We all had stress or trauma as a kid. Even if you judge your childhood as good, something affected you in a way that still sabotages your life today.
From trying many approaches for myself and hundreds of men (some that were a waste of time, and some that nailed it), I discovered the most effective ways to create sustainable change. Shifting the past can be simple. It’s not about denying something happened, or refusing to admit it had an effect on you. It’s not about years of therapy dwelling on the reasons of WHY. Nor is it about finding a good woman to heal you.
Moving out of the limitations of the past is about accepting its effect on a somatic and emotional level… as you move forward creating the life you want.
Create a new frame
Knowing what your issues are, and what their impact on you was, gives you something to accept, so you can let go of it. There are three things here: first, this knowing is not a psycho-analytic knowing—it’s just knowing. Second, acceptance it not acquiescence; it’s simply acknowledging that something happened. You don’t need to know the details. And third, to truly let go of something, you first need to have hold of it. With acknowledgment and acceptance, you can release whatever binds you.
As kids our issues come down to two experiences. Exploring these two will aid you in acknowledging and accepting so you can walk away from your previous saboteurs.
Your abandonment could be as benign as that your mother left you in the crib to cry yourself to sleep. In the 1950s and 60s, mothers were told by Dr. Spock to train their children to fit their schedules. Great concept, but babies never got the memo.
Years ago, I recall working with a man in a group who was able to experience that abandonment, accept it, and then let go of it. His life from that night forward was forever changed.
The primordial grief that comes from a child being abandoned can run so deep that it is accepted as a given. The man might unconsciously and consciously accept that people will let him down, leave him, and life is lonely. This man may have a heart that never knows full joy. He may avoid intimate relationships to avoid being abandoned. Or he may just expect relationships may not work out.
This man’s universe is a universe of scarcity—there will never be enough. Life evolves to be a journey of hoarding resources. Yet there is often a deep neediness to fill the void that repeated abandonment created.
The upside of abandonment is that your quest to heal and succeed opens your heart. The past neediness is the seed for deep vulnerability and openness. You travel from a place of neediness or denied neediness to a place of deep love. Releasing this pain leads to the joy of connecting back up to yourself and others. Feeling and accepting your pain becomes your teacher to develop empathy; when you have compassion for yourself you have it for others.
What kid has power? What kid can say no? What kid can state and defend his boundaries? Or at least what kid is encouraged to say no?
When a child is taught that his space, emotions, thoughts and wants have no power, he learns to do something else. In no way am I saying that a child should have no limits. He needs limits. He needs to learn how to live within limits, just as he must learn to live with others not giving him what he wants.
As a parent you CAN’T get it right. That is the beauty of childrearing. Your screw-ups as a parent are the seeds for growth for your child.
Learning how to assert yourself so you aren’t violated and so your needs are heard is a particularly critical skill for men. As men we are meant to feel AND stand up in the face of what is coming at us. We might fall down, but we get back up.
So moving beyond powerlessness involves acknowledging and accepting. It also involves more action than moving beyond abandonment. To embody the right use of power, you learn to take action WHILE you are feeling your vulnerability and pain. Traditionally men were trained to shut down their pain, feelings and vulnerability and “man up.” Then we learned to be like a woman.  We learned to focus on expressing our emotions as if it was the only thing we needed to do to have a fulfilling life.
Today we realize both of those options independently don’t work. Now we are learning to do both, as we take mindful action. The old anger, resentment and rage heal themselves and shifts into power when we speak and act while being sensitive.
A man without power possessing few distinctions and no boundaries evolves to be a man who asserts his desires not as demands, but as statements of who he is. He stands up for himself. He has his own back, thereby the back of those he cares about. He learns that it’s not about doing right; it’s about getting up and being himself as he’s doing it. Failing is a part of learning and success.
Many men who find themselves drawn to men’s work or a men’s group do so because there’s a more vulnerable part of them wanting to express itself. They first focus on the healing aspect of the journey, then on the creation aspect. The healing often comes down to the core issues of abandonment and powerlessness. The creating evolves out of the new freedom healing brings you and your unique passion and purpose.
Some years ago a business man came to one of our groups struggling in his marriage and business. His survival strategy was to be nice (a trait I did my best to master). Sam loved his family and his work. He worked hard to build his business. He worked too hard. He was getting burnt out and frustrated.
As Sam shared his plight you could feel in the room how we all felt—how we have struggled against the same demon of believing hard work would solve every problem. We also felt how we all had avoided difficult conversations hoping they would go away only to realize they were sapping our energy.
Sam went on about his customer from hell. Whatever he did for her, it wasn’t enough. She would find something wrong with his action and want more. He was at his wit’s end trying to please her and provide good customer service.
We asked him, why? What does all this hard work get you? What is behind wanting to keep her happy? These questions quickly revealed that pleasing people was his default strategy.
As soon as Sam had that realization, you could feel that he hit his wall. He saw how he was powerless. He saw and viscerally felt the double-bind of believing success was linked to pleasing others, and pleasing others meant having no power.
To help Sam unwind this dilemma, we helped him to feel parts of the puzzle he never felt. As he saw and felt these pieces let go, we saw a man relax for the first time in months. Hope and passion came back.
Then he immediately realized what he had to do. He had to speak directly to his client. He had to tell her what his policy was, and then she could choose if she wanted to continue to work with him.
Sam came back next week looking ten years younger. With his voice shaking, Sam told the client what he wanted, knowing she would object. He laid out his policy, and waited for her rebuttal. After a moment she said OK.
Sam’s old circuits were fried. He couldn’t understand why this pain in the ass customer suddenly became so compliant. He also couldn’t understand why his wife stopped nagging him when he started telling her what he wanted.
When he came to the next meeting, he realized that replacing his powerlessness by speaking up and risking relationships for what was true, he got respect from himself and others. He felt like he was a man.
The next year Sam’s business grew by a factor of three. It was exciting to watch how much passion he had, and how much fun he had growing – himself and his business.
Take back what you lost
As men we are meant to go after what is ours. If you abandoned parts of yourself, get them back. If you were unable to speak up or stand up, speak up and act.
As men we don’t need to be always processing our emotions. We just need to allow them, accept them and move forward with them. In doing this we heal and create simultaneously – two for the price of one. Life becomes our therapy and our vehicle to success.
What takes you out the most? Pick one abandonment or powerlessness. Know we all have both in us. Yet there is one that will be the key that unlocks the rest. Commit to making that issue, and what lies under it, your training partner for three months. Begin to observe how you view the world from a place of being abandoned or powerless. Don’t judge it or repress it. Allow it to be there.
As you feel it grab you, breathe. And as Sam did, confront the embodiment of that issue in that relationship in your life that just won’t shift. Speak what you feel and want. Take a stance, risk losing the relationship for a deeper truth.
It’s not about succeeding. Sam’s client could have said, “No, I don’t want to continue to be your customer.” It’s about taking the risk. Risking is the new success.
If you want, share your journey with a friend who is supportive of your risk taking. Look for a friend who sees how you shifting this issue would be a huge win for you, rather than someone who points the finger and says, “Nom s/he’s the problem, not you.” Start today! You already know what you need to do. Make that commitment right now.
Share your success with us. Remember, success here is in speaking up and standing up. It’s not about changing a relationship.
 “ Like a woman” comes from our modern culture where men were at work and women were home teaching the kids how to emotional. She naturally did it with a feminine zip. This is not bad, women did what they had to do.