“The group is somewhere I feel I belong, with other men, as a whole man and a place where magic can, and sometimes does happen” – Dan
After two weeks apart the men gather in my home for the Men’s group and greet each other with a hug. With a hot drink in our hands we move to the lounge, sit down and after a moment of group meditation men announce that they are present and ready to begin with a check-in.
In 2004 I established a small social enterprise called Men@work which aims to help men develop emotional fitness and risk ‘digging deeper.’ Two of the most successful projects have been SHOUT- an anger awareness programme for men and ‘The Circle of Men’ (COM) which is a men’s group. I founded this group ultimately to meet my own needs as I wanted to connect with men on a deeper level.
Why are men’s groups important?
Men’s groups are about giving gendered specific space to help men dig deeper into the male condition. It gives them a place to stop doing and to practice being, it provides the challenge to stop running and playing and to start growing. It provides a kind of modern rite of passage and a place to change.
My transition from boyhood to manhood started when I was about 33 and continues today. In my thirties I stopped running from myself and I started to face the painful truth and risked feeling. I began to feel my pain, my shame, my loneliness and embraced my uselessness, my lack of control and began to let go of the mask I had worn for so long. The great thing about men intentionally gathering together to work with their emotions is that it removes us from isolation and normalises our experiences.
“Finally I have a place to talk about deeper issues” - Jim
What I have learnt about men is that they struggle to grow up, leaving society full of adult boys. Why is this? I think this is a complex question and demands more words then I have here. But let me suggest three reasons that may contribute to this dilemma.
An infantile culture generated by commercialisation - We are living in the ‘gaming ‘generation’ where boys and men are either playing or watching games. The wealthy you-tubers (mainly men) have a huge number of followers who watch them commentate on video games they are playing. Sportsmen can command vast sums of money by playing with balls!
The trauma of emotional restriction - Boys learn very early on in their lives that when they feel pain they should not express it. This has left most men out of touch with their emotions and with a reduced spectrum of emotional expression resulting in alexithymia (without words for emotions) and trauma.
The father wound – a term coined by Jung that describes how most men are suffering from a lack of good enough father. This has often delayed a boy’s development leaving him distant, bereft, lost, aimless, lonely and isolated. From this experience they learn the dark and lonely art of self-reliance.
I remember that from my late teens through to my earlier thirties I spent years roaming around looking to be fathered, looking for the wise man, hoping to find a male who was emotionally connected and compassionate and could hold my pain. I never did find this man, apart from a few glimpses within books. Eventually I learned that I needed to find the father I longed for inside myself and realised that I needed to take responsibility to get my own needs met.
What is the difference between a boy and a Man?
Men take responsibility for their emotions, their behaviour and their language, boys do not tend to do this!
Learning to take responsibility for emotions is one of the core aims of the COM. Men manage difficult emotions by often transmitting them onto others thorough anger or just letting emotions seep out. The following ‘credo’ is from the Men’s group bible called ‘A Circle of Men: The Original Manual for Men's Support Groups’ from the father of men’s group, Bill Kauth. This book is brilliant and gives a step by step guide on how to set up a group from scratch. This ‘Credo challenges men to take full responsibility and risk being real.
Credo for the Circle of Men
In our men’s group we each take responsibility for ourselves.
To the greatest of our ability we respond to our own needs and wants at every moment and trust that in doing so we will serve each other’s greatest good.
As I take responsibility for myself I become a more real, authentic, and credible man for you to interact with.
If I give feedback I will take responsibility to tell you graciously about anything I experience that is in conflict with my needs or wants, trusting that we will enter into dialogue with open minds.
“The Men’s group is a place where I can come to trust and be trusted by myself and other men” – Richard
What is a men’s group?
Very simply it is a group of men meeting together to intentionally explore and express their emotions. The following are our aims:
To explore and express our emotions in a safe space
To explore our masculine identity.
To listen to other men and to accept them in a non-judgemental environment.
To embrace inner wounds / pain and to seek to work with it instead of projecting it
To learn to take responsibility for our behaviour, body and emotions
To discuss significant matters that impacts us at a deeper level
WARNING – Men@work!
We do a variety of things including supporting men to do their work which means being with them while they explore an emotional issue. We may discuss a certain theme or do some bodywork. We may just sit and see what happens or speak directly to the other man about our experience of him. Our focus is to move from self-reliance and a sense of isolation. I often say that I want to know and be known by the men. When I experience this kind of authenticity, I feel I matter, I am matter and I feel fully alive. At the beginning of the group we each have a check in where we are asked two questions?
How do you feel right now?
What would you like to get out of the group tonight?
These are challenging questions in which we are seeking to move away from a thinking state and expand our emotional competency. Men’s emotional fitness is generally poor and often can inhabit just two states – normal and abnormal (anger) Getting in touch with feelings can often be helped with listening to the body and is the reason why we do body work involving touch, movement, hugging and holding eye contact.
“The Men’s group is a unique experience, where I can understand and share my emotions and listen and feel the emotional state of other men” George
The second question challenges the lesson that most men have been taught about self-reliance. We have learnt that we shouldn’t need anything from others and that we should always be in control and never needy. The messages we have heard are ‘do not ask for help’ or ‘do not risk being in a position of unknowing’ as this could convey weakness and puts you in a disadvantageous position.
“I feel raw totally alive and fully present”
The founder has been found
The Men’s group has gone through many stages, men have come and gone and the way we have managed the group has changed. I have on occasions had a break and struggled with the group, wanting to escape or generate conflict. I have found myself getting bored and feeling that it was unsatisfying. Part of my process has been to be found by the group through relinquishing the ‘leader’ role and allowing myself to join in. This has generated, conflict, challenge and growth and has yet been a beautiful growing space. I have found more tears and been more vulnerable and have allowed myself to be seen and found.
When the group ends and we have checked out our closing ritual is full of intimacy. We gather in a group hugging each other and holding eye contact with each man in turn. We then will hug each man in turn and recently have begun to share our closeness with a kiss.
“Man’s inherent nature is to be curious, gentle, intimate, responsible, courageous, honest, vulnerable, affectionate, proud, spiritual, committed, wild, nurturing, peaceful, helpful, intense, compassionate, happy, and to fully and safely express all emotions . When will we stop training him to be otherwise?” - Gordon clay
James Hawes MBACP (Accred) is a psychotherapist and counsellor specialising in working with boys and men. He spends his time working in a School two days a week and has a busy private practice based in Nottingham. He also delivers workshops on working with men and boys. He is frantically trying to complete his first book about understanding men written for men and women.
Forthcoming workshops - working with men
7 Tips for working successfully with Men in Therapy – Woking | 12th May 2017
Effective Anger Management tools for working with Men – Woking | 13th May 2017
Men as Nurturers – A conference/workshop for men working in the helping professions – 30th September 2017 | Nottingham