A Real Man Keeps It To Himself? | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

A Real Man Keeps It To Himself?

I’m part of a men’s group.  Some people see the value of this, and some don’t.

One guy I know, when I told him about the group, responded “I don’t need anyone to teach me how to be a man.”  Others have more detailed preconceived notions about “men’s work” — one woman reacted by saying “so what do you do, cry and get naked in the woods together?”

I found these two reactions particularly interesting, because I think they reflect deep-seated, and misguided, assumptions about men that are worth talking about.  The first is that a real man doesn’t ask for support, and faces his problems alone.  The second is that it’s weak for a man to tell others how he feels.

Vulnerability Takes Courage

One thing I find ironic about these ideas is that, in my experience, it actually takes a lot more courage to ask for support, and say how I feel, than to keep my concerns to myself.

After all, if I admit I’m facing a challenge in my life, I open myself up to being criticized or ridiculed.  Maybe the person I confide in will say “dude, you’re messed up,” or pelt me with advice when I just want to be heard, or something like that, and I’ll feel hurt.  If I keep a stiff upper lip, I don’t have to take that risk.

True, “sharing our feelings” may sound airy-fairy and New-Agey on the surface.  But in my experience, it’s much harder to reveal my emotions than to pretend they don’t exist.  It’s far easier to act like nothing bothers me, I’m super-professional, and I’ve got it all together.

What’s more, expressing emotions is about much more than “crying naked in the woods,” although I don’t want to dismiss that practice if it’s what you think you need.  :)  It can also mean unleashing our more fiery parts — our anger and competitive drive, for instance.

The Practical Benefits

When I say something along the lines of what I just said, some people respond:  Taking risks by being emotionally vulnerable is all well and good, but what does that get you in the real world?

First off, the assumption behind this question is, basically, that nothing is worth doing unless it gets us more money, power or sex.  But I happen to think connection, by itself, is valuable — the relief and aliveness I feel when I drop the pretenses with someone and tell them what’s really going on for me.

If you feel cynical or skeptical when I say this, at least consider the possibility that there’s a dimension of being with another person that you aren’t experiencing, and that it may be interesting for you to explore.

What’s more, I think the risks men take in the kind of group I’m part of do translate into “practical benefits” in the traditional sense.

For example, some men learned, at an early age, that releasing the fiery kind of energy I talked about wasn’t okay.  They were sternly taught that a good boy obeys his parents without complaint.  As adults, these men find it hard to set firm boundaries with others and ask for what they want.

A men’s group can offer a man in this situation a safe container to cut loose and rage, reconnect with the warrior part he was taught to push down, and take that part with him into the “real world.”  This can have a powerful impact in his work, relationships and elsewhere.

Have you been part of a men’s or women’s group?  What has your experience of it been like?

21 thoughts on
A Real Man Keeps It To Himself?

  1. Tom Volkar / Delightful Work

    Yes I have been a part of a man’s group and I found it refreshing to share vulnerably without concern of being judged by the “weaker” sex. I found that facilitation and ground rules can make or break the group. It’s a very wise arena to play in. We don’t have adequate models for manhood and coming of age in our society. I think service clubs used to provide safe venues for male issues but now they are all coed. I see so many local female success and business groups that I’ve often thought of the value of starting one for men only.

  2. Evan

    I’ve been in therapy groups. The mens groups I’ve been around haven’t lasted.

    I think that it used to be female sexuality that was pathologised (hysteria and such) and that it now tends to male sexuality that is pathologised (testosterone = violence – the polarity being males as hopeless slackers).

    I really hope the mens groups spread – I hope too they take on changing our context. I like Germaine Greer’s critique of the feminist movement: Women started out demanding liberation and settled for equality. I hope the mens groups don’t make the same mistake. Self Made Man by Norah Vincent (a lesbian who disguised herself as a man for a year) is a very insightful look at contemporary (US) manhood I think.

  3. Chris - Post author

    Hi Tom — yes, that’s been my experience too, that the leadership and the structure seem like the most important part of it. And I’ve also noticed that there seem to be a lot of female entrepreneur groups, and I can see how creating similar male groups would be an opportunity for men to develop these kinds of communities, maybe involving guys who wouldn’t do it otherwise.

  4. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evan — it’s interesting what you say about our society being kind of scared of aggression, and the “slacker” being sort of the opposite of, I guess, the “aggressive caveman,” because in my experience when a man is having trouble getting motivated in something he’s doing, he’s using up a lot of energy pushing that aggressive part down, and giving him a place to unleash that fire can also get him back on track in his project or his relationship or whatever it is.

  5. Davina Haisell

    Hi Chris.
    I think being a part of group is very valuable. I used to belong to a woman’s group and it was rewarding. Members are there with conscious focus rather than folk who are going through their day mindlessly. In my opinion, I see it as a weakness to *not* reach out. Plus, reaching out gives the other person a chance to feel valued by being asked to help. If they don’t wish to be involved, then it is their chance to be authentic and say that.

  6. Evelyn Lim

    I don’t have any specific women’s group. I go to different female friends for different needs. Then again, my first recourse is not necessarily finding someone to talk to. I do a lot of emotional release work myself.

    I personally don’t see anything “wrong” with having a men’s group. My husband incidentally has his own group of friends. I encourage him to go for his outings. Men have a need to share their feelings as much as the women do. They may express them differently or in various ways. But most certainly, they have feelings alright. My opinion is that bottling up can bring more potential problems. Asking for support from like-minded friends is a wise thing to do. I admire the warrior who is open about his inner emotional challenges and finds ways to deal with them.

