men's coach

Why You're Going to Have to Change

He came to me sobbing. His wife had cheated on him. His career was spiraling out of control. His drinking had gone from every-so-often to almost all the time. His faith life had failed him. Bottom line, he was disintegrating fast.

This man had been one of my best friends for years. We had gone to concerts together, started businesses together, and been in the same social circles. But, I hadn’t known the pain he was in.

The worst part, he confided in me, was that he wasn’t sure if he actually even wanted THOSE THINGS—the job, the spouse, the spiritual community. Here’s what I told him—”You probably haven’t wanted those things for a long time—and you’ve been half-assing it, and pulling back to prove it.”

He looked confused for a moment and then nodded, “I guess that’s true. But what should I do?”

I told him with absolute certainty, “You’re going to have to change.”

It is difficult--but not impossible--to rewrite your story; your way of being in this world.

Of course who you are seems so instinctual, so automatic.  And that is exactly what it is--a rather downloaded way of living. But character--who you are--is actually the sum total of HOW you are. Which means change is possible, if you're practical.

Why did that man, my friend “have to change?”

Because he was miserable. And he was making everyone around him miserable. He had assembled the life he thought he wanted, as many of us do in our early twenties, only to realize it was hardly his basic desire.

Rather than challenge himself to shift, he simply kept up the pretense and waited for everyone else to act in a response. He wanted his wife to make the decision—and she did. He wanted his employers to make the choices—and they did. He wanted a passive life, and that is exactly what he had. He was constantly being acted on.

I talk a lot with men who want to get back control in their life. They’re tired of being pushed around. They ache because being the one holding all the plates in the air. But if they want out of this position, they’re going to have to change their way of being.

MASCULINE ARCHETYPE

According to one of the father’s of modern psychology, Carl Jung, the collective unconscious consists of instinctual and universal thought patterns that humans developed over thousands of years of evolution. Jung called these primal imprints on our being “archetypes.”

For Jung, archetypes form the foundation of all individual experience. You could be a wealthy and soficisticated stock broker in New York or a bushman in Sub-Saharan Africa—Jung would argue that no matter who you are, you have the same archetypal behaviors embedded within you.

Jung believed that we most readily saw these archetypes of human behavior come to the surface in the conscious mind through symbols, rituals, and myths. As later mythologists would argue, these patterns and concepts of archetypes help us understand why there are so many commonalities in various world myths and rituals. For example, the dying/resurrecting God figure can be found in the stories and myths of ancient Greeks, ancient Sumerians, Christians, and Native Americans.

So too, Masculine and feminine archetypes are in each one of us. These principles transcend genitals, or sex types like male and female. These two archetypes simply are ways of encoding the world, and have been so for thousands of years. It is wrapped up in mythology and how cultures have storied their reality. We often turn a blind eye to these ancient messages, and consider them as outdated or ignorant, but they were saying something, both then and now. Their symbols are tied up in how we think and operate, and we do well to pay attention to them.

In archetypal langues “The Feminine,” often perceived as a goddess or an energetic force, is wild and raw. She is filled with passion and non-directionality. She is the ocean. She is an ever shifting flow of energy going where she wants. She is powerfully emotive. She is vitality and life. The Feminine is also associated with nurturance, softness, and gentility. Whenever a person inhabits these places they are connecting with the feminine.

The Masculine is the polarity of this. It is directional energy. It is purposeful, ordered, and sculptured. It is the Earth. It is emotive also—but as aggression, intensity, and decisiveness. The masculine is also secondary. Meaning that traditional cultures understood that the Feminine force is stronger, interestingly enough (while we won’t explore that in detail now, its worth noting). In fact part of the masculine’s work was to cut away from the Feminine. This was depicted in stories as Male deities slaying Female ones, or male heroes cutting down monstrous females. Of course we could take this at face value and find a rip-roaring example of “The Patriarchy” here, or understand that they were symbolizing the journey of development for the Masculine in their culture. Part of the work of the masculine is always to “shove off from” or “cut away out of” the soft comfort of the feminine.

If a man has becoming comfortable, attached to his sweet way of living, and wishes little disturbance on it, but also feels directionless and purposeless, we might accurately say he is over-connecting with the Feminine, and not with The Masculine (the same might also be said for a woman).

One of the assumptions I have of most males in culture today is that they are addicted to comfort and security and know little of purpose. This imbalance is driven by an overabundance (and over-emphasis) of Feminine archetypes, and insufficient road maps into the Masculine ones.

In order to progress men need understand a certain kind of change-initiation happens. They need to tap into this most basic of Masculine core archetypal movements.

I’m going to spell out how change occurs. This may be helpful, because it make concrete exactly what any of the Masculine (and purposeful) archetypes require of us.

If we want to change who we are we must change how we are.

HERE’S THE METHOD

(new)intension -----> (new) decision -----> (new)action -----> (new) habit -----> (new) character.

Think of someone who is an unconfident slob. He's overweight. His clothes are baggy. He slouches in his chair. He grumbles about everything. He's the perpetual negative nancy or naysayer. His self esteem is in the pits.  Here's the thing...I've been there.

