Expanding What We Mean by “Nurturing” – Excerpt from Michael Gurian’s new book “How Do I Help Him”

             In observing males and studying anthropological and neuro-biological information regarding male behavior, I developed the term “aggression nurturance” in 1995 in order to try to help professionals and parents look at males more closely.  My specific interest lay in hoping to accurately describe differences between the ways males and females nurture others and themselves toward self-confidence.

In both rural and urban environments in the United States, then in comparative research during two years in both rural and urban environments in Turkey, I observed that males (such as fathers) tended to nurture themselves and others through more direct aggression than females, with less emphasis on distended verbal nurturance, i.e. when they used words, they used them in quick bursts not long paragraphs.  Females, in general, tended to nurture themselves and others through less direct aggression than males, substituting more direct empathic responses to particular situations, and utilizing more distended word groupings.  Though my research goal was somewhat different than theirs, my ultimate outcome mirrors the work of Pepper Schwartz at the University of Washington and Deborah Tannen, in You Just Don’t Understand.

By now, in 2011, everyone has perhaps observed this kind of difference anecdotally, in their own lives.  But still, let’s illustrate it.  Here is a piece of dialogue I heard recently at a local park as two teenage boys walked off a basketball court.  When they parted company to go to their separate cars, they said:

“Right, then.  Later.”

“Yeah.  Love you, dude.”

“Stop it, fucker!”

“Yeah.  Peace, man.”


Grinning, they both got into their cars.

Perhaps some part of why they grinned was from sheepishness at this intimate ritual being seen and heard by a gray-haired stranger, me, walking by.  But no matter the reasons for nuance, this kind of basic male ritual occurs all over the world.  It involves one-upping, masking-of-vulnerability, aggression, a mock show of anger, deep nurturance, and clear mutual love.

This kind of ritual is an example of what I call aggression nurturance.  This nurturance style, one based in male brain functioning, male biochemistry, and male socialization differs from direct empathy nurturance, which favors female biology, chemistry, and socialization.  Thus, while aggression nurturance can happen between two girls, it is more likely to go on between boys and men, for some very natural reasons.


Excerpted from HOW DO I HELP HIM?:  A Practitioner’s Guide To Working With Boys And Men In Therapeutic Settings by Michael Gurian.  For more information, visit http://www.michaelgurian.com/how-do-I-help-him.html.

Michael Gurian
Michael Gurian

Michael Gurian is a family therapist, child advocate, and the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty-five books, including The Minds of Boys, Boys and Girls Learn Differently! and The Wonder of Girls. Over the last twenty years, he has advocated relentlessly for boy-friendly research in the public dialogue. The Gurian Institute has provided teacher effectiveness training to over fifty thousand teachers in two thousands schools and districts. gurianinstitute.com

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