By Jim Turner
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Disconnected men hide out in plain view: in our churches, in our families and in our communities. They are competent, capable men who quietly ‘do their duty’ and attract little attention. They are fairly happy guys, relatively unemotional and capable of carrying heavy loads of responsibility, but are very difficult to get to know beyond superficial friendship. A closer examination inside their marriages reveals a desert strewn with emotionally emaciated spouses. While their competence may build the church, organize a group, or run a company, they haven’t the slightest notion how to connect intimately with those they love. Their wives suffer, usually in silence, while the church and culture press past this couple secretly falling apart.
Jim Turner was that disconnected man going about his life, happily fulfilling his duty within his own self-protective bubble, until God suddenly burst it in a most horrific way. His story starts when that devastation left him clinging precariously to the remaining shreds of his broken marriage. Jim longs to share with other disconnected men what he learned through that ordeal, to help them understand their disobedience and show how they can achieve real connection with those they love.
What Does Disconnected Mean?
I suspect you know. As soon as you heard the title, it probably rang a bell for you, or sparked a memory, or touched that part of you that has always sought a definition—a definition for the man who leaves your mind in a conundrum when you try to figure out why he is the way he is.
Our culture might define him as the "strong, silent type" or the "lone wolf." That's not really accurate. To an outside observer, those terms might seem to fit well, but they lack depth; they don't pursue the man beyond his surface persona. You might have been tempted to define him this way yourself. But somewhere deep inside, you realized that those phrases just don't work. Something keeps nagging you to find a better definition or explanation for him. Your heart won't let your mind pigeonhole him that easily.
You know that the word disconnected fits him, but you may not know all the reasons why. Try using the word with someone else who knows him well. I do this often when I talk to people about "this man."
When you use the word disconnected in reference to this man in your life—especially if the person you're talking to knows him as well, something remarkable happens. Your friend or family member will react. That reaction and the observations that follow will tell you if you've hit the mark. I've found time after time that those who know a man like this find that disconnected works to describe him. There's no better word. Your conversation will reveal why this word fits so well.
Nearly everyone I meet knows a man they can apply the word disconnected to. They have observed him, tried to get to know him, perhaps been hurt by him, and have an opinion about what makes him that way. Many of the opinions you will hear others express about this man are insightful, but they rarely get to the core.
One of the reasons you will still be left grasping for answers is because the best person to define what disconnected means is the disconnected man himself. Problem is, he's not saying anything.
One of the foundational traits of the disconnected man is that he usually doesn't know he's disconnected. He wouldn't even think to give you a description. He is unaware that you are even searching for one. I suppose that's where I come in. I'm a formerly disconnected, now struggling-to-be-connected, man. Like your man, I didn't have a clue that I was disconnected. Having been there before, and now being able to look back, gives me a window into his soul you might not have. I can tell you a few of his secrets.
Before I do, though, let's continue to consider: Who is this disconnected man? The man you're thinking of is probably a fairly happy guy, competent in tasks he takes on, relatively unemotional, usually enjoyable to be around, capable of carrying heavy loads of responsibility. But he's very difficult to get to know more deeply. If he is your friend, the friendship is most likely superficial. You get a certain sense around him. Your heart whispers questions such as, Am I important to him? Does he know how I feel? Why can't I seem to keep his attention? and many more. The nature of a disconnected man often leaves you wondering, Am I the problem?
The answer is—probably not. If you recognize these as observations you've made about the man you know, if these words resonate with you, if your heart and mind detect some truth here, then you are probably not the cause of the problem. In addition, you are probably not the only one to suspect that there's something different about this man. Knowing that you are not the problem may not help you resolve the riddle, but I hope it helps you rest a bit more easy about your relationship with him.
In fact, not only are you not the problem, but you are also probably very important to your disconnected man—maybe more important than anyone else has ever been. If that surprises you or sounds unbelievable, please don't dismiss the statement as impossible. It may very well be the truest truth you'll ever be surprised by.
One of the most difficult barriers to believing that you are important to your disconnected man is that you don't see it or feel it from him. He has a way of looking through you. When you look in his eyes, you don't see yourself. It's sort of blank in there. There's no swirl of emotion, no tide of understanding, no link with your heart, and no tangible reaction to your outreach. It's discouraging, perhaps devastating, to experience this complete lack of connection. But did you know that he doesn't know that you feel disconnected? Did you know that he thinks he's connecting? He would actually be surprised and a bit confused if he could see your frustration. I mean, if he could see your real frustration. He thinks your frustration is about something completely unrelated to what's actually bothering you.
So what is really happening here?
