Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why American Men Need Psychological and Spiritual Bonding

I have learned as a psychologist over thirty-five years that many American men are very lonely. Yeah, there is the guy-bonding and mutual exuberance that occurs with drinking buddies, drug addicts, computer geeks, military comrades, and members of competitive teams (be they about sports, cars, online gaming, or what-have-you).

But the truth is that loneliness lurks under the veneer of jubilant camaraderie or pal-buddy loyalty.

I believe it's because along about the seventh grade boys start teasing other boys when one of them shares a personal feeling. We males learn the art of keeping deeper thoughts and feelings to ourselves, lest we become the object of mocking, ribbing, and scorn.

Unfortunately, then we don't take the interpersonal risks that girls and women are actually encouraged to take. We become skittish about sharing our interior world, for fear that we'll be judged as dumb, silly, or worse yet, sissy.

The price we pay is profound. We come to live in the dark about our own depths, because to grow fully mature psychology and spiritually, a person must connect intimately with others, especially same sexed friends.

This social reinforced aversion about discussing what's deeply private leaves us all too mute when it comes to male bonding. Too, there is unconscious fear that if you do share your feelings more openly, you'll be judged as gay, for gay men have pressed the boundaries of emotional expressiveness further than their straight counterparts, and developed a societal expectation that gay stands for emotional and sexual peer bonding.

Yet only a tiny proportion of America males identify themselves as gay in temperament or lifestyle, so what about that huge proportion of American men who end up simply psychologically and spiritual repressed because they've never learned how to shared their depths with other men?

Here's an example I overheard in a home supply store where I was shopping. Two men who worked there were talking.

The younger man said, "I had a bit of a tough week."

The older man said, "Huh."


The younger man said, "Yeah, Dad died and his dog doesn't have a place to live."

The older man shrugged his shoulders and said, "Well, when you're finished this job don't forget to stock more wrenches in the plumbing section."

They left together, the younger man hanging his head down, his deeper feelings buried in his chest, his existential loneliness on the planet once again confirmed, his private perceptual world once again ignored by a buddy.

Go in any restaurant and you can notice the same thing. There will be a married couple sitting there staring into space together, because the man doesn't know how to open his interior world, other than commenting on business or politics. You'll also see a couple of women who are freely exchanging psychological intimacies and spiritual inspirations -- they'll be laughing or crying or touching each other on the hand or shoulder.

Now notice a couple of guys in the next booth looking at the menus instead of at each other. Their conversation comes in short, terse bursts, punctuated by long, lonely silences.

I'll never forget the group therapy session I was having, where I was introducing the idea of private disclosure as the new norm, a norm that would help the participants feel more human, and more warmly connected to their own depths and to one another. One man at forty years of age finally got the message. He shared a couple of very private things that had happened to him, and experienced the group members as interested and involved.

Tears came to his eyes and he suddenly burst out, "Why hasn't anyone ever told me how good it feels to let down my guard and say what's really going on inside? It's like I've lived my whole life concealing what's in me, afraid that everyone would judge it as less than manly. And you all are telling me, "Hey, you're only human. Open up so we can understand you. I don't know whether to laugh or cry, but it sure feels different!"

Actually, there's a whole new generation of men today who are learning to take the risks required for psychological and spiritual bonding, and I am more than happy to see it.

So whether you are one of the older generation who was taught emotional repression and lonely privatization of your interior life, or one of these new guys who wants to live life more abundantly, bonding fully and freely with other men, here are some guidelines that can't help but make you healthier and happier:

  • Throw into the garbage pail the image that a real man keeps things to himself.
  • Develop a social image that most people will accept and appreciate what's deep and real in you.
  • If some macho dude looks down his nose at you for sharing a real emotion, look right back at him with the confidence that says, "If one of us is going to live the lonely-guy syndrome, better it be you than me." Then go find a different fellow to bond with.
  • Discover that guys like depth, once the ice is broken and somebody take the required risks of going deeper.
  • Enjoy the fact the men make excellent companions in psychological and spiritual ways, once they get the hang of it.
  • Celebrate this way of existence by bonding with you guy friends, wife, son or daughter, and even strangers, who will all resonate to your authenticity, and enjoy your human warmth.

The results? Your blood pressure will go down. Your temper will lessen. Your patience will increase. Your life will lengthen. Your joy will grow. And last but certainly not least, your loneliness will become a thing of the past!

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