When I was thirteen, entering into 8th grade, I was having all kinds of problems with school--and among other things I was failing English.  That summer my parents got a call. The school wanted to put me in a special English class.  I was against it. I didn't want to be sidelined--even if I was a loser, a failure.  Then the truth dropped. They wanted to put me in a self-directed Honors English class.  They didn't think I was poor at English at all.  They thought I was fantastic, and wanted me to explore that gift.  My entire self-image begin to change over the course of that year. By the end, I believed myself to be somewhat exceptional.  My behaviors and beliefs collided into a whole new way of being.

Go back to our slob. Here's his path...

Intend--literally envision who he WANTS to be, who he believes he is capable of being.  Decide--commit his will power to becoming what he believes he might already be. Then adopt new behaviors.  Change his posture. Stand straighter. Lose some weight. Get a new hair cut. Put a different wardrobe on. Invite him to engage in conversation rather than run from it. Teach him self-regulation where he can manage his anxiety through different breathing techniques and thought patterns. Watch as people begin to see him differently. Watch his confidence grow. Watch it become second nature. Watch new habits crystalize after repetition. Interact with a whole new character.

This is a really crass illustration. But I've watched it happen. At times I've lived it. The trick is in the first three steps...INTENTION. DECISION. ACTION.

You don't have to be the person you are today. Change is not only possible. It's practical.

Our character is defined by our habits....anything you do all the time is who you are.

Across the years I’ve struggled with this, around addiction, self-centeredness, deceit and self-righteousness especially. I’ve developed, like all of us, coping skills to avoid pain in the moment—but really just make things worse in the long run, for me and others. However, when blind spots become apparent, I want to be responsive to the work. To actually bringing my best intentions to bear. If I want to change these aspects of myself then shaming myself and blaming myself or others really isn’t going to help, is it? What will? Work. Designing a life that is impervious to addictive patterns, becoming relentlessly honest with those closest to me, letting go of ego, and doing things for others. The opposite of the character I have often portrayed is exactly what is called for!! It’s not about wishing and hoping, it’s about willing and working at it. 

BALANCE

One of the earliest sets of myths we have comes to us from ancient Sumeria, The Epic of Gilgamesh. This is a significant set of stories for many reasons. First, it is incredibly old—going back to what we might call the “dawn of civilization” and reflects just what our ancestors transitioning out of hunter-gatherer cultures thought and saw in their world. Second (and I feel to be most important), the Sumerian culture was the front line of this transition. They were really the initial experiment of moving from nomadic to sedentary cultures, from connected to soil and seasons, to toiling by the plow and enforced labor rituals. Truly, their early reflections upon those moments holds great significance for the human experience.

The Epic of Gilgamesh has within it two intriguing characters, who play small roles in the shaping of the central hero, Gilgamesh. Their names are Lilith and Enikudu. Obviously Lilith goes on to achieve much greater fame in feminist literature. Enikudu recedes into relative anonymity. However, they’re both worth mentioning here.

Lilith is noteworthy because she is said to be a dark maiden who builds her house within a sacred tree, along with a serpent. The hero Gilgamesh goes to slay the serpent and Lilith then abandons the tree and flees into the wild where she takes up her home.

Enkidu is actually far more complex and developed as a character. He is said to be a wild and hairy man, in tune with the animals and committed to freeing them from those who would capture them. His path is that of becoming ensnared by the villagers who sedate and seduce him through plying him with wine, bread, and sex (about right, all things considering). Eventually he is tamed. He cuts his hair and begins to live as a domesticated male.

What is fascinating is that this story includes a witness to the people of the Wild—those who are undomesticated and unbroken by the yoke of civilization. These characters represent our primal and archetypal Masculine and Feminine spirits. And they both have lessons to teach us. Enkidu’s story is truly a heartbreaking one and reminds us how our primal nature can be caged, in part, thanks to our primal appetites. It suggests that the Masculine can be drawn into a prison, of its own choosing. Security and stability, along with the need for provision are a snare that ancient peoples understood was working upon them. Lilith’s story helps us to remember that the Feminine’s instinct is to create a safety also from within a wild place, alongside of wisdom (as represented by the serpent—an ancient symbol for wisdom in that culture). However, when hunted down and terrified, can retract and often disappear altogether, becoming a wound and a shadow to us.

In total the appearance of these two characters helps us know that the counter-balance to the civilized and enslaving elements of the world is actually a Wild and Free vision of the Masculine and Feminine. There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t need a balance between The Masculine and Feminine. This is the dynamic of living WILD & FREE. We need BOTH. Men especially, in this current evolution are being inundated with aspects of the sacred Feminine—empathetic emotionality, BEING (as opposed to doing), and softness. These are important, but not outside of the masculine edge also. But committing to active change we literally push ourselves into that masculine edge.

Here’s why that matters—because, going back to my friend, if we’re ever going to be happy, we’re going to have to start making decisions that are congruent with our actual intentions. Not what we imagine others would want. Not what we hope for. Not what posterity is demanding—no….Decisions out of who we are. And that kind of directionality is us, connecting with the Masculine again. But it’s also us connecting to happiness once more.

It’s easy to divorce ourselves from our depths—from those parts of ourselves that are connected to intention and being. We do so when persecuted, when sedated, when afraid, and when seduced. We do so when external forces act upon us, and when internal insecurities are exploited. However, in order to change and go forward we must make a commitment to attach to both truths within us.

Maybe its time to re-write your story. Maybe you need to find that part deepest within yourself in order to change, or become the man you were made to. Give it a try?