Picture an impenetrable wall: tall, shiny, black, with no door. In front of it is a happy-go-lucky, easygoing mind. This is your disconnected man's normal, outward appearance. The mind in front of the wall is where he lives 98 percent of the time. It's a state of blissful blindness. But behind the wall is a place that is very real but seldom visited, housing a storm of thoughts and feelings. There's a rich world of meaning and a fragile emotional stability just beyond that blank surface. You see it when he attempts to explain the way he feels. He stumbles and becomes frustrated because the meaning is there but he doesn't have the emotional language to communicate it. You get a glimpse when he breaks down into uncontrollable emotion, perhaps over something you don't feel is extremely emotional—a movie scene, a story, a moment of closeness. It's very difficult for him when that wall is breached even a little. He finds himself awash in confusion and embarrassment when something touches that sensitive place behind the wall. You've probably suspected it was there but didn't know you were seeing it.
The wall is carefully crafted (or not so carefully) to look like confidence or happiness. The amazing thing is that the disconnected man doesn't even know the wall is there, so he's not looking for the door. Behind that wall is everything worth knowing about this man. So how do you get on the other side? And what happens if you get there?
If he were aware of that inner world, the disconnected man would probably be mortified that it even exists and that you want to go there. He's not like you. You are capable of going to places he doesn't know about. The reality is that you live in a foreign land of feelings and emotions and connection that he doesn't know he's supposed to be a part of. You move in and out of relational realities that are veiled to him. You feel. You identify. You share. You know depression. You know elation. You connect deeply. You intuit friendship. You let love fill you up. You grieve. You are naturally touched by a thousand relational realities. The disconnected man is not. At least not in the same way you are.
Let me illustrate. Did you know that a shark can sense a slight ripple in the current from miles away? It can sense tiny temperature changes rising from great depths. Some sharks can detect blood in the water at one part per 10 billion—that's one drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The shark is specially fitted for success in its environment. You are specially fitted for success in your relational environment. You are a relational shark. On the other hand, the disconnected man is like a lion dropped into an ocean. He is powerful in his own environment but helpless in yours. He might be able to swim for a while, but he can't make sense of his surroundings. He can't detect the ripples or temperature or the presence of food. Regardless of his strength, after a short time he will eventually flail around in frustration, then withdraw, and then give up. I imagine you've seen this pattern. We'll explore it in more detail later in the book.
So there he is: a lion in the ocean. But what defines him? What is a disconnected man?
A disconnected man is one who is unaware that he is nonrelational, distant, and emotionally unavailable.
The key to this definition is that he is unaware of his position. He thinks he's relational. He thinks he comes across as caring and interested. He thinks he's connected. His oblivious nature is what makes reaching him so difficult. You, on the other hand, are keenly aware of his disconnection. You may have tried every way you know to reach him or try to understand him, but you failed—not from lack of trying, either. You failed because your disconnected man is relationally blind.
So, how do you get on the other side of his wall? And how can he learn to thrive in an unnatural environment? How do you help him see himself? It's the question every person who knows a disconnected man should be asking. It will lead you to the combination that unlocks his heart and frees him for relationship!
But first, I have a question for you: Do you care enough about this man to fight for him? Are you strong enough to be his friend (or spouse, as the case may be)?
I ask these questions as a warning because reaching your disconnected man will not be easy. You may be in for a protracted battle with fierce opposition: He doesn't think anything is wrong with him and doesn't know why you are so hurt. If you are not careful, he will be offended (and probably angry) that you are trying to "fix" him. He probably won't deliberately fight you but he will be frustrated, because he doesn't realize there's a battle going on. His wall is high and it is guarded by hidden and relentless forces entrenched deep in his psyche. These are forces of pride and emotional protection and the comfort of not having to connect. They are buried so deep that he doesn't suspect them of being there. But they will come out in his responses (or lack thereof), his reactions to probing, his perception of reality, his vulnerability to criticism, and perhaps a hundred other ways.
Fighting this kind of battle is intense, and it demands a tremendous amount of wisdom and patience. But since your disconnected man doesn't know his dilemma, he can't possibly know that you have entered into combat to break through his disconnection and free him up for real relationship. He's like a happy child playing on the seashore while a raging tide is pulling you under. I'm not trying to be dramatic here—the reality of working with a disconnected man can truly be this severe. We will explore this battle in detail as we go on.
A dear friend of mine who was dealing with a disconnected man asked me, "What's the difference between a narcissist and a disconnected man?" She was struggling with a common misperception, because from the outside looking in, narcissism and disconnection are not much different. In reality, they are quite different.
