Monday, 2 January 2012

On taking a new direction

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" - Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

A man in our men's group recently described a few aspects of his family. He has come to realise, after many years, that his father is a bully, and his mother, well let's just say that she's no saint (in his own words, a slut). Given that he's on a journey to deal with his feelings of being bullied, this has made him angry, let down and betrayed by people who should have been giving him positive role models.

Having worked on his own "shadow" stuff for sometime, he has recognised the darker side of his own nature and learned to be accountable for his actions and feelings, particularly in respect of his dealings with his own family. He's developed good communication within the family, and modelled respect for open and honest family values, and the realisation that his own upbringing was to some degree dysfunctional, has thrown his own life into sharp focus. Despite his own upbringing (his father's egotistical bullying and his mother's immorality), he learned not just to resolve problems but to avoid the issues in the first place.
First step in a new direction

No "victim" status for him; he's taken responsibility for his own life, warts and all, and now acts in a way that supports love, openness and nurturing.

I have done the same, in that I've recognised that some of my default responses to even momentary stress or difficulty in my relationships, are flawed and needed to be corrected. To this end, I now act in
harmony with a personal mission to foster good, open and empathetic communications with everyone, but my own family circle in particular.

This raises a question for me now; why do not all men (and women, come to that) see their role as loving warriors in their lives? It turns out that there's a pretty simple and straightforward reason for this. Most of us do not learn how to express feelings in an honest and constructive way, that fosters communication rather than conflict. Men in particular have few good models for this - often the only emotion they are able to express is anger, and uncontrolled, rageful anger at that. Frequently, men are told to hide their "softer" feelings such as love, sadness, shame and empathy; they effectively stuff them into bags and learn to show only their rage, often at themselves.

I will illustrate this with my experience, to demonstrate how I take responsibility for myself. For example, I would find myself getting angry with my 13-year-old stepdaughter for not putting her dishes away at the end of a meal. This escalated into an argument about how she never noticed that things needed doing in the kitchen, for example, loading or emptying the dishwasher. In addition, I'd get cross with my wife if she interrupted me or wanted to continue a conversation I was done with. The person I was really angry with was myself.

This created barriers to good communication, and I only realised how effectively I was shutting my most-loved ones out after I attended a New Warrior Training Adventure weekend, during which I learned (among other things) that when I would get angry with others, it was often over things that I also did. It turns out that I had failed to recognise that I often neglected kitchen duties, for instance, or that I was also guilty of interrupting. This, I realised, was hypocritical, and that I needed to take steps to change my behaviour.

Over the course of the weekend, I learned how to be accountable for my actions, not just to myself, but to others. I needed to own up to my shortcomings honestly, and take action not just to correct the behaviour, but to offer something to make amends. I also learned to acknowledge my shadow-self, which I (in the company of many other men) ignore. The "shadow", in Jungian terms, is that part of us that we ignore, hide, are ashamed of, and for whatever reason, goes unacknowledged. We're all too often encouraged to hear only criticism and to stuff our "childish" needs, feelings and actions away.

These parts of us, figuratively stuffed into bags, we drag around for the rest of our lives, pretending that they don't exist, and all too often letting them not just hold us back from expressing ourselves openly and honestly, but even allowing ourselves to use them as unconscious excuses to sabotage our own good efforts. In modern parlance, we "act out", behaving in ways that are immature, damaging to all around us and damaging our ability to become good human beings. We become stilted men, hobbling through life; immature and incomplete.

Is there a solution? Well yes, there is. I've begun attending a men's circle and keeping in touch with the men I've met there, and I'm proud to say that in the past few months I have taken huge leaps forward in knowing myself much better, more honestly. The side effects are equally beneficial. I find myself unable to make excuses for my behaviour - I'm forced to be honest because I know what drives the anger, insecurity, fear and lack of action. I'm pleased to be a New Warrior.

If all this sounds somewhat evangelical, well it is, and I make no apology for it. I'm proud of what I'm doing.

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