 

 

The Weaker Sex

Listen to the main stream media today, or an activist gender’s studies professor, and you’ll quickly be slammed in the face with the idea that the current eco-system of culture is one dominated by men, and male oppression. The good ole boy’s network and rape culture are synonymous with simply being a man in the world, it is said.

Once, I taught a grad school class of would be counselors on the topic of male psychology. They were mostly females, consistent with the general trend in that field. I asked them to explore the stereotypes that came to their mind when they thought of men and boys. Without much thought the board was populated with words such as “bully” “oppressor” “hero complex” “broken” “asshole” “liar” “scary” and “violent.” These were the views that they had downloaded and developed across six years of college and graduate school. I was stunned. While I had anticipated some negative perception, I hadn’t considered that the overwhelming majority would be characterized by this. Now remember, this class was less than a year a way from becoming your sons next mental health counselor. These opinions are  those belonging to the now-gate keepers for what is deemed “mentally healthy” or “normal” in our society. For them, as for many today, being born a man is something akin to the old religious concept of “original sin,” a hopeless and fated destiny to violate and victimize, but without the accompanying vision of necessary redemption. Whatever religion once was, at least it offered a way for redemptive justice. Post-religious and secular society simply punctuates their sinners with an eternal damnation. Why? Because there is the notion that in fact men are the stronger sex, the ones benefiting from a rigged system, and the ones in complete control.

To be honest, I get that. I really do. At first blush it could appear that way.

However, the landscape of what it means to be a "male" in the United States is changing. People unfamiliar with the research and the actual numbers may completely miss that it is Men who are somewhat on the decline.There are actually many researchers who say that it's not just men in the US, or even human's alone, that are experiencing a decline in the Y chromosome. One scientist stated that species wide the Y genetic marker is literally disappearing! Yes that’s right, from bullfrog’s to elephants, their Y is shrinking. And even if that's not the case, when we scratch beneath the surface its apparent  that worldwide something is truly changing. The surge of differing opinions on the cause points to a remarkable complexity about where this is all coming from, but the simple fact remains, in a truly sublime reversal: Men have become the WEAKER sex.

Consider the Facts

  • Males are more likely to be born premature, blind, autistic, color blind and develop early hearing loss.

  • Boys are 3x more likely to be placed in special education or disability services.

  • Boys have lower GPA’s and lower test scores in every major subject than girls

  • Boys constitute 60% of highschool drop-outs

  • Women now earn over 60% of college degrees

  • As of 2008 men were the minority in Ivy League institutions

  • Men earn fewer than 40% of graduate degrees

  • Childless men earn an average of 10% less than women in 147 out of 150 major US cities

  • The median earnings for men has remained the same since 1970, compared to sharp gains for women in similar fields.

  • 50%of men of color between 16-24 are unemployed

  • 35% of men of color will spend time in prison

  • Health care prevention spending is double for women than men (an example is $394 million in prostate cancer research versus $710 million for breast cancer, with a higher projected number to be diagnosed).

  • The average life expectancy for men is 69.8 compared to 80.4 years for women

  • Men are twice as likely to die from a major disease than women

The not so subtle data seems to be pointing to a multi front shutting down, tuning out, and turning off of men.  Education, health, employment, are the big ones--but another set of major statistics jumps out at me.

Men’s Emotional Dilemma

  • 2/5 first time fathers report depression following birth of child

  • Men and women are just as likely to develop Bi-Polar disorder

  • Four times as many men commit suicide as women

  • Suicide is the leading cause in adolescent male death ages 16-24

  • Men stand a higher chance of being diagnosed with an antisocial, paranoid, schizoid or schizotypal personality disorders than women

  • 80% of alcohol dependency is male

  • ADHD in young children is far more prevalent in boys than it is girls

  • 69% of dependency on illegal narcotics is found in males

  • Twice as many men are diagnosed with PTSD than women

  • Men are more likely to be admitted in to a psychiatric ward

  • 67 per cent of suicidal young men say they have nowhere to turn for emotional help

  • The fastest growing population of suicidality is men over the age of forty.

Sam's Story

Years ago a gentleman named Sam came to me from a state hospital where he had been involuntarily confined due to uncontrollable suicidal urges. What I was so struck by the first moment I saw him was how "normal" he looked. This guy didn't look psychotic. He was square jawed, well dressed, even tempered and polite. I didn't beat around the bush--I asked him what the suicide attempt was about. Little by little his story unfolded. Years of abuse by both parents, chronic alcoholism, multiple marriages, estrangement from children--everything seemed hopeless. There's a saying that goes something like, "Truth comes out in trickles" and with Sam it felt like I was trying to draw water out of an empty well. He REALLY didn't want to talk about it. Finally I leaned in and said what I was thinking, "Sam, I'm wondering if I'm the first person you've actually told this to..."

Everything stopped...

He broke. A torrent of emotion poured out from him. He couldn't contain himself. His whole life he had been trying to deal with this on his own. He had been attempting to keep it together, largely with disastrous results.

There is an entire population like him. Men, keeping a sinking ship afloat. One of the most common observable traits about men is their "apparent competence."  This means not letting others know that they've gotten to him. Who knows how long that kind of behavior has been engrained--in fact scientists actually wonder if the "stiff upper lip" is a genetic marker found in males. A sort of predisposition to keeping calm and carrying on.

