“To be nobody but myself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else—means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting.” ~ E. E. Cummings
The last thing I want is to be told yet another way how to be a man. I have worked hard, and continue to work, to reclaim aspects of myself lost to traditional male conditioning. Traditional male conditioning, with its old school constricting demands and expectations of manhood has separated all men from at least some aspects of our authentic selves. Now, as modern men, we are facing changing gender roles with new demands in our relationships and at work. As a result, we are being presented with an increasing number of New Models of Manhood. These new models, while more allowing of various ways to be a man, have inherited some of the problems of Traditional male conditioning.
My most intense experience with these new models of manhood came during a time where I had dated my wife for a week, and then she broke-up with me because she felt I was projecting onto her. I was then in the “friend zone.” After a couple of weeks, she posted on Facebook one of those articles on “what a conscious woman wants from a man” and it read like a laundry list of psycho-spiritual superpowers that were impossible for any man to fulfill. I remember reading it and while I was mainly pissed because I took it personally, I had a range of reactions including: “I’m that way,” “I don’t want to be that way,” “really?” “If that’s what she wants, forget it,” “that’s not what a man is,” etc…
I had mostly accepted that we would not be together – “Good luck on finding that guy!” I expressed all of this to a friend, emphasizing how I thought the article was no good. Then, a couple of days later, I went over to her place to help her move, because that’s what friend zone guys do. While there, she happened to pull up the article and began reading parts of it out loud, often saying, “Hmmm, that sounds like you.” Eventually I said, “Ya, that’s a pretty cool article!” LOL! I kid you not. Love can make you do some strange things.
My inconsistencies reflected in the above story indicate how I was lost in the new models of manhood, and albeit, in love. That experience, my very mutually accountable marriage, and my life dedicated to the study of psychology, have led me to the conclusion that the only one way for us, as men, to be healthy, fulfilled and empowered, is to be true to our authentic selves. Authenticity means being true to who you are and expressing this truth in your interactions in the world.
Authenticity is a process of frequent discovery in each moment and an honoring of how you actually are, not a static goal or definition. While the new models allow for greater options for men, only by turning inward, healing personal wounds and reclaiming aspects of self lost to traditional male conditioning, can a man move toward greater authenticity.
Traditional and New Models of Manhood
Traditional male conditioning has influenced all men to one extent or another, and much has been written about this. On the positive side, traditional conditioning includes being honorable, strong, self-assured, externally responsible, protective, and more. Boys, and men, are often shamed if they do not live-up to these traditional standards. Shame is the experience that there is something wrong with who one is, and so shame can cause men to stuff “unmanly” aspects such as vulnerability, emotionality, receptivity, deep social support and more.
The New Models of Manhood often include detailed descriptions or lists of the “Conscious,” “Awake,” or “Superior” man. These new definitions challenge and expand on traditional male conditioning. One value of these new models is in providing the freedom and new permissions for men to try on various and more complete ways of being a man, e.g., greater emotional awareness and exploring deeper sources of masculine power. As these new and broader definitions become more accepted in society, men have more flexibility to be who we truly are, to be authentic.
Traditional Risks For The New Man
New models of manhood have inherited some of the problems of traditional male conditioning. These problems interfere with men’s abilities to relate to or accept what is being offered with the new models and interfere with authenticity. While shame is addressed here, future topics in this series are summarized at the end of this article.
No matter how inclusive any New Model of manhood is, it can evoke the shame that was part of traditional male conditioning, while providing its own shaming message. As indicated above, boys and men are often shamed if they do not live-up to the Traditional standards and so we stuff “unmanly” aspects of ourselves.
Because any new model of manhood offers an implied expectation of what it is to be “a man,” it can repeat the shame of Traditional male conditioning. I myself have experienced this, and witnessed it in other men. Saying “An Awake or Conscious Man is…” can ring very similarly to “Man-up.” In this sense, these frameworks are new, and albeit better, wine in old wineskins.
As soon as there is an expectation that a man has a particular feature, male shame unconsciously may rear up in resistance and defensive reactions including withdrawal and dismissal. A man may engage in intellectualized arguing regarding the validity of the new model. Alternatively, the man may “prematurely” adopt the designated feature, professing that he actually possesses the newly desired feature while that feature is actually out of step with his authentic self.
There is a solution: By emphasizing that a man be nothing but his true authentic self, shaming and the shaming reaction are removed.
Consider the difference between saying to a man, “We are here for you to be exactly who you are,” versus saying, “This is how you are supposed to be.” The latter message creates a separation between who the man actually is and some external ideal. Valuing our authenticity above all else places us squarely in ourselves, with our unique attributes and gifts, and this is the place from which fulfillment and power flow.
Internal Authenticity for Manhood (I-AM)
The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are. ~ Carl Jung
A very important question is: How is a man to know when he is living authentically? Broadly speaking, a man may not be living authentically when he is feeling unfulfilled and/or not empowered. He may also be experiencing a general malaise or anxiety about his life. He may be losing his sense of zeal and purpose for life. He may not feel a sense of agency in his life, feeling that life is happening to him and not happening through him.
As men clear our conditioning and heal emotionally, internally deeper and clearer emotional and intuitive information is available. Once the emotional blocks are removed and distorted emotions cleared-up, listening to our emotions and intuition provides true direction. It is like, with less interference and greater self-awareness, the internal compass is re-calibrated, more sensitive and truer to a man’s inner guidance system, allowing him to find his authentic way. When a man is authentic, healed and whole, he spontaneously lives a fulfilled and empowered life.