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Men's Groups

Exercises for Plateaus and Problems

Exercises from Talking with Our Brothers


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Courage to Love
Geo and his wife Deborah have s a Courage to Love Web site on relationships
George and Deborah

CHAPTER 9: Exercises for Plateaus and Problems

1. Group Clearing Discussion

2. Telling the Honest Truth Discussion

3. Creating and Avoiding Intimacy Discussion

4. Group Rules, Group Taboos Discussion

5. Important Group Topics, Revisited Discussion

Group Creation

6. Important Group Topics, Revisited Discussion

Personal Dynamics

7. Connection with the Group Creative Arts

Title Group Clearing

Type Discussion

Description

Group members clear any withheld communications from each other, within a format that contributes to safety, honesty, and personal growth. This exercise helps men practice the important skills of truthtelling and conflict resolution.

Steps

1. The group leader starts the group in the usual way.

2. Through a visualization, group members are asked to determine if there are any unexpressed withheld communications with any other members. For example, the group leader can say, "Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths. Picture each man in the group, and feel your connection with him. Do you feel open to him? If you feel closed to someone, ask yourself, 'Is this okay with me? Do I feel some pain about this separation? Is there anything which I need to say to feel closer or more connected to this man?"

3. The group leader explains the format for sharing. (Steps 4-9)

4. One member who is withholding says the name of the man he needs to talk to. These two men face each other.

5. The first man asks permission to tell his truth.

6. If the responder says yes, then the man states his communication, his feelings, and the effect of the withhold on their relationship.

7. The man listening asks for clarification and says, "Is there anything else you need to tell me?" If so, the first man tells it.

8. When the first man feels complete, he says so.

9. Then the second man responds, in a non-blaming, responsible way.

10. When the men feel complete, another pair can enter the circle and follow the same procedure.

11. The group leader ends the group in the usual way.

Comments

This exercise should be done with the intention of cleaning up communication blocks and creating more intimacy. The consent and intention of the parties are critical. The leader's role is to provide safety and help the men stay within the guidelines that they have agreed upon. This model can also work for someone who has trouble with the group itself: its format, style, communications, etc.

This exercise was suggested by Eric Grabow, Berkeley, CA.

Title Telling the Honest Truth

Type Discussion

Description

This exercise gives men another safe structure or framework for speaking deep truth to members of in the group.

Steps

1. The group leader starts the group in the usual way.

2. One man volunteers. One at a time each man tells him what he likes about him.

3. After the group finishes, the man responds about how it felt to hear positive descriptions about himself.

4. Then the group makes another round, giving the man honest feedback about personality traits or behaviors that he might want to work on, ways he defends against intimacy, and advice or support for particular issues.

5. After the group has finished with this round of feedback, the man responds.

6. Then whole group talks briefly about the members' own experiences talking and listening in this way.

7. Optional: The leader can have another man go through the process that same night; or wait for the next meeting.

Comments

This potentially powerful exercise needs a leader who will encourage honesty that is not attacking, but not falsely nice either. It is valuable to observe the man receiving feedback. Is he breathing in a shallow way? (This can indicate a defense against deep feeling.) Groups members can encourage him to breathe deeper and to tell the truth.

This exercise was suggested by Ron Chicione, Palo Alto, CA.

Title Creating and Avoiding Intimacy in the Group

Type Discussion

Description

This exercise shows men clearly how they reach out to other men, and how they resist them. We need constant practice in understanding these two habits.

Steps

1. The leader for the night starts the group in the usual way.

2. He starts a simple visualization activity. "Close your eyes, sit up straight or lie down. Breathe slowly into the body. Let yourself think about the way you have interacted with the men tonight, in greeting them, in joining with them in the circle, in carpooling, etc. Feel yourself reaching out to them, or holding back from them. How did you reach out to men, and how did you hold yourself back?

Concentrate on one interaction with a man. How did you feel? What did your voice sound like to you? Were you leaning towards, or holding yourself away from him? Did you make eye contact? What unconscious habits of connecting were you using?"

3. "Now go back a little further in time. How are these habits familiar to you from other times during which you are trying to connect with people? How did you learn to connect this way? Do you remember any incidents from childhood in which you acted this way? What part of your personality do you generally share with people? What part do you hold back?"

4. "Now bring yourself back into the room. Feel your feet on the floor. Take a few more breaths and rejoin the room."

5. Each man takes several minutes to share the patterns which he saw in himself. He can invite others to give him feedback about his connection with them.

6. Optional: In Chapter Eight, Going Deeper, there are exercises on playing out parts of the personality. Many inner characters show up when we meet other men: the pleaser, the ingratiator, the one who wants to impress, etc. Some creative drama with these inner characters can be very revealing.

7. The group leader closes the group in the usual way.

Comments

This is a great exercise for either starting the group (in the first few meetings) or later, after the group has been meeting for a while. The patterns of intimacy and defendedness that show up here will be the same patterns that each man uses in other relationships. Awareness helps them to change.

Title Group Rules, Group Taboos

Type Discussion

Description

This exercise helps men to understand the practices which have developed in the group. They can then decide if they want to continue them, or change them.

Steps

1. The leader for the night starts the group in the usual way.

2. He uses the simple visualization process. "Close your eyes, sit up straight or lie down. Breathe slowly into the body. Let yourself think and feel, what are the rules that we follow in this group? What are the conscious and unconscious rules which dictate the ways that we will act together? Which of these rules do you like, do you think are important, or would you never break?

