Dear men: If you're looking to make a connection, start with your emotions

Dear men, I owe you an apology.

You see, in my last letter to you I called on you to step up. I talked about the problem in that letter and in my Tedx. 

I told you it wasn’t enough to simply not be part of the problem, that we all needed to actively be part of the solution. And we do all need to step up and do our part.

What I didn’t articulate well is how to step up — or why.

‘Dear men’: Partner of murdered Alberta woman challenges men to change

First off, I realize I have been appealing to the wrong motivating factors. I have been asking you to make changes to support others.

The reality is that we need to make these changes for very selfish reasons. We need to make changes for ourselves first and foremost. The net effect of those changes will be to solve many other societal ills.

Google the statistics on suicide rates, depression, or loneliness in men.

Men are hurting

Good men are hurting and we don’t know what to do.

One common thread I see with the men I work with is this emotional weight of feeling like we have to be the provider, the protector, the leader. I do not mean to detract from our privilege but the weight is heavy and it is very real. I have felt it and almost any man I have spoken to has in the past or is currently feeling it.

We feel inadequate, we feel like failures when we can’t live up to the stereotypical masculine norms. Worse yet, we bottle these feelings up. We hold onto them in isolation for fear of burdening the ones we love.

We feel shame, disappointment, and even self-loathing. A truth we seem to miss is that by opening up and sharing these emotions with our partners we actually deepen the bond between us.

I know the biggest hurdle for me is that I want to do this alone.

Mike Cameron became an advocate against gender-based violence after his girlfriend was murdered by her former common-law partner in 2015. (Mikaela Cameron)

Men seem to be hardwired this way. It is in our nature. The lone wolf, the strong man who can take care of himself. The one who won’t stop and ask for directions.

This emotional deconditioning is insidious. It has worked its way into every piece of our culture. We have been hearing more and more about this in recent years. Awareness levels are high, so the next question is what do we do about it.

When it comes to our emotional fitness, it is going to take a lot more than knowing that our society has conditioned us to suppress, repress, or remain stoic in the face of our feelings. We need to find ways to practice.

For this, let me jump to the physical fitness analogy. We all know and accept the theory behind physical exercise. As a runner, I theoretically know that if I want to run a hundred mile ultra-marathon, I just have to take approximately 200,000 steps in a forward direction.

The theory of how to do this is super easy. The task itself is incredibly difficult. The difficult piece is the training, the practice that needs to go in before the race.

Learn to SOAR

Yes, I am talking about practising feeling. For the sake of simplicity, let me boil my practice down to the acronym SOAR:

  • Slow Down. Take a breath, become attuned to the present.
  • Open up. Allow what is coming up for you in the moment to surface. Share it.
  • Accept what you are feeling. Don’t try to change it. Practise not judging it.
  • Reconnect with your emotional selves. We weren’t born disconnected, we have been conditioned to become disconnected.

Have patience. Understand that this emotional disconnection is something that has happened over a long period of time and is not necessarily a quick fix.

Just like the gym membership, you only get out of it what you put into it. And the more out of shape you are when you start, the longer it may take to reconnect.

I am a big fan of starting at the core, the root cause rather than treating symptoms.

Be vulnerable

Real magic happens when we start to practise in a group environment. Brené Brown, a leading researcher on shame and vulnerability, talks about the fact that vulnerability is the core of all emotions.

Vulnerability requires at least two parties in order to practise. Vulnerability also requires trust. How can we practise vulnerability?

Schedule a time with your partner to share.

Schedule time with a close friend where the intention is clear. You are going to share what is going on in your life and honestly share how you feel about it.

Dance, sing, play

Join or start a men’s group. Creating a supportive space where men gather in a small group with the primary intent of getting vulnerable is an incredibly powerful practice. I have some resources for this here

I hate to break this to you but we can’t do this alone. Period. Exclamation point. We need each other. Men need other men.

Ladies, we need your help too. We were not born knuckle-dragging mouth breathers; we have been conditioned to become that way for centuries.

I know that you have borne the burden of being our sole emotional support systems and I understand that you must be be equally exhausted. But help us with the practices outlined above and support us as we try and break this isolation.

The bottom line is that the results are worth the effort.

I can sum up the importance of doing the work with seven words.

Emotionally connected men do not kill people.

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