Post: Brad Pitt and Men’s Groups
We are told that men are emotionally closed down. That they cannot feel or express emotions. As a man who has experienced pain and witnessed thousands of other men in pain, I believe we are much like the fellow who the surgeon believes is entirely under anesthesia but is not. We feel the pain, but because of the sedation, we are unable to say that we do.
For most of us, pain’s intensity gets us to break out of our historical, emotional anesthesia. When the pain is more significant than our fear of experiencing and expressing it, only then will we take that risky action of seeking help.
Recently, at dinner with a group of international friends, one of them asked me why our EVRYMAN work is so effective. After mentally running through my elevator speech, I responded with a more vulnerable statement: “As men, we don’t feel emotionally safe”.
I would never have said that before spending thousands of hours in groups and on coaching calls with men. First, it feels weak to admit that I do not feel emotionally safe. Second, it does not make logical sense — every man has agency: we all can speak up, leave, or take care of ourselves.
When I applied the science of stress and trauma[JF1] on how both hijack our emotions and behaviors, I began to understand that when we do not feel safe, the space can be emotionally safe[JF2] , and our threat response kicks into gear.
When we feel we cannot fight and flee, the third stress response kicks in: we freeze[JF3] . As a mammal, we enter into a shock response where we disconnect from our bodies and emotions. Unlike animals in the wild, we do not shake off that freeze response. We stay frozen.
With the new threat of being in a space that does not feel safe, we revert to our freeze response — we check out. We do not feel the pain. We also do not feel that we can act.
We know we are adults with agency. We understand the process. We know what we should say or do – but we do not say or do it. That knowledge can lead to self-shaming, which only creates more stress that we have to push through.
Brad Pitt Steps through the Door of Fear
I know how much courage it takes to show up at a men’s group or a men’s training. It goes against everything we were taught. Then, to be a celebrity who knows that in order to benefit from the group, he will need to be vulnerable — that is courage. No one is interested in MY secrets, but you can imagine how any bit of information about a celebrity would be meth for social media addicts.
A recent GQ article discusses Brad Pitt and his participation in AA and a men’s group: “It’s one of several radical changes he’s made to his health over the past few years. After Jolie filed for divorce, in 2016, he got sober and spent a year and a half attending Alcoholics Anonymous. ‘I had a really cool men’s group here that was really private and selective, so it was safe,’ he says. ‘Because I’d seen things of other people who had been recorded while they were spilling their guts, and that’s just atrocious to me.’”
Without safety, you are not going to open up. Without opening up, you will not attain the change you need. Sure, you need to lean into your fear — but that is your fear you bring. It is not the fear that others will reveal what you share.
In an earlier New York Times article, Pitt says: “It’s almost a denial of this other part of you that is weak and goes through self-doubts, even though those are human things we all experience. Certainly, it’s my belief that you can’t really know yourself until you identify and accept those things.”
The magic of group experiences for men is that when others accept you, your emotions, and your behaviors, it becomes easier to accept them yourself. There have been many a man who we almost had to beat with love and acceptance before he would believe it and accept it.
The NYT article goes on to say: “His recovery group was composed entirely of men, and Pitt was moved by their vulnerability. ‘You had all these men sitting around being open and honest in a way I have never heard,’ Pitt said. ‘It was this safe space where there was little judgment, and therefore little judgment of yourself.’”
I suspect Pitt led the men in sharing. We know from our groups and trainings that when a man comes from a background that is seen as successful or hyper-masculine such as prison, professional sports, or military special operations, other men will follow that man’s lead. When a man’s man speaks vulnerably, you know it’s an emotionally safe space.
The reporter nails it with this comment: “Astonishingly, no one from the group sold Pitt’s stories to the tabloids. The men trusted one another, and in that trust, he found catharsis[JF4] . “It was actually really freeing just to expose the ugly sides of yourself,” he said. “There’s great value in that.”
The old model of being a man was “Don’t ask for help, and if you must ask, ask a professional”. Pitt — and more men, as our data show — muster the courage to risk vulnerability to change. It has been too many generations since men had emotionally safe spaces to be themselves, to be vulnerable. In a desire to change this, eighteen years ago, I committed to developing a model that supports men. I never expected it to grow to be EVRYMAN.
To guide men in selecting a powerful and safe men’s group, we created a one-page guide: 7 Key Questions to Ask Before Joining a Men’s Group. As Brad Pitt shared, a good men’s group will change your life. The top therapists in the country – Esther Perel, Sue Johnson, Ph. D., Terry Real, and Richard Schwartz, Ph. D. — recommend men to our groups and trainings. They understand the power of men being in an emotionally safe space.
If Brad Pitt Could Do It – What Will You Do?
Men like challenges, so here is one for you: What action will you immediately take to move forward using other men to change you and your relationships? Will you join a group? Will you find a men’s training that delivers what you need, or will you continue going it alone?
I suspect you have less at risk than Pitt did in joining a group. What is at risk if you do not act?
You have gone this far with me – what is that one thing you can do right now to get the help you need? Will it be to make a list of therapists or coaches to contact? Will it be checking a men’s organization? Will it being calling that lead you have for a group?