At any rate--it may be programmed in, but its NOT working for millions of men today.

Everything is Different. Nothing's Really Changed

The simple truth is that in this shifting society if men don't modulate with it they stand the risk of being left behind. Millennia old skill sets such as stuffing emotion and acting opposite of feelings (the will to power) only get us so far in a culture that increasingly values soft skills. 

I recently had the privilege of being with a large corps of United States Military high ranking officers. One of them confided in me that civilians often failed to understand their culture, and in fact did damage to their basic mission by attempting to impose our own ethical standards onto the military. I was intrigued and he explained, "Take empathy for instance... You say that's something I should develop as a human. But the truth is, I can't have empathy. I can't try to see through the enemies eyes or develop a sense of compassion for him. If I did, I couldn't kill him..."  I was taken a back but the power of his statement. While that is not how I view the world I could understand from his own framework that this made complete sense.

What's more is that I felt as though I was being allowed in on a window into primal male culture. Go backwards 500 years ago, 5,000 years, or 50,000 years ago. Men often served a unique function. Hunting, raiding, and warring. Our bodies were equipped for it in many ways. And our minds adapted similarly. We suppressed emotions, limited qualities such as connectedness, networking, empathy and compassion. These were, as the army officer said, liabilities in a time of crisis when hesitation meant death--and potentially annihilation for tribe and family.

Today this ability to suppress, repress, and shut off awareness of emotion, connection to others, and reaching out when helpless, no longer serves. There are few places where those qualities find application. Oddly, society seems to prefer this arrangement. We wish to have fire departments that take risks and demonstrate courage, militaries that demand precise aggression, strength and honor, and police departments that are swift in their punitive function. As long as they have the bases covered—the rest of us don’t have to develop these functions.

In fact, todays world requires the very opposite of the specific tool kit we men have been honing for thousands of years. The reality is that if we don't aggressively learn new skills we'll continue to see a declining role in culture at large.

A Balanced View

One of the men I've gotten to know across the past two years while working through my own intimacy addiction said it like this, "I wasn't good at sports. I wasn't good at school. Sex--intimacy, relationships (pleasing a woman)--that was something I could get real good at."  

I get it. And this isn't about being someone who lacks accomplishments. Its about finding value and worth anywhere you can.

Currently men are told that their inherent skill sets hardwired into them through 2.5 million years of hominid evolution, such as aggression, assertion, and activeness, are no longer needed. We are explicitly told this, and implicitly also. Every day we witness men who are aggressive be incarcerated, men who are assertive called assholes and power-mongers, and men (but especially boys) who are active are medicated with chemicals to reduce their restlessness. Even if there was not an overt dogma around the unwelcome reality of being a man culturally,  it would be easily deciphered by our actions. 

Men are told to change, but then are offered precious few rewards for such changes. While we are told to be "better men" in order to participate in society, the payoff for doing so is not only diminished but ideologically so. The implication is that "males had their chance" and now its time to move over and "let women have the steering wheel."  In other words--at best, all of our new found adaptation and suppression of instinct buys us a ticket in coach. We are now invited to be sight see-ers, because our "time is up." 

Some of these shifts are so healthy. The neanderthalic patriarch of the 1950's where "father knows best" is not only no longer needed--it probably never was. There was a power imbalance. It held so much ego. Men did not have to work on themselves, grow, or develop. They could simply be grouchy, sluggish, abusive or perverted--and it was ok.  But it shouldn't have been. The macho-jerk was little better than an animal. 

The Boomer's knew that. In the Vietnam War era they began to push away from the patriarchal archetype towards something new and "softer."  By integrating the Feminine, the goddess, into their psyche's men discovered the qualities of emotional expression, networking, and intimate connection. Several new generations of men allowed themselves to become allies and champions of the oppressed and identified as warriors of a different ilk. It was necessary, and powerful.

However--something was lost. 

The emotions most commonly reported to be experienced in men today are rage and shame. This is true for any number of reasons, but the primary one is that we feel voiceless and trapped. A changing world has left us feeling more isolated, less hopeful, and utterly powerless in knowing what to do.  We feel ashamed that we are out of line with the expectations of culture, and then in turn become aggressive as a way of compensating.  These two emotions split out into two different types of men.

I watch this play out in these two breeds of men: the overly macho jerk, beefed up, juiced up and wound out. The asshole. He's the worst kind of cartoon version of himself. And it's strange because these guys really do exist. But the other side is the cultural male who experiences shame over the millennia of patriarchy and oppression his gender have caused. Rather than feeling empowered to join in a shifting landscape, he feels minimized and desiccated. These caricatures are what men's worker David Deida called "the macho jerk and the new age wimp." I get it--I identify with both. And it breaks my heart because I know we've got to integrate the two.

There’s got to be something in between the Pro Bro’s and bonobo’s, something between The Animal and the Civilized person. Plato rather famously said: “He who is only an athlete is too crude, too vulgar, too much of a savage. He who is a scholar only is too soft, too effeminate. The ideal citizen is the scholar athlete, the man of thought and the man of action.”

