April 20, 2015

6 Reasons School Support Groups
Can Make Good Men Out of Boys

Having been in many different kinds of men's support groups over the last thirty years, and having sat in lots of groups with young men, I've seen the power of these groups to changes lives. As a result, I have become an unreserved and vocal advocate for this way of being together to become better men.

It's also why I think it is critical for teen males to get exposure to this powerful man-making experience. In a group of the willing, that's made safe with common agreements around confidentiality, where trust is high and there's no layered-over agenda by a sponsoring organization, the transformational juice is always flowing.

Six reasons support group circles produce better males:

Truth-Speaking: It's a rare thing for most guys to be with other males where you can be your transparent and authentic self. It's a total gift to be in a group where you can speak your darkest truths and long-buried inner thoughts. It's life-giving to be able to speak your negative internal messages and needed confessions, name failures, and claim your personal successes. It can be a relief to be where your heart's fondest hopes and deepest sadness can be spoken aloud.

Being in what I call a truth-speaking group, all by itself, is transformational. It means you are no longer alone and hidden with an "I'm okay" mask over it all. It means you no longer need to be going quietly crazy from the pent up emotional pressures and the effort of maintaining the mask. All of that goes away and the weight lifts when you're in a safe circle with other guys and take the risk to be your unfiltered self. This is true for males regardless of age.

. . . these circles are where guys go to feelings school,
expand their self-awareness, and cultivate emotional literacy!

Emotional Capacity: In a recent Man-Making Blog post, I wrote about helping young males expand their emotional vocabulary so they have more access to the complex emotional life going on inside them. As the sense of trust and safety builds in these groups, the sharing eventually moves from simply talking about your life and talking about your feelings, to actually having feelings as they naturally arise.

Many times in group I've surprised myself with a sudden up-welling of sadness, feelings of love, a lift in self-esteem from claiming a hard-won personal victory, or felt and spoke the visceral fears of feeling powerless, trapped, or victimized in some way. I've witnessed those same emotional responses in countless other men and boys. For teenage males, when the mask drops away, their capacity for honest and emotional expression is sometimes breath-taking. For me, these circles are where guys go to feelings school, expand their self-awareness, and cultivate emotional literacy.

Unconditional Acceptance: There is something in the mix of male DNA and cultural training that invites guys to put on armor and not be vulnerable. Very early on, males learn not to appear weak, to play hurt, to not show their pain, and to just handle whatever it is they're struggling with, and do it all alone. Some have been wearing their I'm okay mask for so long, they don't realize it's the face they show the world!

When a male joins a circle of other guys who are being more authentic, it's initially disorienting. For a new guy, sitting behind an I'm okay mask, it can be a shock to hear a guy talk about being a confused mess of fear, anger, denial, or grief and not hear someone make a joke, change the subject, or try to fix him with inane advice. Not only is witnessing emotional honesty uncomfortable, but it's just as unusual to hear the speaker be accepted, and honored for his courage, strength, and honesty.

For males of any age, it's a powerful and healing experience to be accepted when you're at your worst, most embarrassed, or your shame-laden self. Unconditional acceptance by others breeds self-acceptance and self-love when those qualities are the hardest to come by.

. . . unconditional acceptance by others
. . . breeds self-acceptance and self-love . . .

Learning You're Normal: A recent TIME online magazine article titled: Why Facebook Makes You Feel Bad About Yourself, describes research stating one out of three Facebook users tend to be more depressed than non-Facebookers. Viewing posts and photos of other people's wonderful lives can trigger feelings of envy, misery and loneliness. Comparing your not-always-wonderful world with the best face of other's lives is a prescription for depression.

However, when truth is shared in a guy's group, one very predictable outcome is that we soon learn, even with our darkest self-talk and stories, we are all much more like each other than we're different. We learn the "range of normal" is very broad, that we're not terminally defective in some way, and we really are okay! For young teens who are fully engaged in the school social struggle to fit in, learning you're really just like everyone else, is a soothing balm.

Finding a Path to Manhood: Truth-speaking in group is often hearing about how others are overcoming difficult challenges. Hearing about how other men and young guys have had success with their problems makes it possible to envision a path out of the places where you're stuck. You not only get good peer role models and inspiration, you also get good ideas about how to approach a problem, information about helpful resources, and allies with supportive skills. Whether it's someone for a young guy to talk to about a breakup with a girlfriend, his fear of STDs, or a community resource for support when getting kicked out of the house, very often the help you need is sitting right across the circle.

. . . very often the help you need
is sitting right across the circle.

Courage and Support: One of the most important gifts groups offer guys is the ability to use others for support. It means publicly naming your intentions to be a better person, and then using the group for accountability as you risk the new behaviors. It means getting help to not let yourself down by retreating to your old ways. It means knowing others will have your back as you courageously take the small but frightening steps to become that better version of yourself. For men or teens without people on their side, having allies in group on the journey to a better you is everything.

In the video below you'll hear from nine boys involved in Boys to Men middle school groups. They tell you what it has meant to them to get some of the benefits of being in a support group. You'll also hear from a school principal telling you what it has meant to her to have men like you show up in her school.

Most importantly, you'll begin to understand why I'd like young guys to experience these groups in their teen years, while they are still forming the vision of the man they will become. Their "I'm okay" masks are not yet so thick or as sealed on as they will eventually be.

Thank you to Boys to Men of San Diego for this video!

If this clip doesn't show up use this link.

I feel so strongly about the benefits of men showing up in schools to support our boys I am offering training to interested schools or groups of men. If you even faintly hear that call to service, send me a quick message. I can assure you of a few things: it's not that difficult, the young guys are waiting for you to show up, and because you're still reading this, you're perfectly equipped for the job.

Think about it! Who would you be today
if you had access to a supportive circle with a few good men
when you were in middle or high school?

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1 comment:

  1. Well said, Earl. Well said. I'm sharing this.


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