Dr. Fred Rabinowitz provides examples of the ways men open themselves up and offer help during a men’s group.
The following is a short sample from an early session our weekly two‐hour men’s group. This group consists of a couple of relatively new members and those who have regularly returned each year for the nine‐month experience. Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.
My co‐leader and I introduced an exercise about how the unconscious might be impacting our thoughts and actions. Specifically, we asked group members to reflect and share any relevant daydreams, night dreams, or awareness of where one’s consciousness wanders when not engaged in functional life tasks. We made sure that each man got a turn to speak and have their voice heard. Interestingly this led most of the guys to talk about the important issues in their lives.
- Neil started by speaking of his alcoholic father, who he loved but could not trust. When asked about the feeling that went with it, he described it as “numbness.” “It affects the way I see the world. I always try to expect the unexpected. Trust is hard for me.”
- Chris spoke up about his crazy relationship with a woman who is emotionally unstable. “I know it isn’t good for me, but I guess we are both damaged goods, so this is probably as good as it gets.” When asked about what it means to be damaged goods, Chris replied, “I can never trust my gut. I seem to always question my decisions. I always wonder if I should have made a different choice.”
- Sam, a former college football quarterback, in more immediate crisis, related to Chris’ comment. His fears poured out of him, taking up a significant amount of group time. Sam spoke of conflict with his current girl friend pregnant with his child, anger at his parents for non‐support, and regrets about leaving his old girl friend with whom he felt a more intimate connection. “I feel like I have fumbled my life away.” I reminded him that he was only at the beginning of the second quarter. As a new member, it is apparent that we need to set some limits, while helping him organize his process, give him support, and allow him to work through the life situations with awareness.
- Stan spoke of hearing his father’s voice in the background of his consciousness. When Stan relaxes and takes care of himself, he hears his father’s voice tell him “to stop fucking off and take care of business.” What is different these days is that Stan can at least talk back the voice and make his own decisions about himself. “I’ve listened to his voice for 45 years. It’s about time I decide for myself what is right for me.”
- Jarrett spoke about aging and his fears of getting old. At the same time, he seemed to want to be retired and enjoy his life. Eventually he backtracked to talking about being a Buddhist who should enjoy the present. Jarrett is continuing the pattern from last year’s group of making himself vulnerable, then pulling back and giving himself a rational solution. We (the therapists) will explore this pattern with him in the future. .
- Shelby shared how hard it has been for him to stay open to being vulnerable. “Fear sits right next to me whispering in my ear to keep quiet and not let anyone know what I am going through.”
- Joe shared last about a dream in which he is holding a woman’s breast and it felt good. “I wish I got more nurturing from my wife, but I am trying to stay open to it in my everyday life.”
The time passed quickly. The conversations captured a collective fear of intimacy, avoidance of vulnerability, and the difficulty of confronting conflict. Together, the men feltrelief and support about being able to share experiences and relationship issues that bring up shame and regret, feelings most men don’t admit or share with other men.
Fred Rabinowitz is a licensed psychologist who has been leading men’s groups for over thirty years in Redlands, California. He has written extensively about men in individual and group therapy. He is a professor of psychology at the University of Redlands in California.
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