We are on a journey of self-discovery to explore and address underlying issues and embrace our authentic masculinity. The core of this journey we call “M.A.N.S. Work.”
Many of us in the Brothers Road community grew up hiding behind a mask.
- Often born with a naturally more sensitive personality, we may have been more creative, artistic, and relational — but also more emotional and more easily hurt.
- We sensed rejection where perhaps none was intended. We told ourselves we didn’t fit in with other boys. Too often, we were bullied. We craved friendship and acceptance, but didn’t feel worthy of it.
- We were taught that our emotions — especially anger, tears and fear — were bad. Especially for boys. Boys weren’t supposed to feel their feelings. So we buried our emotions.
- We sometimes coped by escaping into fantasy, where idealized males were our best friends, and we were always included and wanted. When fantasies turned sexual, they become even more powerful. But they came with a high price. More secrets to carry. More shame. Surely, others would reject us if they knew.
We wore a mask and lied that everything was fine. But inside we were silently dying.
At Journey Into Manhood and A Woman Who Loves, we help men and women learn to identify and experience four core-emotions that are essential for everyone to understand, express in safe ways, and manage.
Authentic core emotions include:
Joy (which includes love and peace)
Emotions often spring from the “stories” in our minds that give interpretation or meaning (whether true or false) to what’s going on around us. Or they may spring from memory triggers of past events and their accompanying emotions, particularly if those events and emotions have not been fully processed and healed.
However, emotions are not experienced in the mind but in the body. For example:
- Fear can cause our bodies to tense up and our breathing to become shallow. The impulse may be to freeze or to run. Our thoughts can seem clouded.
- Anger can cause our heart to beat faster and our skin to feel warmer. Our fists may clench and we feel an impulse to punch or lash out.
- Sadness can cause our bodies to feel heavy. We may feel an impulse to collapse inside ourselves. We may tear up or even sob.
- Joy can make our chest feel full. We smile. Our bodies feel like opening up. We stand taller and breathe more deeply. Our minds fan feel clear. We feel peace, and often love.
Authentic core emotions move us forward, toward wholeness and peace:
- Fear tries to protect us, to warn us of danger.
- Anger empowers us and spurs us to action (including defending ourselves and others against injustice or boundary violations).
- Sadness reminds us how powerfully we have loved. It releases us to let go, to move on.
- Joy is our anchor and our compass. It points us toward healing, wholeness, mission and purpose.
“Any feeling fully felt will shift to another feeling, until ultimately you arrive at a place of peace.”
That’s what makes it imperative to fully feel out authentic core emotions, to go into the fear and sadness and anger and hear what they have to teach us, rather than to run away.
But what happens if our fear is too scary? Or if our anger feels unsafe or shameful? Or if our sadness is too overwhelming? What happens if our authentic core emotions are just too painful?
Maybe we’ve been taught all your lives that emotions are bad or wrong or not to be trusted. Maybe we’ve spent our whole lives trying to stuff and hide and contain our emotions so others can’t see what’s really going on.
But all that energy has to go somewhere. So our bodies create other feelings to cover up our core emotions. We call these counter emotions. Things like anxiety, depression, shame, hate, resentment, and lust.
Counter emotions don’t expand us, they shrink us. They don’t increase understanding, they cloud it. They lie to us and keep us from feeling core emotions that are healing. They keep us stuck.
Defenses and Distractions
One solution? Cover up our counter emotions too, with defense mechanisms and distractions. The list seems endless: Addictions, over-working, over-thinking, defensive humor, false piety and self-righteousness, avoiding authentic relationships and going for the easy hook-up instead, or just “numbing out” with your favorite game, show, or other distraction.
It’s amazing all the things human beings will do to avoid feeling their feelings!
While our experiences are not universal, they are very common in our community. Here is what works for us.
(“You gotta be real to heal”)
We finally face the reality that we can never find peace if we continue hiding. We need to become vulnerable and authentic with ourselves and at least a few trusted others.
- We admit to ourselves that we can’t do this alone. We take a leap of faith and reach out and ask for help. We tell our story to a few carefully selected people and trust that they can hear it and still love and accept us.
- We stop hiding from ourselves. We look in the mirror and do our best to see ourselves as we really are — not hopelessly broken but a beloved son of God. A man with strengths and weaknesses. A work in progress. We admit to ourselves — with brutal honesty balanced by radical self-compassion — where we have been and where we are now. Then we turn and look forward to the man God is calling us to be.
- We find (or build) trusted communities where we can be our fully authentic selves, in all our messiness, and can feel loved and accepted anyway. Some of us find this within family circles, in church or faith groups, in healing or personal-growth communities, or in informal networks of supportive “brothers.”
Feeling Our Feelings
(“You gotta feel it to heal it.”)
Rigorous authenticity means no longer running from our feelings or hiding our real selves from others.
- We step out of the darkness of shame and into the light of transparency. Shame is a debilitating emotion that keeps us trapped in self-hate and anticipatory rejection. It prevents us from feeling almost anything else. When we “get real” with a few trusted others who respond with acceptance and compassion, our shame begins to collapse.
- We push through defenses and distractions that prevent us from really feeling our feelings. Everyone has their favorite defense mechanism or distraction: Numbing out through endless hours of online games or movies, defensive humor, false piety, addictions, lust and fantasy. All of these forms of resistance keep us from feeling our authentic core emotions and connecting with our true selves. We take the risk of letting down those walls.
- We uncover and feel (underneath all the shame and resistance) our authentic core emotions: fear (which tries to protect us, anger (which empowers us), sadness or grief (which make letting go possible) and love, peace and joy (which anchor us).
Healing Old Wounds
“Time heals all wounds,” the saying goes.
Except it doesn’t. New hurts attach themselves to old, unhealed wounds. Buried pain festers and rots and finds sneaky ways to express itself indirectly — often by lashing out. Or acting out.
As life-giving as it is to finally release shame and embrace self-compassion, most of us in the Brothers Road community choose not to stop there. Most of us want to heal wounds that still cause us pain or keep us stuck. We want to uncover unmet needs that may be driving problematic behaviors. We want to understand ourselves better, explore underlying issues, develop healthier relationships with both men and women, and work toward a peaceful resolution to internal conflicts. We want to become more like the man we feel God is calling us to be.
- We make the conscious choice to pursue courageous personal-growth and inner-healing — an emotional and spiritual journey to our highest and best selves.
- We find or create safe spaces among safe people who are emotionally equipped to support us in doing deep inner work without harming ourselves or others. Some of us find this with counselors, pastors or rabbis, mentors, or in healing and personal-growth communities like Brothers Road.
- We step up and do our work, courageously facing the unknown and uncomfortable, within ourselves and in our pasts.
- We uncover, feel and process some of our deepest feelings around old, unhealed wounds and unmet needs. Only then, after old pain has been fully “heard” and even honored, can it be fully and authentically released.
- Ultimately, we have to move beyond healing or “recovery” to a life of greater service, purpose, and mission. We continue to do our inner work throughout our lives, but at some point our primary focus shifts from self-improvement to serving others and serving God. As the author Robert Bly said, “Where a man’s wound is, that is where his genius will be.” From that wound will spring his greatest gifts to the world.
I am getting freedom. I still have a way to go, but I have hope. I see progress and am encouraged to continue.