To clarify further what disconnected means, let's look at what it doesn't mean. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines narcissism as a pathological self-absorption: "Narcissism is characterized by an inflated self-image and addiction to fantasy, by an unusual coolness and composure shaken only when the narcissistic confidence is threatened, and by the tendency to take others for granted or to exploit them." A narcissist wants nothing more than to satisfy himself at any cost, and he doesn't care if people get hurt while he does it.
A disconnected man, on the other hand, already feels satisfied within himself, and he believes he's meeting the needs of others by his hard work and faithfulness. He doesn't feel a pressing need for relational connection, so he can't identify with those who are not getting it from him. He is not focused on his own need, as a narcissist is. He is simply unaware that others have needs he could and perhaps should meet but isn't. He is also unaware that he has very deep unmet needs himself, because that part of him is buried. A disconnected man hurts people because he doesn't have the equipment to connect with them. A narcissist hurts people because he uses them for his own gratification.
Another common conclusion made about the disconnected man is that he is indifferent or uncaring. This description seems to fit him, because he's so distant and so easily able to switch gears and get back to work or move on to whatever it is he's doing. Neither grief nor elation last long for him, because the wall we spoke of earlier makes it impossible for emotions to sink all the way in and last. So it seems that he lacks depth because he's so unaffected by emotional issues. This was me to a T.
One clear example of this was when my dad died. I loved my father dearly, but if you had observed my reactions when he passed away, you may not have believed that I cared. I showed very little emotion throughout his illness, his suffering, and his death. I don't actually remember feeling a lot of emotion. What little emotion did surface didn't last. I got back to life as I knew it quickly and easily. I cared superficially that my dad had died, but I couldn't connect with the deeper emotional loss that others around me were feeling.
While it's true that he's unemotional, make no mistake, your disconnected man really does care. It's just that his ability to express care and concern keeps bouncing off that thick wall. If he thinks you are lacking anything to make you comfortable, he will gladly work harder to give you whatever thing (clothing, a comfortable home, good food, flowers, chocolates, etc.) he imagines will fulfill you. But he will never think to try to connect more deeply with your heart. He desires to overcome any obstacle blocking your happiness, but he truly doesn't see that the real obstacle is his own disconnection.
Has this definition of disconnection surprised you? Do you struggle with understanding how anyone can be so unaware of his own relational and emotional surroundings? Is it hard for you to accept that your disconnected man's inattention is not intentional? If so, it might help you to know how he got this way. I've got some ideas based on my own previous disconnection.
How Did He Get This Way?
There are several paths to disconnection, but the dynamic works like this: Negative experiences cause internal closure.
Something happens to this man, or boy, that his mind or soul responds negatively to. Whatever the negative experience, his response is to close down or block off part of his heart because that negative stimulus makes him uncomfortable or even hurts him deeply. The experience either caused pain or failed to relieve his pain. For instance, if a boy is abused and made to feel pain, he might block out that experience and his emotional response. If a man is ignored, untouched, or not verbally affirmed, he might block out the need for connection, deciding that he doesn't need those affirmations.
There are many variations and levels of intensity to these negative external stimuli, and just as many effects on different personality types, but the net effect is that the boy or man is emotionally damaged. He becomes a guarded man, one who probably doesn't even know about the shield around his heart. He may appear normal and healthy from any outward assessment. He may be responsible (hardworking, doing his duty), reliable (doing things for others, showing up on time), giving (always willing to give things or money to others), and possessed of many other admirable traits. Or he may have simply given up, becoming lazy, unreliable, and self-absorbed—settling for mediocrity. Regardless of his response to the negative experiences, what you see is his inability to connect with the people in his life.
Disconnected men have happy, locked-up hearts.
Disconnected men typically seem to be happy, carefree, and lighthearted because they have an incredible capacity for stuffing things into emotional boxes or locking them into encrypted vaults that no one has the code to. I know this because I lived it. I was a master encoder of my emotions—so good that no one could crack my security. All my hurts, insecurities, and anxieties were guarded so safely that even I couldn't break in and access them. It was as if I had devised a hideously complex security code and then completely forgotten how to decipher it.
Everything emotional in my life was so securely locked away that my heart was like one big empty mausoleum of dead feelings. Even when I wanted to feel something, I often found myself wandering around in an echo chamber of lost sentiment. On the few occasions that something got through and touched my tender emotions, I ended up sobbing uncontrollably. This made me very uncomfortable. I felt as if I needed to be grasped and held together or I would fall apart. Even as I write this, I'm craving some great strong embrace to weep into, some tangible, loving, fatherly hug to drive away all my fears while I fall apart. I've felt this many times since the day God revealed to me who I really was. (I'll share that story later.) But it's a good thing I can feel it now. In the past I didn't want to fall apart, but now I do.
- On Sale
- Dec 12, 2017
- Page Count
- 160 pages