When men feel as though they are headed towards a crisis, or plunging headline into one, we instinctively have the knee-jerk impulse to fix it, numb it, or just get the f out of there– whatever the quickest option is to stop and suppress the issue at hand.
This can work quite well for some time, until it doesn’t. Eventually there does come a point when that impulse starts to fail us. We find that we are trying to run from a crisis that only gets louder and more persistent. We eventually have to come face to face with this primal sense of what we fear most.
The Crucial Choice We All Must Make.
As men, we really have one choice; we can either double down on controlling, fixing, fighting and fleeing – doubling down on our impulse to resist – or we can decide to learn slowly, softly and in different ways to build a new nervous system. We can learn to relax into our purpose, mature our response programming, and slowly become the humans, the men and the fathers we are meant to be.
In the past, we may have been either too scared or too overwhelmed to become this version of ourselves. There’s a real fear when we start to be in contact with this vulnerable place, that if we slow down, life is going to overtake us. We fear we may lose everything we’ve worked so hard to build, or go crazy in the process. We keep running until our coping mechanisms turn on us.
Our Culture Allows Men to Keep Putting off Doing the Work.
The narrative of masculinity that’s woven into our culture allows us to always get away with putting off or pushing down or otherwise hiding behind a performance of false toughness, false dominance, false control.
For me, having just become a father, I didn’t anticipate all the ways I might need to work on my nervous system, all the ways I should deal with my trauma before our son arrived.
I had no idea how dysregulating it is to be in daily contact with a baby. They are like these little pools of totally present stillness. It’s a wild ride- as many of you know!
We think our nervous system works well when we’re in control, and if we get scared, we can just rev it up — drink some coffee, have a beer in the evening. Continue to pull all the levers works… until it starts to malfunction, becomes dependence or interferes with our relationships.
We need to make the choice to meet our biggest fears and learn how to settle our nervous systems as a gift to others. Instead, we put it off because it’s easy. We return to the old hits that the nervous system can handle: control, victimization, vices, speed and being righteous.
On top of this, we live in a culture that is essentially switched on to emergency all of the time. One of the problems is that we look around and we don’t see anybody making these difficult choices. So we don’t want to be the ones to act first in fear that people will believe we think of ourselves as “special” or “important.” We keep our heads down. We go along to get along.
There are many ways that culture pinches us to try and force us to stay in trauma and stay in fight or flight. I invite men to try and think about these questions:
- Do you recognise the importance of leadership that actually includes listening and being with these types of questions?
- How is my contact with my deepest fear?
- How is my contact with my purpose?
- How is my contact with my anxiety around the fact that I don’t know my purpose?
- Am I being truthful with myself?
- How is my relationship with discomfort?
- How is my relationship with the unknown?
These are the kinds of questions that compose a genuine adulthood. They are the questions that unmake a culture of mob trauma, imitation and fear. They allow men to take personal responsibility for our own nervous system and consciously make the decision to separate from our vice — or hide under the culture.
We have the responsibility to ask these questions. To understand our relationship to our own purpose, our relationship to our nervous system, our relationship to our adult self and our relationship to discomfort. When we bring the crisis home as men, we bring the crisis into our bodies.
This is not a cultural crisis, it’s a personal crisis and we’ve been running from it for a long time. At one point or another in our lifetime we are going to be faced with these questions. We have to recognise as men that we don’t get to be victims because we have a nervous system that essentially supports or is covered up by a violent system.
Being a man isn’t hard. But being a man that refuses to wake up, that’s what’s hard.