|Letting a Man Take His Own Steps as Client|
If you have not read "Getting Started with Men" please read it first.
Most people and especially men, can be at least a bit uneasy when they start talking about themselves in a new situation or with a new person. In such a process there are two main roles that we play - the listener or "counsellor", and the one talking or "client". The two roles are different and best treated as involving separate skills. Bystanders, friends, or group members, though playing a more passive role, also have an important part to play in making safety.
There are choices a client makes during the process. Fully respecting and supporting these choices is central to empowering him or her. Becoming able to freely and easily make the full range of choices involved in emotional discharge work takes some time. It is strategically important to focus our support so that the ability to show oneself as a client is reclaimed fully.
It can take quite some time for a man to firstly discover issues, emotions and then to be able to work through the laughing, tears, angers or what ever else he has stored up waiting to be worked through. The best strategy is to aim for each man getting his strength back along with his emotions and for him to be incharge of the process. We can help make this happen by seeing more clearly the situation of a man new to the work.
Males have been lied to about their emotional nature. They've been told "big boys don't cry" from a very young age. Males have been specifically mistreated for having have any kind of trouble. They are supposed to figure it out or tough it out alone. No-one is able to figure out how to reclaim his or her emotional life and work through tensions, without assistance from others, but since males have had others interfere with their emotional expression from very young, they need to be incharge of the process of reclaiming their ability to show and heal emotions. Men have all had long histories of ridicule and humiliation for showing their vulnerability, long histories of being treated as if they had "not been strong enough to keep it in". As we listen to men who are new to emotional discharge work they will show all this as "discomfort" with the process. When we are able to create enough safety that the guy can see he is safe but let him "feel unsafe," he will be able to work through the inhibiting feelings. The key thing for us as listeners is to follow, validate and support his choices as he makes them.
When men begin emotional discharge work it is essential that he be allowed and encouraged to simply talk about himself and his life without any need to work on or through any emotions. Just allowing him to go through his life and tell his story is an essential first step. Men have had to put their attention to work for the great bulk of their lives. Everyone has not had the chance to think about their life and talk about what has happen just for ones self. This is where the agenda for the future of the man's directions will begin to be developed. A still begining just for him is essential. Men have been conditioned to value only what they "do" and not "how they are". For the dischage process to be used well a man will need to be allowed to think feel and talk about how he "is" and how "he has been". Other wise men simply just work for their counsellors and will not have a chance to ever really engage with their own process for their own reasons. This is a departure from the way his thinking has been forced to be. It can be very unfamiliar for a man to do this, just for himself. It is a chance for a new beginning. A discovery of his "real self".
When peers exchange effective assistance we have called it a "session". A peer relationship is easier for men than other approaches. It can retain the best of men's culture while making the safety needed for men to fully reclaim their humanity. Men can work through emotions without needing to take the demeaning posture of a victim. Simply listening and letting each man's choices be respected is a good start to providing him with the support he needs to dare to make bigger choices. It is his own agenda that is being followed not anyone else's. Over all, it is about helping men reclaim ease and trust in talking about themselves and being able to show and discharge their feelings with you. Men have been mistreated emotionally for most of their lives. There has been almost a complete lack of emotional safety. As a result each man has a set of awkwardness, suspicions and mistrusts of others. He also has personal inhibitions, blank spots and tensions within himself. These have been systematically put in place by living in a society that has no place for males personally.
One can define five levels of choice involved in the decision to discharge. To help a man get stronger in being able to "use" the role of a client, you will need to be aware of the level of choice he has made. Next you will need to think about how you can support him to develop and use that choice. Being relaxed as you encourage a man's choices will help him be able to use your encouragement. When you can be trusted as a counsellor to stick with the level the man has chosen, it becomes much easier for them to trust you to show and to discharge emotions.
The levels of choice that I have seen are to:
1. make contact with someone who is listening.
2. talk with him or her.
3. show an area of tension.
4. feel the emotions associated with that tension.
5. allow the emotions to "discharge".
Respecting a man's choice is the way to help him reclaim the full ability to show himself and discharge on all levels of emotions. If a counsellor misses which level of choice a man has made in a session and pushes him deeper he will often just "perform" or "work" for the counsellor. Men have had a reputation for being "emotionally dead" clients. This has been in large part due to the counsellor not being able to tell what level of choice about showing himself a man has made. The counsellor may then force the man to a level he has not yet chosen and is not ready for. No wonder the session is "dead".
