Far too often, men feel forced to limit their internal experience of who they are.
Men lose their connection to their emotional and primal selves. In order to find a new and healthy masculinity it is critical to engage our truest selves by being aware of our thoughts, emotions and instincts. These live in our head, heart and gut. As men create more awareness of these parts of their inner lives a truer self emerges.
An example… For Markus it was so hard for him to cry in front of other men. He knew in his head there was space in the group for him to show this level of emotionality but still he closed off his sadness and didn’t let it come through. Markus had grown up in a family that continually shamed him for having feelings and being a sensitive kid. For so long Markus had closed off his heart from the rest of his life it seemed so natural. The group leader gently encouraged Markus to just notice the sensations in his heart. As Markus brought his awareness to this part of his body the flood gates opened. Markus allowed years of pent up emotions to flow out and he weeped. The men in the group gathered round and encouraged Markus to stay with it. After several minutes Markus looked through his watery eyes at the men around him. He had never known the safety of expressing himself and being accepted. He still recounts this day as the day he woke up.
Bringing more awareness to our inner experience is not an attempt to be less manly. It is a path for each man to get in touch with his masculine energy. For each man this can be different. There is no prescription for how this shows up.
However, for so long men have been placed in boxes and forced to wear masks in order to believe they are worthy of being men. We flee from the possibility of being seen as weak or less than a man.
Robert Masters Augustus expresses this really well in his book To Be A Man.
“True masculine power happens when courage, integrity, vulnerability, compassion, awareness, and the capacity to take strong action are all functioning together. Such power is potent but not aggressive, challenging but not shaming, grounded but not rigid, forceful but not pushy. Again, it requires head, heart, and guts in full-blooded alignment.”(Masters, 2015)
Why men lose connection to themselves.
In a culture that demands men to be strong and stoic the man box becomes the only way for men to feel like men. Without any kind of right of passage ceremonies that leads boys into healthy masculine communities, boys have to guess at how they want to show up in the world. After years of being shamed for showing emotions, expressing too much or, god forbid being vulnerable, young boys move into the box.
As this happens the ability to be a whole person is taken away from many men.
Being a whole person is being aware of the thoughts, emotions, sensations and instincts that make us who we are. Listening to all of this gives us the best chance at making good decisions, behaving wisely and stay in integrity.
When a man loses access to his instincts (gut) it is hard for him to know his purpose and sense in the world. When a man loses access to his emotions (heart) it is hard for a man to connect with the people he loves. This is the fracturing that happens for far too many men in our culture and it is what leads to toxic masculinity.
When a man can find his power and his tenderness he is on the road to a healthier manhood. Often we find the man who is removed from his power as a way of avoiding any chance at moving towards toxic aggression. It is true that, for some men, aggression is part of their shadow. Giving up our power isn’t the answer.
A healthy masculinity is grounded in the flexibility to be both in our tender heart and our power simultaneously.
This means stepping into the scary place of vulnerability. Without a willingness to be fully in our authentic truth we limit our capacity to fully connect with our partners and the people we love. For some men vulnerability means weakness and is avoided at all costs. It is this vulnerability that is the pathway to the deeper connection men crave.
Brené Brown, in her book Daring Greatly explains this so well.
“I know this is hard to believe, especially when we’ve spent our lives thinking that vulnerability and weakness are synonymous, but it’s true. I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow—that’s vulnerability. Love is uncertain. It’s incredibly risky. And loving someone leaves us emotionally exposed. Yes, it’s scary and yes, we’re open to being hurt, but can you imagine your life without loving or being loved? (Brown, 2012).
Nobody is going to argue that life would be fine without love. But the fear of showing ourselves in a vulnerable place is so uncomfortable that we flee from it and risk losing the what we desperately want.
This is what we men must realize. It isn’t any one part but all of the parts that come together to make us whole men. We must let go of trying to be the perception of a man in our culture and connect to our inner experience that is calling to us to be bravely authentic. In our authenticity we can let go of some idea of manhood and allow our true self to emerge.
How This Shows Up in My Life.
It is easy to write these words. It is difficult to live them. I find myself struggling at each edge of my life attempting to be aware of the discomfort of not being true to myself. I still shrink down in moments of being real with my partner and my children. I worry I will be perceived as weak. It happens so fast.
My commitment to the people I love demands that I continue to increase my awareness of these inner stories that pull me out of my tender heart and harden me to their emotional needs. These moments hurt everyone. I defend myself but in the end I am not really taking care of myself I’m only losing connection to the people I love.
When I sense this happening it is usually when I’m feeling attuned to myself and noticing my inner experience. I notice my shame come up when my wife brings up something I have done that hurt her. Immediately I want to close down and push her away. As this happens I often become dysregulated and unable to think clearly.
This is when the work I have done on myself really comes to the forefront. I’m able to slow down pull myself back into a more regulated place and begin to work towards reconnecting with my wife. I feel the desire and actual physical sensations that are pulling me into that closed space. Just noticing my chest or jaw tightening starts to soften my body. Instead of walling off the most important person in my life I can listen and be in her pain.
I wish I could say I catch it all the time…but I don’t. I’m still stuck in the man box conditioning and it is hard to get out of this each time. What I can say is that I have made a vow to myself that I will keep growing and working to be a better man every day. In this I feel like I’m doing the best I can.
If you or someone you know is struggling in relationship I encourage you to reach out.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!