|My decision to concentrate on developing men's emotional work derived from an experience 10 years ago. The details have been changed to ensure confidentiality but the story goes something like this: I was leading a group of men and women in the process of exchanging effective support. There was one man in the group – a regular guy – who stood out not because of anything unique but rather because his struggles were so common to many other men.
I had just been telling the group how allowing emotions, laughing, crying or trembling could be used to systematically heal life's tensions. I had demonstrated this with some of the women and one or two of the SNAGs in the group.
Our man then spoke up. He asked "I can see how this work can be helpful for these other people but what if you don't feel anything? How can you possibly work through something you can't even feel?" He was adamant that his was an impossible case but when encouraged said he was prepared to give it a go.
I asked him when it started.
"Oh, kindergarten," he replied.
I asked what was it like.
"It was very lonely," he replied and, to his great surprise, tears started rolling down his face.
I asked him not to theorise but to keep with just talking and remembering about kindergarten. He was happy to continue with this but needed to kept focused lest he go off theorising, leaving the emotions behind.
I paid close enough caring attention to what he was saying to notice which comments of his had tears attached and I asked him to talk some more about those parts of his story. After 20 minutes of this he was very pleased with himself!
It was obvious to all that he was functioning perfectly in this area. Crying was something that was easy for him! He had spent 20 years thinking that something had been broken and was lost. For the greater part of his life, he had carried the self-image of a defective unemotional male. We had just demonstrated how wrong that was! His whole demeanor brightened. The tears stopped and his limbs started trembling mildly. Amazement came over his face - he was like a boy with a new toy! The process was so easy and painless! The feelings kept coming and he was being healed just as easily.
I kept requesting as tenderly as I possibly could that he continue just talking about kindergarten. Whenever he did, the trembling would continue. As soon as he changed the topic it stopped. I encouraged his persistence and off he would go again. He was so impressed! Afterwards he was quiet for a period as he digested what had happened to him quite spontaneously.
From what he said, no one had paid the close enough caring attention to him since kindergarten, the caring attention that he needed to begin to deal with himself and his feelings. He had just frozen up with isolation and being abandoned as a male. No-one had helped till that group.
Of course, the start of the healing process is different for each man. Having a sense of true safety is crucial before a man can move forward. It took this man, who became a friend, a year or two before he was able to heal his old experiences easily with people new to this type of work. Being unfamiliar with the simple process of speaking from one's feelings and allowing them to heal in laughter, tears or trembles or sweats meant that he needed to be with men who had fully reclaimed their ability to heal. It would take some time for someone who had been deeply separated from the ease that all young children have with emotions.
Ever since that event, I can't help but notice that it is the quality of the attention and the ability to think about a man that determines the rate that he is able to discover his own process of healing. Once that has been established and once a man has that self knowledge then anyone who cares and listens will do.
When working in groups based on exchanging effective support we usually start off with men just talking – allowing them to find, often for the first time, what it is like to be listened to.
And since fun is essential to men's work it is usually laughing that unfolds next. However, if there is a crisis like a death in the family, separation, divorce or some other trauma guys can go straight to the tears.
Without a big push from 'bad luck' finding how to move through fear is the common next big challenge that becomes possible once the safety has been established.
Bit it really does not matter which emotion a guy is able to go through. Tears are no more important than fears, anger or laughter. They are all connected. It's a little like unpicking a jumper; whichever thread you pull on will unravel the whole garment. Each of us has a path to follow that is our own and the reasons for doing so often only become clear some way down the track. This is why it's important to respect our in-built, mostly intuitive choices, as we share our stories.
After many years spent working with many guys in an established network, I have found that every man who has persisted in this work has found a deepening of his emotional life and expression in a way that fills out the full range of his human potential. But persistence is key. At the same time, there is no need for pushing or rushing. Patiently listening to a guy lets out the tensions of a lifetime. And, as men begin to unwind, they get to find out who they are.