  7. Jannie Funster

    Hey, naked woods cryer,

    :)

    I have not been in a womens’ group. Blogging feels a lot like great therapy, if I have a question or a problem.

    Men have the same emotions as women, of course. I think men’s lifespans may be shorter than ours partly due to bottled up feelings. But you should live a long long time Chris with the work you do on yourself.

    I love the idea of no stigma for men voicing their concerns and fears — it’s healthy to share!

    xo

  8. Chris - Post author

    Hi Davina — yes, I can definitely relate to needing more courage to reach out to others than to keep trudging on, quietly hoping that things will get better. And, like you say, it can also take courage to say that I don’t want to talk about myself today. I use that exercise sometimes to practice breaking the rules and being with the sensations that result.

  9. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evelyn — I liked the way you put it about openness being required to be a warrior — after all, if I don’t acknowledge that I’m facing any obstacles and I’m pretending to be invincible, I can’t even begin struggling to overcome them.

  10. Chris - Post author

    Hi Jannie — heh, that’s actually a question I reflect upon sometimes in my more neurotic moments — am I shortening or lengthening my lifespan with the work I do on myself? And then I get to do more “inner work” by sitting with the anxiety that arises as I contemplate that question. Cool!

  11. Hilary

    Hi Chris .. I haven’t been part of a group .. and I’ve always got by .. having said that – I know that I could have done with some help .. but where and how, and who …. – so I didn’t!!

    I am so glad the blogging world is here .. we can tap into so many resources and learn from those – I know I’ve learnt a great deal, and we get wonderful recommendations on all sorts of things – ie we can select what we feel we need ..

    I am quite a self-sufficient person .. and that probably explains my abilities to get by originally and now to realise what I need, as well as keep within my own capabilities of my life around me …. I may not be doing some things now – but they will get their time …

    I have found in recent years .. that by opening up to both men and women .. it’s a help for me .. and sometimes may help them too … sometimes you might as well be on another planet — especially friends and family …!

    Interesting to hear about your men’s group …

    Thanks .. good post – Hilary

  12. Patty - Why Not Start Now?

    I admire you very much for being in a men’s group, Chris. Years ago I didn’t understand why men needed such a group, but I’m (hopefully) wiser now. And certainly older. I sort of missed the first round of the men’s movement, and I wrote about that earlier in the year. I realized how far we still have to go as a society to get to a place where men feel comfortable sharing their feelings and letting down their guard, with each other and out in the world.

  13. Chris - Post author

    Hi Hilary — I liked what you said about opening up to someone being helpful — just telling someone what’s actually going on for me, I know, helps me to remember that I’m human and not terminally alien or strange, which is a feeling that can build up if I spend too much time keeping my experience of life to myself.

  14. Chris - Post author

    Hi Karl — I’d definitely recommend checking one out if you’re looking for more community and feedback in your life — I know it’s been amazing for me.

  15. Chris - Post author

    Hi Patty — yes, I’d actually agree that as a society we have a ways to go before both sexes feel comfortable just being human — particularly around each other. :)

  16. Stacey

    Chris,

    This is just beautiful. As you say practices like this bring up many unresolved issues within people, and most likely it would be a wonderful situation for them to be in, because it would be very healing and a growth experience for them.

    Much of our society (men and women) are very out of balance with the masculine and feminine within. So it is thought of as a weakness for men to embrace the feminine within and actually express traits such as sharing and nurturing. So when a man joins a group that encourages them to explore more of themselves and become a more balanced soul they will often lash out because they are denying that within.

    I think it is beautiful that you are part of such a group, because it reflects that you are embracing your whole self. And you are a wonderful teacher through example. By sharing your experience and letting others know that it is a centering experience they will feel more comfortable exploring that aspect of themselves.

    Keep shining bright, and shedding light on the world around you!

  17. Hilary

    Hi Chris .. thanks .. it can certainly help with the right people – sometimes I just have to clam up again if it’s with non-accepting people .. it can be frustrating – but I guess – we know there’s more to us and our thoughts than the other person has the capability to realise at that time or from the place they’re in or coming from.

    I just wish people would ‘accept’ and say oh ok .. that sounds interesting .. but usually it’s an opinionated – ‘you gotta be joking’ type of reply! Not terribly helpful.

    I was wondering .. I’m sure I said it somewhere .. but for now not sure where .. about talking to myself .. ie talking through things with myself .. I found that easy to do when I was driving a bit more .. now I’m more tied as the necessity for driving somewhere isn’t there ..

    but I could always self talk sense or understanding of others’ reactions to myself .. and now must start doing it more often even if I’m not in the car ..

    It helps a great deal .. works things through .. thanks – Hilary

  18. Chris - Post author

    Hi J.D. — yes, I think “sharing yourself with skill” is a good way to summarize it — like others have commented, the rules laid down in a men’s group, or in any setting where emotions are going to be discussed in the group, can make or break people’s experience in that context.

  19. Chris - Post author

    Hi Stacey — yes, there does seem to be an instinctive revulsion that comes up for some people when the subject of men talking about how they feel comes up, or even when discussion of emotions by anyone comes up. And in fact, in my experience, there’s a lot of gold there, if we’ll just let ourselves experience the revulsion, without running away from it or acting on it, and let it show us where we’ve cut ourselves off from our own ability to discuss what’s going on for us.

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