solve their problems leverages his input, so that the person you help learns. He or she is not rescued with your fixing.
You learn that giving to others though supporting them in their process of growth produces great satisfaction. Fathers learn to love how they contribute to their kids. Few men feel satisfied in how they contribute in their life. By giving to others or a cause, you learn to forego your more personal needs for a greater need. Those old desires to be noticed and appreciated melt away. Your giving without the agreement to get back heals the part of you that always felt deprived.
Aggression Is Good
As men, we need a positive outlet for our aggression. Every man has his own level of need around aggression. Some of our ODD forms of behavior come from not having a healthy venue to express aggression. Unexpressed aggression becomes anger, then resentment, then stored rage.
Video games does it for some men. For many men, playing a sport is their healthy expression. Getting physical moves energy that allows your body to release.
When someone threatens to violate a boundary, you use your assertiveness to stop them. That is the right use of anger. With other men and myself, I found the more we say no when we need to, the less we say no when there is no need. When you know in your body that you are capable of saying no, you will be in fewer situations where you will need to say no. You will also be getting in fewer unnecessary fights.
As you accept and express your needs, fewer of the unnecessary arguments occur. Along with saying no, learning to say yes by asking directly for what you want will produce less indirect requests and anger.
Learning to discern between being controlled and being held accountable for what you agreed to is important. A weak man feels controlled. A powerful man asks to be held accountable. Getting mad at someone because you didn’t perform is what an adolescent does.
In the face of opposition, the most powerful act is vulnerability. When you aren’t threatened with inappropriate action, yet you feel attacked, surrender to your experience. Chances are your agitation is not coming from the present situation. It is coming from your incomplete past. Complete your past, de-charge the immediate situation, and heal by relaxing. You don’t need to be aggressive here. Speak what you feel, even at the risk of it not being accepted.
Stop Fighting—Start Leading
You can give up your fights. You can take all that energy you were using to tilt at your windmills and create a life that serves you.
Growing up for all of us is letting go of the victim of our past. Now as an adult, you have the authority to take a stand. You will not always prevail; you may always walk away feeling you lead.
If you want the ultimate in training and support, start your own free men’s group. Alternatively, maybe getting a coach or a mentor will work. Rather than fighting others, find the right people to support you and your purpose. When you do that, you and the planet will benefit.
Let me know how you do.
[i] Dickstein DP (May 2010). “Oppositional defiant disorder”. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 49 (5): 435–6. doi:10.1097/00004583-201005000-00001. PMID 20431460.