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THE GLASS EGO

Fragile man Here's a closely guarded secret: Women have more influence over men than they think. Psychologist Jay Carter talks to Michelle Burford about male self-esteem, the criticism that could demolish a man and what male intimacy is really about. 


Twenty-six years of counseling men and couples have given Jay Carter an unusually clear window into men's hearts and minds. Carter's observations are so eye-opening that we asked him about everything from finding the key to a man's inner life to the best way keep from making him a home-improvement project: 

Q: You've written that most women have no idea of their power to wound men. Where does this power originate?

A: During a boy's most important developmental period—his first five years—he usually gets his self-esteem from his mother. I think some of Freud's theories are hogwash, but I believe he was right about at least one: Whereas a girl might choose to grow up to become like her mother in certain ways, a boy tries to be becoming to his mother—to make her proud. Years later, when he meets someone he wants to spend his life with, he unconsciously gives her what I call his "jujube doll"—a kind of voodoo-like name I have for the part of a man's self-esteem that's vulnerable to a woman's opinion of him. If she sticks a pin in his doll, he recoils. Most women I talk with don't realize what kind of influence they have over men. 

Q: You've said that when a woman begins to care deeply for a man, he becomes her home-improvement project. Why?

A: A woman often marries a man for his potential. If women married men for who they actually were, there would be far fewer marriages. When a woman loves a man, she says to herself, 'I could improve him. Once we're together, things will be different.' Since I began my practice in 1977, I've heard this refrain hundreds of times. I try to get it across to the woman that what she sees is what she gets. This is him. If he's drinking every Friday and Saturday night, look forward to a lifetime of weekend alcoholism. He may cut out Friday, but he'll still be a drinker. 

Q: Once a man has snatched away his "jujube doll," can a woman ever get it back?

A: Yes. She can sit down with him and say something like 'It wasn't my intention to hurt you, but I have. I really do think you're a wonderful man.' He may never admit that there are heel marks all over his doll, but if she approaches him this way, he'll slowly open up again. 

Q: After nearly three decades of counseling men, do you think most really want to please women?

A: Oh, yes! And I believe that a man will feel even more motivated to please a woman he loves if he knows that, in general, she already thinks the world of him. Once a woman tells a man how responsible and caring he is, he'll usually do all he can to live up to that image. Just to make her proud, he'll rise up and move mountains. 

More on men in the June 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. Subscribe now!

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