Step by Step Towards an Uncommon Bond

Although this article is primarily about men, I’m sure everyone reading this will be able to relate as we not only co-create but also are being co-created by everything around us, always. The following is my story and a vision for us men in today’s modern world.

When I came to Canada at age 19, I experienced a big culture shock, isolation, and a language barrier. There was also the pressure of school and financial stress and I ended up getting diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Throughout these challenging times, it wasn’t easy for me to admit I actually needed help; it wasn’t easy to admit I wasn’t perfect, and all-powerful, and strong. It wasn’t easy to admit I was a human being, in need of much rest and that I too had limitations.

Like a lot of men, I was suffering in isolation.

Thanks to feminism, in the past 30 – 40 years, the world has become a better, more just place. Perhaps the change is not as quick as we would like it to be, but still there is change especially in Europe and North America. Today, these places are safer and traditions, establishments, and economies in these places more just to women. Feminism has helped women to have their voices heard. And women have begun to claim what they need to live much better lives.

Can we say a similar movement has started for men? Here is the state of men in today’s society:

8 out of 10 suicides are committed by men

Prison population is 90% men

73% of missing persons are men

87% of homeless people are men

8.7% of men are alcohol dependent as opposed to 3.3% of women

When it comes to seeking help, twice as many women seek treatment as men despite similar rates of mental illness.

In 1998 69% of men interested in treatment for depression took pharmaceuticals, by 2007 this number was 73%. Some side effects of these drugs are: increased appetite and weight gain, loss of sexual desire and other sexual problems, and fatigue and drowsiness. Although using drugs could be required and beneficial in the short-term, relying on drugs for our well-being is a very bad long-term choice. 

In order to understand what is happening to us men in today’s world, let’s take a look at Logan.

Logan is the last Wolverine movie and also the name of the main character. It is still playing in theatres so for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, I’ll do my best to not give away any spoilers. In Logan, we see a strong man who is not afraid to risk his life to protect the people he loves. Logan is extremely loyal, very brave, and intelligent. He is realistic and he knows how to survive. But deep down, Logan wants to die. He is in great pain; not only physically, but also emotionally. Logan never asks for help, instead, he chooses to numb his pain with alcohol.

When you watch the movie, you admire his courage, his strength inspires you. You love him, you want to be like him. But Logan’s life is also full of despair and hopelessness. He is a man without purpose; there is no joy or excitement in his life. He merely survives and tries to avoid the worst.

You understand him because you see the Logan in yourself. You also feel like helping him.

You want to tell him it is OK to feel your pain. You want to tell him it is OK to get some rest. You want to tell him it is OK to cry. You want him to understand nobody is perfect and it is OK to make mistakes. It is OK to trust, it is OK to love. In short, Logan is trying to forget the past. He’s trying to run away from his pain and as a result of this he loses touch with his depths.

When was the last time you took an emotional risk and allowed yourself to be fully seen by someone else?

I met the Logan in me when I was 25. By this time I had moved to Vancouver from Victoria. I had found a job and I was in a relationship that was going well. You might think, “Dude what more can you ask for?”

Well just like Logan, I was cut off from my depths. I was feeling unmotivated, I had no energy, I would wake up in the morning and feel horrible about life and myself. And no matter what happened around me, I could not find joy or excitement anywhere. I was trying very hard not to crack. Finally, one day I woke up and decided that I could not continue on living like that and I left. I quit my job and told my girlfriend that I needed some time to understand myself. She was very supportive and she respected my decision. I am forever grateful to her understanding.

In the following 6 years I was going to spend hundreds of hours in silence at meditation centers around the world, I was going to face my demons, learn about my emotions, challenge everything I’ve known about myself, life, and relationships, go into psychotherapy retreats, and start and finish a Master’s degree in Counselling.

When I left everything behind, I had no idea this journey was going to be so hard, so full of challenges and pain and I also had no idea that it was going to be so incredible and beneficial. My journey continues to unfold, and every step is full of surprise but now I feel very different about life: I feel more alive, more at peace, and much more connected to others and to myself.

Psychologically, we know that we cannot selectively numb. We can never run away from grief and expect to have joy. We can never run away from fear and expect to have excitement. We can never be emotionally shut down and expect to feel alive.

Having pain and suffering is part of being human. While most women seek out and get the help they need, this is rarely the case for men. It is still very hard for many of us to ask for help. And most men don’t seek help because they think it shows weakness.

