A Discourse in Support of a Safe Place to Express Feelings ~ (For Men Only – It’s okay for women to sneak-a-peek and pass this along to YOUR man!)
Someone once said that women are the ones with feelings. Men are the thinkers and fixers.
Men have feelings too, however they often refuse to acknowledge them, much less talk about them; seldom to their spouse or significant other and especially not to other men. Most think it is a sign of weakness.
It is a sign of strength and of courage. Men who get in touch with their feelings can reinvent themselves. It opens up numerous possibilities. It is possible for a man to be tough AND tender!
Often men get caught up in the business of the day and when they arrive home, they express their feelings in unintentionally destructive ways by literally “dumping” on their significant other. This doesn’t work. The relationship can only go downhill from there.
For the most part, men have not been brought up to express their feelings at all, much less in a constructive way. Generally speaking, you can trace this behavior back several generations. Remember the song, “Big Boys Don’t Cry?” It should have been, “Big Boys Don’t Express Their Feelings.” Bet your grandfather didn’t. Most likely neither did your dad. He was probably the “rock;” the one who must be strong and not demonstrate his feelings lest he be seen as a weak man. Men are suppose to be macho. Oh, really? The truth is, most men lack the skills to express their feelings.
“But,” you say, “that is a woman thing.” Says who? The more you are in touch with how you really feel about things, the easier it is to communicate those feelings. I call this: getting totally honest with yourself!
Men are notoriously poor at cultivating and maintaining close friendships with other men. Often when you ask a man how many close friends he has, he will be at a loss to come up with more than one or two (if any at all).
Many times the people he will mention are the guys he gets together with over a beer to talk about the big game last Sunday or the other men he communicates with about business. Other men may talk about their childhood friends they no longer are in touch with. How sad. These are not the kind of close friendships with whom you can share your most intimate feelings. Intimate feelings? Is that scary, or what?
When we run from our feelings, they follow us… everywhere!
Feelings must be expressed. To stuff your most intimate feelings is to stay stuck with the feeling. What is the solution? How can you find a way to communicate your feelings in a way that feels safe and where you can always be assured of being heard?
One highly effective solution is to form your own “Men’s Support Community.” To be heard is to be healed. You learn to talk openly and honestly in an environment of absolute confidentiality where there are no rules about what or how you say what you need to say. The other men in the group only listen. No one offers advice. No solutions. The other men learn to suspend their judgments about what they think or feel about what you say. They are there to be your committed listener. Listening IS support.
Soooo… how does this help you? You get to “vent” all you want, anyway you want but this time without the destructive tones damaging the relationship you have with your significant other. Another way it helps is that you learn when you listen. You discover that you can benefit from the experiences of the other men.
You should have learned by now that a solution that you discover on your own rather than being told by someone else is almost always the better and most workable solution.
While it may be difficult for men to understand how only talking with no advice and solutions will work, I can assure you that after meeting and getting to know each other after about 6 to 10 weeks you will begin to notice a shift in the dynamics of the group — to say nothing about your attitude about expressing yourself fully.
To be listened to attentively feels good. Knowing that you have everyone’s full attention to how you feel can be a bit disarming for some men. In “Men’s Support Communities” I have been involved with, in the beginning most men experienced some level of discomfort in only being listened to without anyone offering solutions. Men are fixers, remember? This is not the expected way for men to be. Or is it? As the group spent more time together, the bonding that occurred worked its own miracle. Frequency assists in the bonding process.
Men can learn a very important lesson from fully participating in a group such as this. They learn to empathize with women who are often heard complaining, “He never listens to me!” Once men experience the committed listening of the group, they begin to feel more at ease in sharing their deepest concerns about their relationship, their work and their life with their spouse or significant other.
Most often this is the salvation for their personal relationship!
“Every man needs to bond with other men from the heart. He needs to fulfill his needs for intimacy with someone other than his lover, so she isn’t his only outlet for feeling. He needs mirrors of his own quest to understand his masculinity; soul buddies who can validate his journey like no woman ever can. Find a friend. Take off your mask. Show him who you really are.” ~ Barbara DeAngelis, Author of Real Moments
Guidelines for a “Men’s Support Community”
• Set a specific place, time and length of the meeting. Once a week in the same place, at the same time with a two hour maximum is recommended.
• Important: The effectiveness of the group is dependent upon each member’s total commmitment to making attendance at this weekly meeting a high priority. No commitment. No healing. If you cannot commit to be present at every meeting do not join the group. Obviously there will be an ocassional missed meeting because of family emergencies. Our group determined that family comes first. Other than family or you die, there were no excuses for not attending this life-changing meeting.
• Be on time. Better yet, arrive early and visit for a few minutes before the meeting officially begins. If someone is unavoidably late, do not stop to greet them, continue with the meeting. I once was late for a sales meeting and made the comment, “Better late than never,” to which the sales manager replied, “Better never late!” Lesson learned.
• It is wise for everyone to commit to meet for a minimum of 6 weeks in the beginning and at the end of that period you can all choose to extend your meetings at 6 week intervals. Our group eventually decided to meet indefinitely.
• A group of from 6 to 8 is most effective.
• Decide whether you want to have a closed group once the group reaches capacity. I am of the opinion that a closed group is a good idea. A new member introduced to the group after the group has been meeting for awhile may feel left out because the others in the group have already bonded. The older members will often feel the need to bring the new member up to speed. A closed group is recommended.
• Start the meeting promptly at the appointed time and end on time.
Eating, drinking, gum chewing, alcohol and recreational drugs all serve as distractions from feelings. Refrain from alcohol and recreational drugs the day of the meeting. No smoking.
