CHAPTER 7: Stages in the Group's Life: The Beginning
We will always find the first meetings of a group exciting, frightening,
and challenging. We come together bringing all our fears from
past men's events (fraternity hazings, army drinking parties,
high school football) where we were hurt or maybe shamed for being
vulnerable. All these painful episodes and memories reside somewhere
in the room when we meet. As much as we want to let go of these
memories, we will also want to control group process, so we don't
have to be vulnerable until we build up some trust.
When I began leading groups, I wanted to be in control, so that
the group would work "right", and so that the members
would get the "proper" experience. What that meant,
of course, was I was afraid to be vulnerable and say when I didn't
know what to do next. I needed to appear "together,"
so I could stay safe. In this phase of my leadership I thought
I had to manage the group carefully, so that members would feel
good about the group. (And thus I could feel good about myself.)
Over time, I learned to trust group process and the members more.
I began to let go, to let the group take care of itself, in terms
of deciding on and doing activities, and even in intervening with
and making comments to other members. But most important, I let
go of holding myself back from the group, and of attempting to
create a positive image of myself in their eyes. I started sharing
my own life events more in the group, my thoughts, doubts, and
feelings while I was with them.
Because of my belief in the importance of men's community, I realized
I had to be in the group more, instead of playing the role of
a therapist-observer. This is also an issue of timing. After the
group has built up cohesion and trust between group members and
between members and leaders, the time is ripe for more personal
sharing by the facilitator.
And I know that whenever I join a group or a project, I am anxious,
and this anxiety shows itself in different ways. I want to please
the other members of the group, and sometimes I make jokes to
diffuse my own fear. All of us, in the beginning stages of a group,
will resort to old defensive patterns to keep people away, to
control how vulnerable we will become.
One time several years ago, my men's group interviewed a new man.
The whole evening he was there, he spent drawing a picture on
a big pad in his lap. Finally one of the other members said, "Tim,
what are you doing..." Tim said, "Oh just trying to
sketch out some ideas I had about...." Needless to say, we
were not impressed with his willingness to be present and didn't
invite him to stay.
I use this example because we all resist intimacy in some way.
Men will ask a thousand questions before they commit to a group,
and most of the questions revolve around one or two central issues:
Will I get hurt? Will the group love and accept me if I really
show myself? If the group can talk about these issues in depth,
great awareness and transformation can occur.
I have begun here in Chapter 7 with a group of exercises designed
to help the group get started with clear intentions and a clear
vision, with some simple group activities (mostly discussions),
and with brief rituals to open and close the group. This section
of exercises could take six to ten meetings to complete, since
the discussion questions raised in the Group Topics exercises
could each take a two-hour meeting or more to complete. I recommend
taking time on each one, until members feel in accord with the
vision of the group and their intentions to explore psychological
dynamics that will inevitably emerge in a group.