Having spent a year and a half in a men’s group, and now co-leading my own, I’ve seen enough to begin recognizing several patterns that make the difference between those that thrive and those that flounder in this environment. I can also easily sense the dramatic difference in the quality of my own experience when I choose to heed this advice, versus the times when I don’t.
I’ve watched men grow from meek and anxious to grounded and confident, divulge their darkest secrets, end/begin/redefine relationships, change careers and have breakthrough insights into the ways they operate. I have also watched them retreat into the prison of their minds and unconsciously resist the lessons that the other men had to offer them. And I have done the same.
If the former sounds like what you’re after, here are 5 things to keep in mind to get the most out of your time in a men’s group:
Trust the process. Give it time.
A men’s group has a very different climate than “hanging with the boys”. If probing behind the scenes of your psyche isn’t already an established habit – especially in the company of strictly men – it may take a few months to adjust.
In daily life, our inner dimensions are rarely put in the spotlight. Most of us are accustomed to superficial conversation. We banter over external matters like work, sports, politics, women and movies, while cautiously dancing around the tender, subliminal underbelly of our emotional and spiritual lives.
Not in a men’s group. It will be the polar opposite.
You will get an honest measure of your self-esteem. Your word will be tested.
It will also take a while for you to clearly see all the ways that you will be provoked. How you feel about speaking out in groups, revealing vulnerabilities, handling confrontation, as well as simply being in the company of men, are just a few aspects of yourself that will be magnified up front.
You will encounter the subtle ways in which you calculate to gain approval and avoid disapproval. You will get an honest measure of your self-esteem. Your word will be tested.
This is a major purpose of the container created by the group.
As the on-point cliché goes: “Wherever you go, there you are.” The group is an amplified mirror for how you show up in life as a whole. Bring sharp attention to the reflexes of your mind, emotions and general behaviour. What situations or comments make you uncomfortable, and why? Are you afraid to speak up? Are you obsessed about what others are thinking about you? Are you frequently judging the group and the guys in it?
Extend Yourself. Step Into The Arena.
This could be the most important point: You’ll get out what you put in.
If you sit on the sidelines and silently spectate, don’t expect to extract much value from your experience. Whether it’s because you’re an arrogant, narcissistic bastard or a self-deprecating wallflower, the cost of withholding yourself is the same. You’ll be perpetually frustrated and the patterns in your life will never really shift.
Imagine the mouth as a dam. If you open it up and let your raw contents flow from the inside to the outside, powerful growth is inevitable. But keep it shut and you’ll stubbornly exile yourself to the festering pond of your own mind. And what’s the point in that? So give your real self or don’t bother showing up at all.
Trust the men. Drop your guard.
You can’t support someone if their guard is up, because they won’t truly feel or hear what you have to say. It won’t be able to seep into their deeper crevices and truly affect them. So, as you’re ready, expose your vulnerabilities and admit that you’re a little fucked up and have something to learn, because we all do.
Everyone in the room will share a mutual interest in your growth and evolution. Ditch the fear of being judged as stupid, messed up, “a pussy”, or whatever your ego’s favourite brand of “undesirable and insufficient” is. Know that the men in the group have your back. They can handle anything you have to put on the table.
They won’t see who you were, but only who you are now. Because of that, they will be able to see you more clearly than you can see yourself. Their feedback will always be intended as positive stimulus for growth and reflection.
Amidst a culture so steeped in political correctness and the preposterous phenomena of #triggerwarnings, we’re not used to our mind and personality being confronted and challenged with “fiery compassion”. In daily life, it’s most common for people to make silent observations about another person’s way of being and never voice to them constructive criticism or provide honest feedback. A men’s group is a safe space to practice just that.
You also have something to teach the group. Your presence and the contents of your life will serve the other men in ways that will surprise you. They can only receive that gift if you open up to share it.
Give advice based on experience, or don’t bother.
We’re all in this to support each other, but nobody cares about the Tony Robbins quote that you think best applies to the situation. Trust me. If you don’t have relevant, real world life experience to speak from when providing feedback on someone’s share in the group, it’s usually best to hold your tongue. You’ll earn respect by not spouting hot air, as well as conserve your own energy.
However, choosing to simply voice how you see yourself in their situation, or providing a quick insight into their thought process based on a personal connection with them, are both fine.
The chief task of most modern men in this situation is to practice catching themselves when speaking too much from their intellectual mind and re-grounding their focus in the body. Too much speculation and hypothesizing diffuses the energy in the room and disorients the group. Stick with the facts and your somatic experience.
Report Your Mind.
You’re bound to have something come up around a particular guy, or the group in general. The most common behavioural reflex in these situations is to shut down and get lost in the mind (the story of my life).
No one is forcing you to stay, but realize that if you choose to leave without communicating what’s up for you, you’re likely missing out on a massive learning opportunity, as well as a chance to deepen your experience after vaporizing the repelling force created by your secret thoughts. And how can anything change if you never speak up for what you want to experience? Where else in your life have you run or quit because something made you uncomfortable, or didn’t measure up to some mental ideal?
Developing a healthy suspicion of one’s own mind is the mark of a mature, awakened individual.
This same principle is at work in our intimate relationships.
The mind is a valuable tool, but also a generator of a useless stream of judgments and resentments. Developing a healthy suspicion of one’s own mind is the mark of a mature, awakened individual.
Take your resentments as an opportunity to learn something about yourself and a chance to practice bold communication. I’ve seen men that choose to withhold their judgments and those that choose to speak up. If they don’t, they inevitably drive a wedge between themselves and the group, or their partners, or their family and friends. It’s only a matter of brief time before they push themselves away and cut ties. All because they were afraid to be honest and test themselves.
We choose to hold back because we don’t have the courage to speak our truth, or we’re so attached to being right about our judgments that we cut ourselves off from reality – unable to see what we’re doing, or why we’re doing it.
A subliminal fear of the potential conflict or disapproval that our true feelings might be met with is often the root of withholding. Pushing through this is a key practice in becoming your most authentic, empowered self.
With that in mind, I hope to see you in the brotherhood sometime soon. But wherever your journey takes you, I wish you well.
Really great post Chris. In my view, should be “mandatory” reading for anyone new to men’s work and the Brotherhood.
My two big take-aways were:
1. “The chief task of most modern men in this situation is to practice catching themselves when speaking too much from their intellectual mind and re-grounding their focus in the body. Too much speculation and hypothesizing diffuses the energy in the room and disorients the group. Stick with the facts and your somatic experience.”
2. “A subliminal fear of the potential conflict or disapproval that our true feelings might be met with is often the root of withholding. Pushing through this is a key practice in becoming your most authentic, empowered self.”
I am only reading this now in Sept 2018
This is a very well written post and I am very impressed with it
Congratulations on your own personal growth