THE BENEFITS OF MEN'S GROUPS
As I have mentioned, much of the effect of the negative conditioning which
men receive in our intensive maculine training programs could be
summarized in one word: isolation--isolation from our partners, from our
spiritual lives, from our families, our hopes and passions, from our
Fortunately consistent participation in a men's group works a spell of
magic on our tendency to isolate. This process begins when men make the
commitment to regularly attend group meetings, and it continues for as
long as the group has cohesion and trust between the members. I have seen
men three and four years into a small group together still shedding
layers of armoring and mistrust to reveal deep wounds and truths.
Several years ago one of my men's groups went on an overnight camping trip
together. We told each other our life histories. Our goal was to hear and
see each other in newer, deeper ways. Many tears were shed when men told
parts of their stories that they had not told to other men before, and
felt the group honor their private lives and secrets.
Such a deepening experience sends a great ripple through a group; men's
needs for deep intimacy are touched, as well as their fears of being
hurt. This dual result showed itself in the group a few weeks later. A
man named Fred expressed to the group his need for support, and how
little empathy he felt from the other men.
His way of communicating his disappointment and anger was oblique. He
said, "It's curious to me that you guys don't walk your talk. I wonder
what that is about. No one has called me, even though I put out strongly
last week that I was hurting, with my business being so slow and the
bills piling up. Are we trying to connect only here in this room or do we
try to carry this out into the world.?"
Immediately, another man said, "Why do I feel guilty when I hear your
Fred responded quickly, "I'm just asking a question. I'm not blaming." I
looked around the group and could tell that not everyone agreed with him.
Fred had put his finger on an important topic which comes up over and
over in men's groups; How do we carry our experiments in truthtelling out
into the world? I have taken part in many discussions about the
difference between telling the truth in your group about how someone's
coments effected you, and telling your supervisor on the job the same
But Fred was also expressing his disappointment indirectly. He was not
able that night to talk honesstly about his deeper feelings, and the
group ended on a discordant, anxious note. But the next meeting, Fred was
more vulnerable. He said, "I realized in the last week that I was trying
to express my own disappointment. I feel so needy now, with my business
problems, and it's hard to admit that. It was easier to be angry with you
for not meeting my needs. And of course, that's a projection from my
father, who so rarely could listen to me."
The group and I relaxed as Fred revealed his inner experience. As other
men talked about the same need for nurturing and support, we healed the
anxious disconnected feeling from the week before. We had practiced a new
way to resolve conflict--through truthtelling and forgiveness--and felt
the reward for that courageous action.
Fred's insight into his own process inspired me, and the interchange also
helped me to see just how deep our conditioning is. This group had been
intact for three years at this point, and members still carried their
anger as a protective shield. The good news is that members could see and
feel their protectiveness--how they reacted to Fred's anger with guilt,
and with anger of their own. Bringing awareness and intention to such
feelings and patterns of reaction begins the process of change, of
warming up those numb defended parts of ourselves so we can make better
choices when we respond to people.
This vignette is an example of one of the many ways that groups help
support human growth and awareness.