Hey man, what’s going on?
What’s happening with you?
These are both lyrics taken from a Marvin Gaye album that I love — What’s Going On. They’re both ways to coax a defensive man out of his hiding place, to express his truth.
When Gaye put the finishing touches to this masterpiece, he was experiencing a lot. Grief for the loss of his lover and singing partner Tami Terrell, sadness for his brother Frankie who had just come back from Vietnam with horror stories — that’s the second song on the album, and frustration that Motown wouldn’t allow him to expand into protest songs.
In life, we all experience a plethora of expected and unexpected things.
It’s essential that you process what’s happening to you, and how you feel about it.
Repressing emotion doesn’t lead to any easy life, it leads to bodily stresses and strains, and then when those weights become too great to bear, explosive behaviour. This behaviour can have us saying things or acting things that are way out of integrity zone.
It’s imperative to express your truth in a relationship; otherwise, you hide in some form of shame around feelings.
To be able to fully and utterly show up is to be seen in love.
Notice how both of the statements above are curious questions, and the subheading states that I am open to hearing what you have to say and that you are safe.
These are such vital aspects of relating.
Men have shame around feelings from before the day they can process language; they grow up in environments when the men in their life have shame for emotions; the men in their life shame themselves for having a feeling.
It’s a somatic imprint by this point.
Then we head through life; school, primary relationships, our first love, hearing expressions that emotions are weak, and being weak as a man is a blasphemy. I see blasphemy because there is no chance that it will even be considered.
I learned a beautiful thing recently from The Four Agreements: The word impeccable means ‘without sin’.
The origin of the word sin is ‘estrangement from God’. Estrangement from seeing God in ourselves.
Whenever I had a robust emotion as a young twenty-something, I would recoil at the thought of expressing it.
“That’s not what men do!”
I would tell myself.
I consider it fortunate that I have always been a hypersensitive man, and so I found it impossible to not cry at sad movies, hell, I cried at happy movies, scary movies, comic movies!
Before I accepted my crying as a gift, it would rise up in me like a swelling ocean wave, before it hit my jaw.
I’d clench my teeth so hard, and press my jaw downwards to hold in the tension. My lip would tremble, and my chest would shake. Then I’d dedicate my energy to stopping those things because I was ashamed of them!
Anything that was a remote sign of emotion, I squashed it.
Ironically, the quickest way to dissipate emotion is to feel it and allow it through you.
Want to get rid of the crying? Cry for a minute.
There are so many forms of crying too; it can come in a single tear, a running river rapid, a turbulent storm, or a gentle stream.
So, what’s happening, brother?
What’s going on, do you want to share anything with me?
Is there anything on your mind?
Have you had a lot of pressure on your shoulders recently?
From working in men’s groups, I know that this is the case for most men. There’s a significant weight on our cultural shoulders to be perfect, to provide, to be the warrior and protector.
There are many different archetypal personalities that we all have within us. Feminine and masculine.
All these things can be healthy. Hold them as the big vision, but don’t play into the game of perfectionism. We are all perfectly imperfect. It’s not possible to maintain perfection.
Perfection is for highly advanced and intense procedures like NASA, and heart surgery. To train for these things takes a lifetime of dedication.
You’re not perfect, and you shouldn’t have to be.
From the moment I opened up ‘Healing The Shame That Binds You’ by John Bradshaw, I knew it was going to change my life.
Rip me open, and change my life. The cracks are where the light gets in.
There is a solid structure to shame. It’s not a whimsical personality trait.
It needs engagement and healing.
I have been involved in many other drama triangle dynamics, and I fulfilled the role of scapegoat also.
Brené Brown’s incredible work shows me that the only way through shame is to open up and connect; to engage in empathy:
Shame cannot survive the light
Honestly, though, it feels so good to share.
It feels so good to be heard. It might not feel right to feel the pain, sadness, despair or depression.
Do you know what most helps these emotions?
Having someone you care about to sit there and nod and say that they’ve felt that before. They know how you feel.
Trust me; they do know how you feel.
There are very few amounts of things that most people haven’t experienced. In these cases, if you’re sharing something that someone can’t relate to, then you’ll be pushed to find a support network that does understand these things.
The worse thing for you to do is to stew in the cauldron of unexplained and unrecognised emotion.
Sharing has an added benefit; it allows you to understand more of how you feel about something.
Sometimes I feel a significant amount of shame about something, and when I open up to someone about, they are confused.
Their confusion is a teacher to me. It makes me realise that I’m the one that is confused about it. I don’t know it clearly and precisely enough to express it. The effectiveness of communication is how accurately your message is received.
That’s an opportunity to hash it out, to bounce ideas and to hear reflections and test them against my feelings.
The other aspect to this is confusion comes from complexity, and it’s O.K. not to know how to face something large and complex.
As humans, many things can’t be solved, that require acceptance and surrender. In that case, it’s always great to have a friend to laugh off that tension. Shrug, and carry on life’s path alongside each other.
It’s because of friendships that I’ve understood some of life’s most challenging moments.
Now more than ever, when the world out there is so chaotic and changing; it’s essential to know and process how you feel. It’ll open up space in you.
It will singlehandedly allow you to plan your life, actualise your goals. The time you put into understanding your feelings, you will gain back.
Think of it as investing in yourself.
Lean on your support networks, deepen your relationships in a healthy way.
It’s becoming essential, and I guess that the world won’t stabilise any time soon.
Learn how to feel, learn how to express how you feel, learn how to process emotion in activities. Sport, playing pool, breathwork, running.
These can all be a part of the process of our self-understanding.
Life can become a woven tapestry of understanding and acceptance.
It all starts from opening up, first to ourselves, then to others.
Open up, man. I love you.
Previously published on medium
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Photo credit: by Tolga Ahmetler on Unsplash