From the time we're in diapers, adults socialize us to the ways of the family and the culture at large. What the family doesn't accomplish is usually driven home in our teen years by conformist peer pressure, through the powerful forces of shame, ridicule and judgment. On top of that the mass media through movie characters, ads, and icons sets other standards against which we judge ourselves, others and our relationships. Women and men learn very different ways of behaving and develop very different expectations about love, marriage and intimacy.
THE HEART OF A MAN
Male socialization teaches boys to minimize and ultimately deny feelings and emotions that make them appear vulnerable, such as fear, sadness, grief, and to a great extent, joy. These feelings are boxed up, put away and seldom spoken of again in the company of other boys or men. By the time most boys reach early manhood, they are comfortable only with feelings such as anger and lust. Power, sex, women, possessions, money and success take the place of any authentic emotional life.
Boys learn to play by the rules of manhood from the older boys and men in their lives. Such 'rules' may never be actually spoken. Instead they are learned mostly through observation and inference. Any random group of college-aged young men asked to describe the rules on how or what it means to be a man, will likely include:
- Don't trust other men, especially with anything personal
- Every other man is your competitor for food, stuff, women, employment, promotions, grades, etc.
- Don't talk about what you really think
- Don't feel...anything
- Never let them see you sweat
- Never ask for help
- Be rational
- Control is your friend
- Toughen up! Don't show sadness, fear or anything soft
- No mercy!
- Go it alone. It worked for Dirty Harry, Superman, John Wayne, it will work for you!
- It's all about you (get what you want out of life; other people's needs, feelings, desires don't matter)
- And on and on
The Way Out
So what then is the way out you ask? Go ahead, ask. Well I'll tell you. For men the way to truly successful and fulfilling relationships lies in recreating our relationship with ourselves first and foremost, then, from that new place, recreating our relationships with everyone else. That means coming to terms with my socialization as a man and the discerning the parts of it that do not serve me or take me towards my desired life and desired relationships. It also means doing the hard work of reclaiming the parts of me that I abandoned as a child or young man in my desire to fit in and gain approval. And here comes the scary part. You ready? It means dealing with the part of me that is still a hurting, wounded, scared little boy. Except now the boy is trapped in your adult body. You know the part I'm talking about don't you. Yeah, you know. You never talk about that part do you? But it's there, scratching at you from the inside every day. And you keep trying to relate to women from that place? That is never going to work, Chachi! If you think the ole Jimmeister doesn't know what he's talking about here, go and ask the last 2-3 women you've been involved with. See what they say about it. Go ahead. Go! Don't be scared.
Here's what I've found it my life as a man. It is only in doing work on me as a man, men's work, and beginning to heal myself that I discover something really magical about myself. I discover I have everything I need to create the kind of relationships I want. I have. I have always had, at my disposal a full complement of emotions to help me to connect deeply with others and to build authentic relationships and communities. I find an emotional range and fluency I was certain had be lost to me a long time ago. I discover that as a man I am fully capable of being fierce and loving, strong and tender, rigorous and compassionate, tenacious and giving. I discover I can feel all my feelings and emotions, maybe for the first time since I was a child. I discover a new strength, powerful masculine strength, in my openness, vulnerability and tears.
In working on myself and my inner life as, a man, I make another discovery. This one is as important, if not more so, than reclaiming my emotional life. I see how I have spent most of my life as man projecting my boyish needs from women on to them, rather than truly engaging them as equals in an authentic partnership. I find that I need to reframe how I see the women in my life, be they mother, friend, lover or spouse. Through my self examination and discovery I withdraw and transform my projections that every women somehow needs to be my mother, my comforter, my nurturer, my place of solace and refuge or my sexual fix. I see that I need to work on my 'stuff' as a man in the company of men. I can no longer expect that somehow the women in my life can fix what ails me as a man. I learn that the real power and my own grounded sense of self as a man comes from having authentic, grounded, vulnerable relationships with my own gender first. It is in men's circles that I find myself and the man I want to be and to become. Only then I can relate to women from a place of mature
To assist me in bringing all this new wisdom to life and rebalancing my
inner life I focus on:
Five Simple Truths
- Integrity: I create for myself a true, grounded sense of integrity. I am who I say and I am...and you can trust that. I do what I say...and I say what I do. My thinking, feelings, words and actions are congruent. I choose behaviors that will raise the trust level in my relationships, not lower it. I give up my need to self promote and self protect. I keep my agreements and promises with others. When I can't keep a given agreement, I renegotiate a new agreement before the old one expires. My integrity is never in question. I am who I say I am.
- Accountability: I am willing to account for and be responsible for the choices I make in my life, both conscious and unconscious and the consequences or impact of those choices. I stop making excuses. I stop blaming others. I give up my need to be a victim. I finally get that I create my reality and my life. I stop blaming others for what I've created or failed to create in my life. If I don't like my life, I know I have to change, not expect others to change for me.
- Telling the Truth: I create a practice of telling myself and others the truth. Period. I get out of the denial, delusion and fantasy that I use to manipulate reality and get into the truth. I get out of the Matrix! I practice telling myself the microscopic truth about myself and my choices. I no longer accept half truths, partial truths, lies, deceit, manipulation, coercion from myself or others. I always practice compassion in telling my truth to others. I get that my truth is not THE truth, it is a truth. I don't have to explain nor defend my truth to others. I simply have to know and live what is my truth.
- Emotional Literacy: I teach myself to feel and experience the full expression of my emotions. Joy, sadness, fear, anger and dozens of others. I grieve my losses. I use my feelings, as well as my brain, to help me make decisions, large and small. I express my feelings appropriately. I practice compassion and gratitude daily.
- Mission and Purpose: I develop for myself a clear vision of the kind of world I'd like to see it and create a mission statement for myself that speaks to what I'm willing to do each day to bring that kind of a world into being. I live my mission truthfully and passionately. I ask others to support me in making a difference in my world. I support others in doing the same when ask. I stop waiting for other to take care of or fix what is important to me. I passionately and compassionately participate in creating the kind of family, relationship, school, community, government, country or world I'd most like to be a part of.
NOTE: Jim Mitchell is a Certified Full Leader and Leader Trainer in the ManKind Project.