• Refrain from giving advice and criticism. This is a must. If a member requests assistance, it is best to volunteer it at a private meeting between the two of you at another time. A phone call also works.
• Use “I” messages (e.g., I think, I feel, I believe, etc.) and all the listening skills you can muster.
• Confidentiality is paramount. This cannot be over emphasized. This includes talking to your spouse or significant other about who said what in the meeting. Nothing discussed in the meeting goes out of the room. If a confidentially breach is discovered is it wise to ask the guilty party to leave the group.
• No subject is taboo. The focus must be on expressing your thoughts and feelings about what is happening in your life. Remember, this is a “safety zone;” a place where you can say what needs to be said without the judgment of others and without the fear of anyone else speaking about it to their friends. Avoid chit-chat about the score of the big game or other less important stuff you can talk about at another time.
• During this meeting it is important to notice what it “feels” like to suspend your judgment about what someone is saying. This will free them up to speak whatever is on their mind. No “raised eyebrows” or “elbow nudging.” You are there for them only to be their committed listener.
• Always read the “Statement of Purpose & Intention” at the beginning of every meeting. Always. Resist the urge to dispense with this very important part of the ritual because you’ve “heard it before!” It must be an intergral part of every meeting. Since there is no leader of the group, it’s a good idea that each week the responsibility for reading the “Statement of Purpose & Intention” word-for-word be rotated. (See below).
This process – often called “The Talking Circle” – is designed after a simple yet powerful Native American tradition that we have found useful. A Talking Circle is based on the expectation that everyone participating has something to say and something to learn. This format can create a therapeutic group.
When one person talks, everyone listens. No interruptions and absolutely no advice given. There is no cross-talk; each person gets one opportunity to speak and only speaks at that time. This is a opportunity to say what you want to. You may choose to take a turn talking or not.
In the Native American tradition a feather or “Talking Stick” is passed from person to person. It is a tool used to let people speak their feelings in a group. It was usually made of wood (usually a long stick, 12 to 18 inches) and often decorated with feathers or ribbons, painted with colors or carved.
As a gimmick to call attention to who has the floor, when each man in the group took their turn to talk in the group I was in, they held a TV remote control. Somehow it made us feel at home and more in control. There may be some irony there, I think. Our version of the Talking Stick gave them the floor to speak. All present must hear you out.
A special note for women: (I knew you couldn’t resist reading something labeled “For Men Only! – Hee! Hee!) – The guidelines are the same for a “Women’s Support Community.” Women seem to have an intense need to offer advice and solutions in these groups. Generally speaking, men have this reputation, however it has been my experience that the opposite is true in “Women’s Support Communities.”
Most women in groups that have disbanded tell me that they did so because either one person tried to be the leader (or controller) of the group or the group could not resist the urge to offer advice and solutions. This is usually the death of the group. Sandy, my friend, was in a group that disolved for both of these reasons. A caution to women: offer no advice or solutions and let the group lead itself if you want your group to be an effective tool for healing.
It is wise to have same sex groups only. The only exception might be if there is a therapist present who can moderate or intervene in any disputes that may surface between couples. Generally speaking, mixed groups do not work as well.
The following Statement of Purpose & Intention is an extremely important part of each meeting. It helps center the group and brings each member of the group back to the intention of the group. Before each meeting begins, have someone volunteer to read the following to reinforce the reasons you are meeting.
Statement of Purpose and Intention
We have recognized a need in our lives for the support of a group of loving, caring friends. We have put aside this period of time to help each other with the emotional stresses of life. We agree to give these meetings an importance in our lives that we honor by making attendance a priority. It is our intention to create a place where we can collectively experience the value of self-discovery by giving and receiving support in a caring, understanding and respectful way.
In the process of receiving support we will speak honestly about our thoughts and feelings. By doing this we will create the freedom to explore our feelings without concern as to whether what we say is well thought out, or worded appropriately. In the process of giving support, we agree to listen in a non-judgmental fashion without interrupting, giving advice or suggesting solutions. By honoring the value of our own inner wisdom the healing we seek will occur.
We agree to keep in confidence all that is said during our meetings!
Next. . . someone reaches for the TV remote control and begins to talk. There is no time limit. Some men will choose to talk more, others less, but rarely not at all. If you finish early, adjourn the meeting.
Let the healing begin!
Larry’s NOTE: The above “Statement of Purpose and Intention” was written by my good friend, Michael Najarian, Personal Growth Productions.
A Special Message From Larry James
The miracles I have personally witnessed in “Men’s Support Communities” defies description. I’ve seen relationships on the brink of divorce, in time, totally healed. Some miracles take longer than others.
I’ve heard anger expressed, happiness, grief, concern, understanding, fear, acceptance, love; a myriad of feelings you seldom hear expressed by a man to other men.
I’ve heard deep, dark secrets revealed and when expressed in the confidence of men who were trusted friends, countenances changed the instant the news was out. The stress of withholding was at last relieved.
The support for a man whose wife died after losing a bout with cancer was incredible to behold.
How does this happen? These miracles are like trying to describe the flavor of an orange. You have to taste the fruit to know its flavor. In other words, you had to be there.
I challenge you to “be there!”
Copyright © 2015 – Larry James. This idea is adapted from Larry’s books, “How to Really Love the One You’re With: Affirmative Guidelines for a Healthy Love Relationship,” “LoveNotes for Lovers: Words That Make Music for Two Hearts Dancing” and “Red Hot LoveNotes for Lovers.” Larry James is a professional speaker, author, relationship coach and an award winning nondenominational Wedding Officiant. He performs the most “Romantic” wedding ceremony you will find anywhere. Something NEW about relationships is posted every 4th day on this Relationships BLOG.
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