Men Need Other Men - Authentic Friends
The Connection between Male Bonding and Men's Mental Health
I have been talking a lot with men about mental well-being and their desire to have more authentic and meaningful friendships with other men. Our friendships and social bonds are vital to our mental and physical health. And yet many men do not have close male friendships where they can talk about their feelings, share their emotions together or have a dialogue about personal struggles or challenges.
Men spend much of their time relating with each other as Human Doings. We spend much less of our time together connecting as Human Beings. We are uncomfortable talking about our emotions, fears or struggles. We prefer to compare what we "do" for a career. And we talk about what we "do" recreationally or socially. It’s a way to establish significance with each other. It’s easy and it’s safe. We take this approach to gain respect or acceptance from other men and pad our own self-esteem. Many of us equate our own self-worth with the income we can generate or our wealth. It’s a very short and superficial path. It keeps us from exploring the deeper more meaningful personal territories. We hesitate to share who we are.
The Rewards of Authentic Friendships
A few years ago, I joined a Men’s Group with about 20 other guys of varying ages and backgrounds. I have to admit I was guarded the first few meetings and felt somewhat awkward sharing my personal thoughts with other men. In time, I realized we all had some issues, challenges, and struggles in common. The real cool part though was connecting with other guys on a deeper level and sharing our stories. This experience is uncommon in most men’s lives. And yet it was such a positive shift. It became fun to have a safe place to be me, to be my authentic self. As men we need to be understood and feel like we belong. I felt this there. It was liberating. There was no prework, no concern about how others would like me or not. For me it was a good time, created traction and was an uplift to my own mental health.
Cultivating Meaningful Friendships - Transform Fear into Courage
The Big Barrier - Fear
Why do men avoid authentic friendships? The barriers are high and the territory on the other side can feel intimidating. It’s difficult to see or feel what you have not seen or felt before. And let’s be real. We as men send powerful signals not to explore with each other what we feel is uncomfortable or uncertain. We might lose respect. We might lose our strong reputation. We might lose other’s confidence in us. We fear appearing weak or not masculine enough. Fear can paralyze us from taking action and inhibit our ability to grow. The result is that men often feel isolated or disconnected from other men. And yet most men want to be understood at a deeper level and feel a sense of belonging for who they are.
Big Change Maker - Courage
The irony is that the ability to become authentic and honest with other guys takes courage and makes us stronger not weaker. So how do we transform this fear into courage? How do we begin to make a shift towards authenticity in our friendships? The first step is to acknowledge it, name it and face it. Once you do this it will have less power over you. Next challenge your beliefs about the changes you want to make. You may notice that once you become more open and authentic, you gain new found friends and respect from those who have known you for some time. Finally, recognize that fear is generally future focused and outcomes are rarely as bad as we imagine them to be. Staying in the present and taking action now will create outcomes that may end up being quite positive. That is experience you can use to encourage you to make further changes.
Practical Ideas for Deeping and Strengthening your Friendships
Find moments within your current relationships to share something closer to your heart or something interesting about yourself that people don’t know. And ask other guys questions that will open up doors to explore the more meaningful aspects of your friendship. Be intentional about focusing on who you and others are, not simply what you do.
Share Your Story
Sharing our story is powerful and feels good. You tell yourself and the world that you are enough just as you are. You increase your own self-acceptance and you give inspiration to other guys to share their story. You can do this in a one-on-one conversation, a men’s group, or maybe even write something out that you can share with others in a more public way.
Be Active in Finding Your Tribe
Begin to understand what is most important to you in the people you spend your time with. Ask yourself what you are getting and giving in your most valued friendships. We all influence each other. Look for other guys who have an interest in bettering themselves. They will impact you in a positive way and energize you towards your own goals. Don’t settle for anything less. You deserve the best life and the best friends!
Take off Your Mask
Ashanti Branch, Founder of the Ever Forward Club has done amazing work with young men all over the country. He talks about the Mask You Live In. The outside of the mask is what we show everyone else. But there is an inside surface that we keep private and hesitate to show others in life. Once we realize we all wear a mask with two sides we can begin to accept that we have some common fears. And then we can become compassionate with ourself and others. Keeping the mask on and hiding behind it for a lifetime is exhausting. We all have the power to choose and to change. And we can; once we make the decision to step out beyond our fears and remove our masks.