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Men's Groups

Stages in the Group's Life: The Beginning

from Talking with Our Brothers

Copyright © 1995 by George Taylor


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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.

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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