As men, by not getting the help we need, we are slowly killing ourselves.

Chronic emotional pain and stress have many negative health consequences, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, as well as immune and circulatory complications. We might feel constantly angry and defensive, have a hard time sleeping, and suffer from headaches and lack of energy and motivation. Chronic exposure to emotional stress can also contribute to behaviors such as smoking, over-consumption of alcohol, and unhealthy eating habits. We might also become dependent on drugs and pornography as an escape from our pain or from our feelings of emptiness and isolation.

Just think about this for a second: How many of you have seen your father cry?

How many of you have witnessed your father be emotionally open and say I love you or that he missed you very much?

How about witnessing your father apologize or take responsibility for an action without excuses and without being defensive?

These are skills that make deep connections possible with friends, loved ones, partners, and children. Unfortunately, we don’t learn these skills at school.

As a society, men’s healing and growth is a conversation we cannot afford not to have. Together, let’s create a better version of what courage means in the lives of men. Here are a few of my ideas for the new brave men:

The new brave man is interested in seeing through his conditioning - these are the roles we adopted as survival strategies. Some roles most men adopt in childhood are:

·      the lone wolf - the emotionally isolated man who fights alone and who never asks for help

·      the provider - the man who thinks his only worthy function is to provide for his family

·      the protector - the man who believes he is responsible for the protection of all the people he cares about

·      the nice guy - the man who tries to be worthy of love and belonging by being nice to others

Of course there are many other roles us men play and when we think about them, we notice great things about these roles.

Being strong and wanting to be nice to others are, of course, good qualities to have. The danger is in trying to be a certain way at all times. When this happens, and it happens very often, our roles become sources of pressure and suffering. Instead of bringing satisfaction and joy to our lives, these roles become mental and emotional prisons that can easily lead to feelings of inadequacy and depression.

The new brave man knows that perfection is an illusion. He is not a slave to unrealistic expectations. He is no longer burdened by feelings of shame and inadequacy. There are many ways he can show up in life and he is allowed to make mistakes. The new brave man knows that asking for help and investing in himself is an act of courage. He is not afraid to reach out and receive education and guidance.

The new brave man also understands the value of his connection to other men in his life. He supports their growth and he is supported by them. Instead of competing with each other or shaming each other for their short-comings, the new brave men become allies to one another. As they trust each other more and more, they begin to share their depths and enjoy truly fulfilling friendships: friendships that are rooted in mutual trust, support, and self-actualization.  

Furthermore, most men’s primary emotional connection occurs with women. Usually this woman is our mother and as time goes by a romantic partner replaces the mother as the primary attachment figure. This is where things get interesting. While most women have other women to talk to about their feelings, most men need to rely solely on the company of their mothers or their partners for emotional communication and support. This tends to create a very challenging dynamic once men get into relationships with women.

Imagine a partnership in which one partner has been practicing a specific skill – in this case emotional awareness and communication – for as long as they’ve been alive, and the other partner is only starting to learn this skill. This often causes feelings of shame and inadequacy in men. While most women tend to struggle with speaking up for themselves and taking a strong stand, us men tend to struggle with being open about what we are truly feeling. It is often hard for us to admit we are feeling sad, or ashamed about something, or perhaps admitting to being afraid.

Feelings of inadequacy create isolation. As men, we need to feel we are not alone in this journey. This is why I think it is crucial that men come together to learn and practice these skills.

The new brave man is on a quest to reclaim his depths. He is willing to discover and connect with everything that he is. His sadness as well as his joy, his anger as well as his softness, his shame as well as his healthy pride, and his fear as well as his desire to come fully alive. As he opens more and more to his depths, he finds not a source of weakness, but a source of tremendous strength, resiliency, and fulfillment.

As men, we are preventing ourselves from having the life we want and deserve by not seeking help, guidance, and education. I want to break the taboo men have around finding support and that’s why I created Brave Men, a service offering the tools men need in order to find success in all areas of their lives.

As we have turned our attention towards the liberation of women in today’s modern society, let us not turn our attention away from the suffering of men for we are in this together. Let us assist and motivate each other as we open more and more fully for what’s to come and for what is waiting to be birthed culturally, politically, and economically. Let us challenge, excite, and guide each other and say “no” at every step to the battle of sexes. In war, we all lose.

As men and women, we were born to interact, grow, and awaken together and perhaps, one day, share an uncommon bond on a global scale – step by step revolutionizing what love can be. It’s about time.