Today men trying to regain their own sense of autonomy and authority in the world are quick to revert to a certain kind of macho stereo type. I don’t necessarily mean that they become Neanderthal dicks walking around smacking women around. I just mean that between the culture of “pick-up-artistry” that tells men that in order to be a man they need to seduce and destroy, or the culture of militant strength in which to prove masculinity men learn the skills of pre-industrial Europe (chopping wood, crawling in the mud, digging ditches, and throwing boulders), men are given a road map that’s antiquated. It will make you feel empowered for a moment, but you actually won’t make the strides you’ve been looking for. Such activity might tap into the primalness of movement, however it will leave the other parts—arguably far more ancient ones—untouched.

Library’s are lined with books about what men should do, and how they should do it. Dummy’s Guides to Masculinity. But men don’t need another set of rules to follow. Performance is, as I’ve said before, simply another trap. No, They need to discover their own souls, waiting—hidden, often scared and scarred—wanting to be found.

Just the other day I was walking down the block in my neighborhood when I was struck by how many men in their mid-thirties were just walking around with this glazed over, listless, expression. There was something hopeless I was encountering. It has a name: Despair. 

A job is no substitute for a vocation. A marriage partner is miles away from a lover and a co-warrior. Children aren't the only legacy we leave behind. And a vacation to Disneyland, a trip to the coast, or a massage aren't adequate compensation for the grueling reality of “a job that slowly kills you and bruises that don't heal” (to quote Radiohead)

Steps Forward For Men

You cannot build a life worth living without Purpose. Our deep need is to find a sense of calling, dive in fully to a feeling of mission and vision. Without those qualities we stagnate.

But how do you find your calling? How do you live on purpose and with intention?

First, it’s about finding your “WHY?” As Nietzsche reminds us, “A man will endure any HOW if he knows his WHY.”

To often we are given false motivations and values—The products of religion, the state, and corporate branding. It is rare for a man to actually know what he values, as so often he only values what others have told him is valuable. Indeed, if men are to find what is meaningful to them, they must first be willing to shed what has been meaningful to others. This is inherently a deconstructive process. It is not for the faint of heart. Truthfully most men will avoid this type of deconstruction as long as they can, preferring instead to cling to what mom, dad, teachers, preachers, and leaders have instilled in them. It often takes a significant fall from grace such as the loss of a reputation, the admission of addiction, the failure of a marriage, bankruptcy, etc, to push men to a place of dis-illusionment. But it need not be so. A far better alternative is an orderly process in which men can observe their own conditioning, and unwind some of the knot, in order to find the ground of their own highest values.

Finding your WHY, inevitably leads to the HOW. The best steps are small but confident ones. Goal setting, provided these are actually YOUR goals and not the conditioned effects of the world at large, is important. They must be challenging but attainable. In fact MASTERY comes when we set our aim on something difficult but doable, and then accomplish it! As we grow in mastery, our confidence grows, and we continue to take greater and greater strides. Yet herein lies an obstacle. Men like to take it ALL on…ALL at ONCE. This is an easy trap to fall into. But don’t do it. Set ONE priority—not many. Choose ONE value to allow to play out into your life in this moment. Build on ONE goal. Then move on. While this may be frustrating for a man who feels like his entire life is broken down, its actually the road out of hell—one step at a time.

Finally—men need a TRIBE. They must be seen, they must be heard. The great sense of isolation that we experience today is directly counter acted by a community of men urging us onward. Find a few other men, build on shared interests and common values. Choose a night and simply get together. Have fun. Read books. Laugh. And then, push yourselves to be authentic. Talk about what is ACTUALLY going on, and not only the surface. This is what changes us, and prevents the burn out that so often comes with manhood today.

Conclusion

I think my hope in working with men is that guys like Sam find a place to show up, to turn on, and to be fully engaged. Where we can somehow experience something exceptional, even for a moment, and know that somehow it's going to be alright--that there are alternatives and our lives aren't stuck in vain.

The truth is I have four children, and three of them are sons. I wonder what the kind of world they'll encounter will be. I wonder what role they'll play. That is the world I'm working to create--one where the masculine has a place, beyond shame and rage. I don’t believe men ARE the weaker sex. I just think we’re in a pickle—a real cultural moment—where there a few wins for us. Sometimes its as though the best we can hope for is to simply “be an ally” as the world of women now rises. That's important to champion, but so is having your own sense of passion, purpose, and mastery. As we, here at Evolving Wild, or through our podcast Lost Man Standing, continue to speak out, we are witnessing men begin to take ownership of their lives. To say, “I am I and you are you—and together we can achieve great things!” And I think that matters.



As men are

The (New) Performance Trap

There are usually two sides to any story.

The universe we inhabit is a dialectical one—in which there are multiple truths operant at once. It can be difficult to handle this kind of reality. We tend to like our truth one-dimensional, fundamental, and clear cut. Good guys versus bad guys. Right instead of wrong. Black and white. Turns out, that’s rarely (if ever) the case. It’s more like this: a person can be genuinely caring, AND a god-forsaken asshole. Or this, the Left’s emphasis on the downtrodden is as necessary as the Right’s on hierarchies and boundaries. Or this, aggression and empathy are both important. On and on. At times they seem contradictory, but usually, with a little bit of reasonable discourse, we can move from an either/or position to a both/and one. This is so important, not only because it might get us invited to more social events, but also because if we can think about things from a well rounded perspective then actually we are able to make better decisions.

Which of course brings me to marriages.

