Finding a Boys Safe Place


A mom came to see me for therapy worried about her 12 year old son. Since her husband’s death her son played basketball. Lots of basketball. Morning, noon and night!  When she would try to sit down with him and talk about his father’s death he would clam up and shut down.  He didn’t want any part of it.  This worried the mom no end.  We talked about his relationship with his father and it came out that the boy and his dad played a good deal of basketball together.  It was their way to connect.  I encouraged the mom to go home and see if she could play some basketball with her son and watch what happened.

She came back the next week a changed woman.  She said they played some and the son gave her a hard time about not being able to play like his dad. But playing ball made it easier for him to say he missed his dad. In fact it was the first time he had told her he missed his dad and the first conversation they had about his dad’s absence. They both laughed and cried as they played.

She found out something else that helped her to understand her son.  He mentioned to her that the reason he kept practicing was he was trying to make the shot that his father had been encouraging him to make.  He called it a “3 pointer” and it was normally out of his range.  He had always been too small to make it from that distance.  He told his mom with pride that he had made one of those recently and he wanted to make more. He told her that the first time he made the shot he stopped and said aloud “I did it dad” and then burst into tears.  When we talked she realized that his playing ball was connected to his father’s death.  In fact, the boy was using a very common masculine healing technique of using the future.  He wanted to honor his dad by improving his play and making that shot something that was second nature to him. He wanted to do it for his dad.  Can you see how this young man was using the basketball to connect with his father, and to honor his father with his improved play?  He was using his action to honor his dad and this pulled him into the future. Can you also see that when he practiced to make the shot and even more when he did make that shot his memories and emotions surrounding his father would be front and center?

If this mom had simply placed her son in therapy she would never have gotten the closeness she found from that short game of basketball.  As you can imagine, she didn’t really need to see me so much after that nor did her son.  She knew she just needed to play a game of Horse with him and she could enter his safe place.   Think about your own son. Where is his safe place? It may not be basketball, but it likely involves some sort of action or inaction.  To learn more about these places and how they work you might want to get a copy of my newest book, Helping Mothers be Closer to Their Sons: Understanding the Unique World of Boys


References (Helping Mothers be Closer to Their Sons)

  1. Connellan, Jennifer, Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelwright, Anna Batki, and Jag Ahluwalia. “Sex Differences in Human Neonatal Social Perception.” Infant Behavior and Development 23.1 (2000): 113-18. Web.
  2. Baron-Cohen, Simon. The Essential Difference: The Truth about the Male and Female Brain. New York: Basic, 2003. Print.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Hines, Melissa, Michaela Constantinescu, and Debra Spencer. “Early Androgen Exposure and Human Gender Development.” Biology of Sex Differences 6.1 (2015): n. pag. Web.
  5. Eaton, Warren O., and Lesley R. Enns. “Sex Differences in Human Motor Activity Level.” Psychological Bulletin100.1 (1986): 19-28. Web.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Arnold, A. “Organizational and Activational Effects of Sex Steroids on Brain and Behavior: A Reanalysis.” Hormones and Behavior 19.4 (1985): 469-98. Web.
  8. Alexander, Gerianne M. “Postnatal Testosterone Concentrations and Male Social Development.” Frontiers in Endocrinology 5 (2014): n. pag. Web.
  9. Goy, R. “Behavioral Masculinization Is Independent of Genital Masculinization in Prenatally Androgenized Female Rhesus Macaques.”Hormones and Behavior 22.4 (1988): 552-71. Web.
  10. University of Virginia Health System. “Sex Chromosome Genes Influence Aggression And Maternal Behavior, Say Researchers.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 March 2006. <>.
  11. Eisenegger, Christoph, Johannes Haushofer, and Ernst Fehr. “The Role of Testosterone in Social Interaction.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences15.6 (2011): 263-71. Web.
  12. Tanner, J. M. Foetus into Man: Physical Growth from Conception to Maturity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978. Print.
  13. Geary, David C. Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2010. 59-61. Print.
  14. Geary, David C. Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2010. 219-220. Print.
  15. Geary, David C. Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2010. 78-79. Print.
  16. National Public Radio. “Testosterone.” This American Life, n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2016.
  17. Savin-Williams, Ritch C. Adolescence: An Ethological Perspective. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1987. Print.
  18. Maccoby, Eleanor E., and Carol Nagy Jacklin. “Gender Segregation in Childhood.” Advances in Child Development and Behavior Advances in Child Development and Behavior 20 (1987): 239-87. Web.
  19. Geary, David C. Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2010. 322. Print.
  20. Hassrick, Royal B., Cile M. Bach, and Dorothy Maxwell. The Sioux: Life and Customs of a Warrior Society. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma, 1964. Print.
  21. Geary, David C. Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2010. 414-415. Print.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Gilmore, David D. Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990. Print.
  24. Vandello, Joseph A., and Jennifer K. Bosson. “Hard Won and Easily Lost: A Review and Synthesis of Theory and Research on Precarious Manhood.” Psychology of Men & Masculinity 14.2 (2013): 101-13. Web.
  25. Simon, R. W., and A. E. Barrett. “Nonmarital Romantic Relationships and Mental Health in Early Adulthood: Does the Association Differ for Women and Men?” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 51.2 (2010): 168-82. Web.
  26. Marin, Peter. “Abandoning Men: Jill Gets Welfare–Jack Becomes Homeless.” The Alicia Patterson Foundation, 15 Apr. 2-11. Web. 07 Jan. 2016.
  27. Golden, Thomas R. Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing. Gaithersburg, MD: Golden Healing Publishing, 2000. Print.
  28. Wager, Tor D., K. Luan Phan, Israel Liberzon, and Stephan F. Taylor. “Valence, Gender, and Lateralization of Functional Brain Anatomy in Emotion: A Meta-analysis of Findings from Neuroimaging.” NeuroImage 19.3 (2003): 513-31. Web.
  29. Van Honk et al. “Testosterone Administration Impairs Cognitive Empathy in Women Depending on Second-to-fourth Digit Ratio.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110.28 (2013): 11660-1661. Web.
  30. Eisenegger, Christoph, Michael Naef, Romana Snozzi, Markus Heinrichs, and Ernst Fehr. “Prejudice and Truth about the Effect of Testosterone on Human Bargaining Behaviour.”Nature 463.7279 (2009): 356-59. Web.
  31. Valerio, Max W. The Testosterone Files: My Hormonal and Social Transformation from Female to Male. Emeryville, CA: Seal, an Imprint of Avalon Publishing Group, 2006. Print.
  32. Panksepp, Jaak, and Lucy Biven. The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions. New York: W. W Norton, 2012. Print.
  33. Taylor, Shelley E. The Tending Instinct: How Nurturing Is Essential for Who We Are and How We Live. New York: Times, 2002. Print.
  34. Greene, Bob. Rebound: The Odyssey of Michael Jordan. Darby, PA: Diane Publishing Company, 1995. Print.
  35. Moore, Robert. A Study in Masculine Psychology, audio tape series, King, Magician Warrior, Lover. C.G.Jung Institute of Chicago, 1989.
  36. Eliade, Mircea, and Willard R. Trask. Rites and Symbols of Initiation: The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth. New York: Harper & Row, 1965. Fin, Print.
  37. Ibid