This is generally true for any person in any area he or she has been inhibited in. To push anyone who has had inhibitions, is to get in the way of his or her choosing to continue. People can be allowed and relaxedly encouraged through their inhibitions. To follow a man closely as counsellor seeing what he is able to decide to do as a client and where he is struggling to show himself can be enough to allow him to break in to discharging emotions.
When listening to a man it is important to remember that everything is possible. Every distress pattern will discharge spontaneously when he is able to see that the distress is over at least at that moment in the session.
The decision to stay around your listener and openly make contact with him or her is the first level of choice to be a client. Most people make this decision easily as they walk up to a friend and start to talk to him or her. However it can not be taken for granted that a decision to make contact is easy. Many people are not really able to make contact easily with another at all. Little children show this when they meet a stranger and they are embarrassed and will not make contact or speak. They play peek a boo and if the stranger also plays and lets them laugh, it can become OK to talk. Because of the complete lack of emotional assistance that has been given to males from early on, many men can still be frozen at the difficulty to make contact stage of a little boy. It is no reflection on the man. It is a reflection on the society. We may still need to play lots of peek a boo, or anything else that's fun and plays with making contact. The challenge for the counsellor is to find some ways of getting a man to realize that trouble with contact "at this moment in this session" is okay and that now we can play with it.
The standard in men's culture is to watch carefully to see if the other man is scared of you. If he is, you don't make "open" contact with him. Many men are not able to make open contact with anyone. In many work places, no-one makes personal contact with anyone all day. Anyone who has spent time in places like that can be expected to take a little while to be able to choose to make contact enough that the other levels of choice are available.
The second level of choice to be a client is talking with your listener. It may not be about anything in particular, but some showing of oneself is taking place. This is the level of "talking about the weather" or other easy things. Doing emotional discharge work with new people can stay at this level till they have figured out if you are safe to talk with them about bigger issues. Lots of the talk with men can stay at this level for years. Safety needs to be made and maintained, for men to get much deeper than talking.
There is a social "pattern" in the western world of running men down for not showing themselves personally. What a man needs in order to be able to show himself and a struggle that he may have, is safety from being run down for having that struggle. You can trust that every human wants to be able to show who they are and where they have struggles. Letting a man choose when and how he will go past "the weather" will let him work through his inhibitions.
The third is to choose bring up an issue that has tension on it. At this level the counsellor not being bothered by the issue will allow the man to continue. In the general culture most men have a life experience of being mistreated for just about any problem that may have had. Having a listener who stays with them and respects their choice, will be unfamiliar to most men for the first little while. Validating the man for how he has done with his issue may help. Getting familiar with discussing tense subjects with a relaxed listener is valuable for most men for many, many hours. It allows men to reclaim their ability to discuss important things with others in an easy way.
The fourth level of choice in sharing is to feel the feelings associated with an issue. In most males' lives there has been no one who has stayed around as a listener at this level since weaning. Boys have learned "it best to go off alone" if feeling any bad feeling. To simply be with a male who is feeling bad and not do anything is very useful and "unusual".
The fifth level is to allow emotions to discharge. You can congratulate yourself if he has tears or any other discharge. Simply staying with him as he gets to figure out emotions as they discharge is all he may need for quite some time. It's fine if he laughs or cries. No type of discharge is any more important than any other. A while spent yawning is every bit as valuable as some tears. Most boys have been beaten up or humiliated for tears or trembling. For a man to have relationships in which it is easy and safe for these natural physical process to happen, can open up his life. These simple emotional releases can be allowed to continue until they are exhausted and the man is freed from the tension. A spontaneous re-evaluation process will follow that reprocesses the information that was "trapped" in the tension. A quiet time after any emotional release may be needed to let this re-evaluation process complete itself.
Persisting With Emotional Discharge
When a man finds a way of showing his struggles that has him discharging them, he will need the counsellor's help in persisting with that discovery. With out this persistence men often will loose their "place" and go back to talking around the issue until they find the spot where discharge begins again. The skill and the experience of the counsellor is in the ease and clarity that the client can be allowed and encouraged to repeat what allowed the emotions to discharge.
The simplest "technique" is the counsellor saying "again" after the emotional discharge finishes. Sometimes the repeating in the same tones, the words the client used that immediately proceeded the discharge, will allow the process to continue. The counsellor will need to have at least begun emotional discharge work on the issues that they may have in similar areas to remain flexible enough to allow men to show themselves in this way.
Simply by persisting with having sessions in which the counsellor waits for, and allows the man to make his own choices, and then encourages these to be continued and developed, allows men to reclaim the ability to choose to, show themselves, feel and discharge emotions. Over a period of months or years men engaged in this work will regain their strength in this inherent process.