COLLUSION

Over the years in my work I interacted with countless committed relationships—mostly in crisis,  headed towards a crash,  hemorrhaging but desperate to stop the bleeding. The words that get thrown around in those moments are fucking hard to hear, if you have any degree of compassion. There are a lot of “You fucked HER!!! Her, of all people!!!” or “You kissed him!?!?!” or “You LIED to me—you lying liar who lies!!!”  But underneath those accusations, there was often another theme that would emerge: “you’re not who I was expecting you would be. I believed you to be ONE thing, which I approved of, and turns out you’re something  Else entirely.”

In family based psychology there are certain stages of development that any couple will probably go through. There’s the first initial encounter, impressing the other person, establish the boundaries of who you are I and who I am (or CONNECTION), then world building in which you begin to actively imagine what it would be like to merge your lives (CREATION), and then there is another period of time that rapidly approaches, often called COLLUSION by experts.  In this case what we mean is a sort of unspoken agreement between the two of you. You’re now actively involved in making sure that the person you originally connected as, and created your lives around, hasn’t changed, appears constant, and seems agreeable to the other person.

If you have a bad spending habit, but imagined that the other person sees you as responsible, you might reasonably hide that habit.  You’d of course be pretending, but you’re doing so in the service of the relationship so to speak. You’re now trying to protect this thing that you’ve created. And your partner is doing the same thing—even on your behalf.  For instance, if you’re a lazy guy who really doesn’t want to work, your spouse might do you the service of ignoring those behaviors. She might work harder at her job, take an extra shift, and even praise you for the least amount of effort.  Or if you have an anger problem and explode like boiling tea on everyone who pushes your buttons, your wife or husband may make excuses for you, or just outright avoid even noticing it. Maybe an easier example is when people go through quite a bit of change and they desperately want to keep step with each other. One or the other person morphs their likes and dislikes to fit the situation. What’s happening here?  Your both sort of conspiring to ignore reality—because its a threat to this new identity the two of you are co-creating. It could spell the end of things as they exist currently.

The problem with collusion is pretty obvious. In the end you have people who are mutually agreeing to protect something that actually no longer exists, or maybe never did.

It happens all the time in fact.

And not just in relationships. One of the most common places we find pressure to collude is around something as basic as the question of HOW WE ARE DOING.

You should probably recognize this as a top tier convo maker for a lot of us. We use it all the time, with friends, loved ones, and even strangers. “How’re you doing” is a measuring rod of social discourse.  Conversationally, this question not only helps generate a time filler but We also gauge our own tone by their response. How a person is performing (adequate, poorly, successfully, etc) helps us determine our own way of being. By directly asking a person this, we know to be concerned, excited, encouraging or even angry. We are collaborating on how we show up in life by asking this basic question.  Which is why there’s actually so much riding on It, believe it or not. Part of the reason why, when asked this question, we lie, is because we don’t want to tolerate the experience of the other person’s response.

PERSON A: How are you doing?

PERSON B: I feel like total shit. I hate my life.

PERSON A (noticeably impacted and showing sadness): I’m so sorry to hear that. That really sucks!

Because as empathetic people, we respond. Now here is what social psychologists find fascinating—Person B now is responsively impacted, and become even MORE aware of their own depressing emotions. It’s called mirroring. When someone accurately reflects our emotions to us, we experience ourselves are real people, and the gravity of such reality now weighs more heavily upon us. Which is why we lie.

Consider how often you’ve been person B. What’s the frequency that you tell the truth, with any level of accuracy? If you’re like a vast percentage of people—most of us—there’s a lot of “reality doctoring”; we give a vague, ambiguous answer.  Why? According to many psychologists—not to throw THEM off the track—but to throw ourselves off… If we were honest, we’d both have to experience a shifted, more complicated, and potentially more intimate reality. So we choose to collude instead—we simplify things: “I’m OK.” or even, “I’m doing GOOD.”

HEROES AND OTHER FRAUDS

No man is the villain in his own story. Instead we are the heroes. We’re programmed to think this way. In some ways its a wiring thing. The mental pain of identifying as a constant source of failure, disappointment, and negativity pushes us to recalculate. We re-evaluate the facts and find some way to view them differently. Us, and our tribe—our in-group—are always THE GOOD GUYS; we fall on the right side of history. But beyond perspective, we genuinely want to be the heroes of our stories, don’t we?  A man wants to be the conqueror, the achiever, the rescuer. In some ways its a flourish of natural selection. By engineering the males, traditionally stronger and more athletic in averages, to be protective, productive, and principled, the species is preserved and expanded.

But males also fall into a trap.  The Performance Trap.

Because in our effort to BE the hero, we are highly motivated to only let others SEE the heroic.

How does that work?  In many ways its the collusion principle. If an other BELIEVES this to be true for me—then I will feel it more, and perceive myself to be more that way.  It’s not exactly the fake-it-till-you-make-it principle, but its close. Maybe better said: Fake it and it will feel like you’ve Made it. 

Interestingly we see this trope show up in high literature. It begins in the classical age—Achilles, who isn’t as debonair and dashing, as he is cold, ruthless and flawed. Odysseus—who’s victory at war, is followed by failure to save his own homelife. Shakespeare gives us probably the highpoint of literature in the figures of Hamlet and Macbeth—both men who are destined for greatness, and are incredible in their own right, but ultimately cast long shadows. Why do authors, then and now, introduce such story lines? Because they are acknowledging something we don’t often like to: heroes are frauds, and life is complicated.