3. "What are the rules that you break subtly, or that you hate to follow? How do you break them? What does this say about the way you were trained to be in a group or a family? What other rules do you like to break?"

4. Optional: "What are the rules which you think are the most important? When do you experience the group at its best? What rules or agreements help support this positive experience?"

5. "Now bring yourself back into the room. Feel your feet on the floor. Take a few more breaths and rejoin the room."

6. Then each man takes several minutes to share the patterns which he saw in himself.

7. When each man is finished, the group can talk over what rules they want to keep and which they want to throw out. (This can be a lengthy process which takes more than one meeting.)

8. The leader closes the group in the usual way.

Comments

Life is constructed with rules, taboos and conscious and unconscious agreements. Being aware of these rules, and how we create them, can help us change them. In a group a few years ago, one man was moving a lot and eating some peanuts, while we discussed the issue of "evil", what is it and how do we manifest it. He got feedback from others in the group that he was irritating them, and finally he said, "This topic makes me really nervous. I'm sorry if I couldn't be more direct with you. But I have seen evil and it makes me very scared."

Title Important Group Discussion Topics

Group Creation

Type Discussion

Description

These exercises help men to talk about group agreements and understandings. Agreement about these topics creates a set of benchmarks that group members can refer back to as the group continues. The discussion of such core topics creates group safety and cohesion.

Steps

1. The leader for the night starts the group in the usual way.

2. He starts a group discussion by asking one of the following questions.

A. Group Creation: What kind of group do I want to be in? (You can refer to Chapter 4 and 5 for possible answers.)

B. Commitment: What is my commitment to the group: time, attention, etc.? Will I make group participation a priority?

C. Leadership: What kind of leadership do I want in the group? Am I willing to be a leader? Will I be willing to deal with my issues about leadership in an

honest, non-blaming way?

3. Men go around the circle and answer whichever question the group leader has recommended.

4. Open dialogue can follow after the whole group has commented on a question.

4. The leader closes the group in the usual way.

Comments

In Chapter Nine: Stages of the Group, Plateaus and Problems, I bring up these same questions again, because the group is always working with them. The discussions on this page should take two to three weeks, if each question is investigated deeply. Care taken here will help solve a lot of questions and problems that can come up later in the group.

Title Important Group Discussion Topics

Personal Dynamics

Type Discussion

Description

These exercises help men to talk about personal dynamics which will emerge as the group meets. The open discussion of such core group topics creates safety and cohesion.

Steps

1. The leader for the night starts the group in the usual way.

2. He starts a group discussion by asking one of the following questions.

A. Greatest Fear: What is my greatest fear in this group? What might go wrong that would hurt me?

B. Creating and Avoiding Intimacy: What method would I use to stay isolated from the group? (Humor, sarcasm, criticism of others, spacing out, not coming.)

C. Family Patterns: What family patterns do I feel are evoked by my participation in the group?

D. Dominance: Who dominates the airtime in the group? What is he talking about during this time? How do the group members feel at these times? Interested, passive, angry, bored?

E. Truthtelling: Are men committed to truthtelling instead of blaming? Are they willing to practice being self-responsible?

3. Men go around the circle and answer whichever question the group leader has recommended.

4. Open dialogue can follow after the whole group has commented on a question.

5. The leader closes the group in the usual way.

Comments

These particular activities require men to talk about the inner experience of the group, and it asks the members to be vulnerable and non-blaming. In Chapter Nine: Stages of the Group, Plateaus and Problems, I bring up these same questions again, because the group is always working with them. These discussions should take several weeks, if each question is investigated deeply. Care taken here will help solve a lot of questions and problems that can come up later in the group.

Title Connection with the Group

Type Creative Arts

Description

This movement exercise helps men talk about how connected they feel with the group. It creates a dialogue which develops group intimacy.

Steps:

1. The leader for the night starts the group in the usual way.

2. The leader then puts an object in the middle of a large circle which represents the group.

3. He then asks the men to arrange themselves in the room spatially in a way that describes how close they feel to the group members and to the group process. Are they engaged, interested, committed? If they feel connected, they should stand close to the center, and if they feel disconnected, they should stand at the edges of the room.

4. The men should take a few minutes to move to the place that feels the most accurate to them. It is okay to move around into different spaces, but eventually they should settle on one.

5. After each man has finished, the leader can start a discussion on these questions: What does each man feel in the different positions? What do the men in different positions want to say to each other? What would it take for the men to change positions, either move in closer to the group or move away?

6. Optional: The group can make another circle, in which each man positions himself where he wants to be in relation to the group. The same questions can be asked as in step 5, plus these: What prevents you from creating the group as you want it to be?

7. The leader closes the group in the usual way.

Comments

These patterns of closeness and distance show up in work and relationship, and often go back to family of origin issues of inclusion and exclusion. We want to blame others for the way we create these patterns. The empowerment here comes when we see our own role in the process, and to take responsibility for the way we want it to be.

These activities are taken from a longer chapter in Talking with Our Brothers, about activities which you can use when your group appears to be stagnating or having communication problems. Sorry, the book is currently out of print. E-mail me if you eant to be notified if it is again available.

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