A Long-Standing Men's Support Group

For the last fifteen years a group of men from the five Co-Counseling Regions around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, has been meeting monthly. We have continued to meet through many changes in our lives -- marriages, divorces, childbirths, job changes, illnesses, aging -- and through steady progress in our Co-Counseling leadership. In addition to building and leading Co-Counseling Communities, most of us have also played challenging wide-world roles.

Getting together with other men has provided us with attention and understanding for our early hurts and the pressures of men's oppression. We have had access to other good men who care that we do well, appreciate how we've struggled, and do not blame us when we stumble or make mistakes. The group has given us hope and inspiration. It has helped us to aim high and keep moving.

We have learned how to keep a men's group vital and effective. This is why we are writing -- to share our experiences and see if they strike a chord with other men in the RC Communities.

COMMITMENT TO RC

From the start of the group we have modeled for each other a picture of manhood that has included leading and organizing in Re-evaluation Counseling. Most of us began Co-Counseling as part of a search for a more rational world. We have stayed committed to leading and organizing RC in the face of job pressures, family stresses, relationship turmoil, and health crises. Being part of a group of men who have shown such persistence and commitment has helped to keep each of us on track. We have a sense of common purpose.

We have worked hard to master our own individual Co-Counseling, staying with it until we could reliably discharge and re-evaluate. We have internalized the theory, made it real, and made it work for us. As a result we can turn to each other and count on the discharge process to resolve most confusions that arise. We get to see the process work with men, and work well, each time we get together. Being part of a group of men who manage to work their way out of confusions gives us all hope and confidence. We do not have to resign ourselves to living the often-limited lives we see around us.

Our commitment to Co-Counseling has also meant that work and jobs have not swallowed us up in the way they often do other men. Though we all have work we care about and more things to do than we can manage, we remember that re-emergence and human liberation are most important. We leave time to do sessions and to lead and organize RC classes and workshops. We do this because Co-Counseling is actually the work of our lives. We put it first and resist the pulls of "careerism."

After such a long time we know that we are in for the long haul.(*) We offer to each other, should any of us temporarily lose faith, the reminder of our example.

FAMILY WORK AND HEALING FROM BOYHOOD HURTS

Our involvement in RC family work has been important. Each of our RC Communities has made a strong effort toward young people. All of us have worked to get ourselves in shape to be effective counselors for the boys and girls in our lives.

Four of us are fathers to boys. Others of us have close relationships with brothers who are still boys. As we've worked to be good counselors for these boys, we have come to understand boyhood well. We have spent many sessions reviewing our own experiences as boys and have gained insight into the oppression of male children.

Family work and discharging on our boyhoods have also contradicted the heaviness of our lives as men, the grim reduction of life to production and responsibility. Light-hearted-ness does not come easily to most men. Men don't usually get to remember what life looked like before so much was expected of us. The group has helped us to remember to play, on our own and with each other.

SEX AND ADDICTIONS

As we've worked on our early hurts, we've reviewed our earliest memories about closeness and sex. For most of us, abandonment and unfulfilled needs set us up for(**) compulsions. We are not yet always on top of(***) these pulls. However, having a group of men with whom we can notice the heavy hand of oppression in the struggles we face, rather than attributing these struggles to individual weaknesses or corruption, is helpful.

Many men get lost in pursuing compulsions and frozen needs. Men have been trapped and pandered to by a society that preys upon our vulnerabilities. We are often addicted to food, work, or relationships. Our men's group has allowed us to be honest about our most private and "shameful" battles, and then get help. When one of us honestly offers up for discharge his "dearly cherished" but frozen needs, it challenges us all. Each month we are reminded to not give up, to not yield to the many seductive pulls to comfort.

WORK ON SEXISM

We have inspired and led each other to fight against sexism. Because men are generally abandoned emotionally as boys, including by our mothers, we have to fight numbness, isolation, disappointment, and feeling critical in our close relationships with women. It is as daunting to maintain intimate relationships in the face of these recordings as it is to assume any leadership role. We have given each other permission to care, struggle, make mistakes, fail, and keep trying.