Now, I realize this is an exaggeration. Heroes aren’t actually FRAUDS. They’re very real. Human—all too human. And that makes their heroism all the more grand, doesn’t it? When they do the heavy lifting, it seems all the more divine, especially contrasted with their weak points.  But, going back to an earlier point, we aren’t terribly dialectical. Our heroes need to be brilliantly shiny, with a clean track record—going back to high school. Just look at current politics and beyond. Blemishes aren’t allowed. We’re willing to drum up 30 years worth of potential wrong doing in order to prove a man is impure. Because we have a mistaken notion of heroism, and purity, clean and unclean. We believe that our leaders and great people are flawed if they have weakness—not greater because of them. 

History is filled with men pretending to be heroes, masking potential weakness. Gold up front, and shadows hidden from view. Not only that, but people want it to be so. We are encouraged to put our best foot forward, to wear our awards, and to note our successes. However, people will shun us for our shortcomings—real or perceived. This is a kind of behavioral reinforcement in which we are encouraged to conceal our truest sense of self—and we ALL collude, as if to say we don’t have trouble spots, or darker depths. 

THE NEW PERFORMANCE TRAP

But this isn’t really about pretending, and its not about lying, or being a fraud. It’s about the isolation that comes from trying to be golden. I’ve been there. When I was a practicing therapist, a professor, I felt like my life LOOKED exactly as it should. I was respected, well-liked, and sensed I was on the way UP. But you know what the truth of it was?  I was living with deep brokenness—untouched, undealth with wounds that were festering and becoming infected. And I KNEW it. But as long as others believed I was good enough, justified enough, pretty enough, cool enough, happy enough—I could believe, for just a moment, that this was the truth. I was depending on the collusion. However, I can tell you I’ve never felt so alone as I did walking around with a split reality. No one knew what was really going on. I was hiding it. Like a partner in a marriage struggling with some unknown issue, trying to smile and be loving, when all the while they’re somehow dying inside.

And I see men do this all the time. In today’s MANOSPHERE culture, the impetus is performance and achievement. Do. Conquer. Control Master. You name it. We are told that in order to be manly we must become the best version of ourself. And, I agree. Push, stretch, and reach to your highest and best. However, the problem comes when youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall. When despite our best efforts we fail. When we lose. When its not enough. When all the kings horses and all the kings men can’t, in fact, put it back together. What then?  Admit weakness?  No—of course not. Because the reality is that there is such a high premium placed on success in the New Peak Performance Culture of the manosphere, that to make such an admission would mean you were less than a man. We are trapped by our very desire to do better

Because until you can show your weakness, step into it fully, you will never recognize your gift.

Candidly, I’ve told this concern to numerous men, thought leaders among them. Often men highly involved in being “Professional Men” (or Pro' Bro’s) are dismissive. “I show my weakness” they might say, “It makes me stronger.”  But the move here is so quickly to strength that one wonders if they ever really took the time to sit with the shadow, to learn the lessons that failure and loss have to teach.

As an old story goes, a young minister’s father died and he was given the task of saying the funeral rites. As he preached a glorious grave side message he crescendoed with the quotation from the 23rd Psalm, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…” And here he stopped with tears streaming down his face, and repeated the phrase, “yea though I WALK through the valley….because if I don’t keep walking, I will have reason to fear evil!  God only helps those who keep one foot in front of the other.”  At which point his weeping mother moaned loudly, “God help us all!” 

Ha!  He was busy trying to move forward while the grave hadn’t even been filled in. No, men who tell you that their strength is only fueled by their weakness, are often simply masking that they too are the victims of the performance trap. They’re still pretending.

It’s lonely because no one understands that you really are exhausted—you can’t say it. It’s lonely because no one appreciates how hard you work to relate to others, precisely because you’re lonely—because you can’t say it.  It’s lonely because folks don’t really see that you work day in and day out, because you feel profoundly inadequate—you could never tell them that truth. Your effort to be faithful is out of a fear of loss you can’t discuss. Your attempt to plan and move on to the next and biggest is motivated by terror of pain, but no one will hear that truth. Your desire to control the environment and make a splashy entrance, is simply masking a deeply insecure child—but most people will never meet that person. On and on…. your performance is fueled by realities that you can not possibly let any one else in on. That’s why its isolated and isolating.

 A (non)DUMMY’S GUIDE

However this isn’t only about openness. Men genuinely need ways to become the heroes they imagine themselves to be. If men find themselves in a performance trap, then to simply identify a trap but do nothing to help them out of it is beyond cruel. As one man I respect notes: “men want out of their pit. They just don’t know how.” While I don’t love dummies guides, I do believe that some degree of intentionality to discovering your own inner reality and truth is necessary if only to break free of the Performance Trap and cease colluding. So what can a man actually do?

