MEN IN GROUPS
Cliches abound with men’s groups. But what really happens? Imagine a room with up to nine men sitting in a circle. Evenings usually begin with a ‘clearing’; each gives a five minute rundown on his last week. The others listen and identify with themes relevant to them.
Confidentiality is paramount. ‘I’ statements are encouraged. Talk is often with shades of truth. ‘I’m tired and irritable,’ said Jack. ‘I almost didn’t come this week. It’s been an emotional roller coaster. I worked fifty hours plus......again. I’m at everyone’s beck and call; work during the day and my family at night, as if I’m here to serve others and my needs going unmet.’
Anxiety prevented Ken talking personally. ‘No-one stands up to my boss. He sets each meeting’s agenda. Some days he’s easier to get on with.’ The facilitator intervened: ‘Ken, what are you feeling right now?’ A long silence. ‘I feel bad,’ said Ken. When pressed, he said, ‘I feel sad’. But it lacks emotional depth, a stonelike quality dominates his face.
After each has a turn, it’s time for ‘identification’; relating experiences similar to those heard. Jack’s story struck a chord with Tony. ‘Jack, when talking about your boss and needing time for yourself, I sensed your anger and felt sad. Boundaries are a problem for me too. Getting priorities straight, making sacrifices for family, work and me, is hard. See, ‘I’ come last again. But seriously, with gym twice a week I’ve become more attentive to others.’
It was Malcolm’s first evening. A revelation. ‘I didn’t know others had these issues,’ he said. There were nods of agreement all round.
After the break, male stereotypes, the discussion topic was shelved. Kim was in crisis, a relationship break up. ‘It’s been three years since we met. She’s moving out Saturday,’ he said. ‘I feel lost.’
Stories and how they coped had Kim’s full attention. ‘I waited six months for her to come back,’ Peter said. ‘For a while I felt sorry for myself, then got out there again,’ said Ken. When the evening closed, a couple of men spoke quietly with him before going home.
With greater openness, men feel supported and nurtured rather than ashamed, inadequate or embarassed because they ‘said too much’. The camaraderie and excitement is self perpetuating. One night, no discussion took place. They danced instead! Other times they sat with a candle at centre circle for half an hour or so, discovering how profound silence can be.
Anyone can ‘pass.’ Robert wouldn’t role play a conversation with his father. It was ‘too close to the bone’. The rest accepted this, some resentfully. Later, in the sharing, Paul said, ‘It get’s to me. We participate, why don’t you? I get angry.’ Robert replied, ‘I felt alone and exposed. Now I feel rejected as well. The fact is I am not ready yet.’
David’s perspective differed. ‘This stuff can get scary,’ he said. Again, there were nods of agreement. Peter said, ‘I’ve felt lonely for it but realised how afraid I can be to reveal myself.’
Robert’s anxiety became apparent. ‘But, I still don’t understand why it’s “Men Only!”’ he blurted out. Peter came in with, ‘Men tend to look to women for support and self disclosure. ‘Most would be trying to make out with them. I’ve come to appreciate non sexualized, intimate relationships with men. This flows on to women.’
With time and trust, more is revealed. For several weeks, Ken had felt belittled by Doug. When confronted, Doug replied with anger, ‘it’s you, constantly taking over!’ The truth came out, albeit slowly. ‘I am threatened and jealous of Ken’s success,’ he said. ‘And now I’m embarassed and hurt.’
Ashley found it important. ‘Conflict can be resolved.’ he said. ‘Despite your anger Doug, we didn’t die from it. I would have walked away before. You must be close to be so honest with one another.’
In the closing circle, all stood with arms around each other’s shoulders. Doug thought, ‘I’ve calmed down.........I didn’t disintegrate telling the truth. I know what’s mine to deal with.’
Next week, Doug apologised, and explained his behaviour. But it didn’t finish there. Robert hadn’t shown up, phoning in ill. Others noticed him looking down during the argument. Was it too much for him? Sadness enveloped the room. ‘I miss him, I’ll talk to him tomorrow,’ said Peter.
And Ken, who had worn the halo of virtuous victimhood, alluded (in private) to competitive males trying to control situations........ So, was Doug’s anger justified? ‘Yes,’ he agreed grudgingly, ‘I didn’t like his manner though.’ Should he come clean with the group as well? ‘I’ll think about it,’ he said.
It’s a journey. Most meetings are revitalising. ‘I feel connected to the human race again,’ said Jack. ‘Vulnerability is a great leveller. We may lead different lives but have similar issues.’
The tradition of the unemotional Aussie male is losing its hold. Friendship between men creates gentle, more certain men. While not a sensational way to promote change, the honesty a men’s group can foster would make relationships more fulfilling.