Each of us has a close relationship with a female RC leader. Because of our conditioning as men, it has not always been easy to honor, trust, and follow these women. At one point we invited several women leaders, who are partners of group members, to lead our group and assist us with our unfinished work as their allies.

Because we've tackled distresses related to sex, sexism, and closeness, we have become better counselors for the women in our RC Communities. Women have invited us to assist them with discharging their internalized oppression, and we have backed each other in doing this. Effectively counseling women on their internalized oppression helps to correct the injustice of sexism on a personal level, and this contradicts our feelings of guilt and powerlessness.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

We have steadily raised our expectations about our responsibility for ending men's oppression. We began by just figuring out how to be together, care for each other, and exchange counseling. We now see ourselves as leaders in the movement for men's freedom. Continually raising our expectations in this area has kept patterns of discouragement or cowardice from dominating our lives.

Prior to our group many of us were leaders in various liberation movements, but not men's liberation. Men's oppression made us afraid to stand up for what we believed about men. As boys, and particularly as teenagers, we learned to watch ourselves carefully to avoid being singled out. We all have memories of seeing other boys being targeted with harshness and violence.

Gay oppression is at the heart of men's fear of visibility. Even though we've recovered much of our pride and confidence, we still sometimes fear what could happen to us if we don't conform to the oppressive stereotype of men. This fear can make us keep our personal battles to ourselves and cut ourselves off from friends, fathers, and brothers. In our group we remind each other that it is the "intent" of men's oppression to make us blame ourselves, to silence us in shame, to make us hide from the men around us. We help each other find the courage to fight our fears and be ourselves.

MONITORING INTERNALIZED OPPRESSION

Men's oppression is deeply entrenched in the world. Because it is woven into our relationships and work places, it has been difficult to spot. Persisting with our group has helped us to see it and notice the ways it has dominated our thinking.

Our group has gone through rough periods when internalized oppression obscured our direction and confounded our relationships. We have doubted our leadership, felt we should end the group, and each thought he would be better off without the others. Discharging our way through these periods has taught us to question such impulses and to be on guard against patterns of isolation, competition, mistrust, and despair.

Some of our distresses are not pretty. We must address in each other some of the very patterns that have hurt us the most. Because we have stayed with each other and tackled these distresses, we've gained a sense of power. We've learned that we can find the human being beneath the oppressive attitude or behavior.

DEALING WITH MULTIPLE OPPRESSIONS

We have also had to face other ways we've been separated from each other. We are Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, owning-class, middle-class, working-class, younger, older, Gay, and heterosexual. These differences are used as the basis for exploitation out in the world. They surface in our group as grounds for suspicion and division. When we have difficulty understanding and trusting each other, these other oppressions are often at the bottom of it.

Our varied experiences have also been a source of strength. Patterns that otherwise might have limited our effectiveness as leaders get addressed in the group. Someone else will see them clearly, challenge them, and contradict them. Reaching out to each other from our different experiences, and across prejudices and misconceptions, has given us a bigger picture of men. We are able to avoid narrowness in our points of view.

REAFFIRMING

Our group has taught us that men can make key contributions to each other's lives. We've gained a broader understanding of men's oppression. Perhaps most important, just being with each other helps us to notice that we are not alone. We have an active sense of each other in our lives, and this gives us a bigger world and bigger lives. We have recovered something of our birthright.

Mike Reichert
Wilmington, Delaware, USA
(for Chuck Esser, Keith Miller,
John Irwin, Blair Hyatt,
Billy Yalowitz, Eric Braxton,
and Michael Sheadel)


(*) In for the long haul means committed for the full duration of the struggle.
(**) Set us up for means became the basis for.
(***) On top of means in charge of.

 


Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07