1) Learn to Dissapoint People by Saying No— imagine standing across from another man, holding his gaze unflinchingly—not because you’re an asshole, and not because you want to dominate him, but because you are HERE and NOW. You’re communicating To that man that you are who you are, in the present, and that you see him too. Your ability to be this present is a direct result of developing your inner sense of Being. How do you do that? First, begin by practicing the lost art of saying “NO.” First do this to yourself. Say no to some things in your life that you can see yourself shedding. The snooze button. The extra donut. The snacks. The next beer. But begin to expand from yourself to others. Say no to safe people, those who will still love and connect with you. By practicing here first, you’ll develop the muscle, and then be able to have the strength to state the hard NO when it counts. Practice spending time saying YES only to those things and people who you know inspire you, who truly know your reality, and experience the REAL DEAL from you.

2) Develop your Inner Being—one of the reasons why I don’t take or post many CANDID “me in the Wild” shots on social media is because I believe that when you’re posting a selfie while meditating, you’re probably not actually meditating. It’s crucial to curate places and times where you can simply BE, without scrutiny. This could be a hike by yourself and without technology—no snap chat, Facebook or Instagram allowed. It might be choosing to invest in an alarm clock instead of using your phone so you’re not tempted to look at it first thing. Daydream. Let your mind wander. Shut off your external influencers and listen to you own sense of self. Your Inner Being is often so buried under conditioning, other people’s choices, circumstances, and the karma of your own decisions that it is difficult to actually hear it. Practical ways are necessary. In Za-Zen it is the practicing of merely Sitting. In many forms of contemplative Christianity it is a sort of quieted Walking. In Hinduism it is through Breath-work, and breathing. What ever the path, each of these require a kind of silencing the self-to allow for close encounters of the soul.

3) Speak Your Truth—as you see it now, without apologizing for being you or hedging your bets. This doesn’t mean being unwilling to dialog, in fact by taking a position, you’re creating space to do just that. The truth can of course be painful: “I don’t feel in love with you anymore.” Or “I’ve been spending our money on this shit...” or “I think I have a problem...” or even, “this is actually the movie I want to see.” Each of these represents YOU stepping away from performance mind set and into authenticity mindset. One of my dear friends and mentors is clear on this, “it’s about honesty OVER performance.” This too can be difficult—especially if you’re Mr. Nice-Guy. In part its easy to swing the opposite way and become a Dick. That’s ok, it’s par for the course. At first it will seem like you are in fact becoming an asshole. It’s a necessary stage of growth, and hopefully you move past it. it’s also going to be unfamiliar to others who are used to you biting your tongue. They’ll notice you’ve got your balls back, and won’t always appreciate it. Keep going, reassure them of your intentions, and reinforce those who you’re committed to. But keep being honest.

4) Learn to Listen to Your Emotions—no this isn’t the path of the Sith, Dark Side. It’s actually one of the most fundamental aspects of being human. Our emotions wire us to communicate to self, others and motivate us to actions. Every emotion , from anger and sadness to joy and jealousy are valuable and are trying to feed us data about experience of the world in real time. In truth our limbic, and emotive, centers have been around far longer than our cortex, and rational brain. While we like to imagine that our reasonable mind is in the drivers seat, it rarely is. Mostly it follows around and justifies its emotional impulses. Think of an elephant and his rider. Studies of these symbiotic relationships have demonstrated that while the rider/trainer thinks he’s the one navigating, its actually the elephant who, by virtue of being far greater in size, dictates the direction. It takes some aggressive training to get away from this. By listening to our emotions, learning to identify them, and then beginning to navigate the signals they’re giving, you increase your own inner power. I utilize an emotion model several times a week, where I take an event where I felt a particular emotion, and I unwind it. This is left over from my days counseling chronically suicidal and self-harming clients. My promise to them, which is also true for me (and by default for YOU), is that as we break down our emotions in to their various components of prompting events, awarenesses, interpretations, vulnerabilities, etc… that we can actually almost slow down time and have control over our decisions.

5) Find actual community of men to practice authentic connection with—this doesn’t have to be a perfect tribe, or the ideal tribe. It doesn’t even have to be more than a few of you, but it should be a place where you’re doing more than just pretending. In true community you are able to practice being yourself without the performance. These men should know you. They may not fully accept you, they may give you harsh feedback, but that’s part of the practice for them too. By creating an “unsafe space” you are actually diving head first into profound belonging. I will say one small word of warning having been a part of and Led numerous men’s groups: it’s possible to simply get good at doing “group” or “tribe” and for it to not translate into life. The goal of true community is to generalize or globalize your skill of living with integrity and authenticity in every area. Sometimes a group mindset will localize, where a man will use these skills—but only in the group, only with a select few. This man isn’t really taking risks, isn’t actually being himself. He’s still playing it safe. What is necessary is a Tribe of men who are willing to share life, who you spend time with—not just an hour a week with, who you relate to in real ways, not merely contrived ways. By increasing our lived experience with each other with intentionality, men can steer clear of simply creating another performance motif.

CONCLUSION

I am concerned for the manosphere because in the midst of all the desire to improve and grow stronger there is the ring of relational stages of development. We’ve moved past connection and creation, and are squarely in collusion—trying to present realities that exist only in our mind, in order to keep the status quo.

However—if men truly began to be open about their lives. If they can find another man, or group of men, and entrust their souls to them—there may be hope. That’s the great thing about collusion—it doesn’t have to be the end of a relationship. If the couple, or in this case the men’s world, can simply move to the hard place of truth telling, then come what may, there is hope. A new and more intimate connection can be formed. A better reality is possible. But only if we’re actually looking at reality.