People have asked me for a therapist referral and when I asked them what kind of therapy they want, it's obvious they are actually looking for a life coach. Other times, I have had people reach out for coaching, when it's clear they need a therapist.
General clarification seems lacking so I'll ad my 2¢ to the conversation, and I invite other coaches and therapists to confirm, deny, correct, or disagree with me as necessary.
The clear difference to me is that therapy is for healing, whereas coaching is for empowerment. Just as athletes go to a physical therapist to heal from an injury and go to a coach to get better at their sport, the same dynamic follows for the quality-of-life professions outside of athletics.
To heal from psychological and emotional trauma, people should go to a therapist. If you are suffering from crippling anxiety or depression, or if you are working to overcome childhood abuse, a therapist is going to be your best bet.
However, if you want to get better at relationships, or find a better career path, if you want to earn more money, or build your self-confidence, then a coach is who you want to talk to.
Of course, there is also overlap between these two (hence the Venn diagram above). A good therapist, in helping you heal from past trauma, depression, etc., will no doubt also help you become better at relationships and have more confidence. Likewise, a good coach will identify any past psycho-emotional pain and allow that healing to lead you towards your goals.
I know a lot of people who work with both a coach and a therapist (just as professional athletes do). Many of my clients have done years of therapy to heal, then come to me for support in building the life that they most want.
The good news is that if you aren't sure, working with either a coach or a therapist will probably help.
Let me know if this helps or if you have questions.
Lastly, I'm an intimacy and relationships coach. If you are looking to heal from past traumas, you can meet those needs by working with a therapist. But If you are looking to improve your relationships and live a life of “Fuck Yes”, I invite you to shoot me an email or message.
My greatest fear in relationship is that she leaves. She leaves and my life is destroyed.
This fear comes from my childhood. I have idyllic memories of my early childhood. I remember my parents being head-over-heels in love with each other. I remember being head-over-heels in love with both of them, with my family.
Then, I remember my mom yelling at my dad. Then she left. It was as though my heart was ripped from my chest.
I remember witnessing my father's pain, first hand, the sorrow, the helplessness. He seemed pitiful, powerless, pathetic, and I felt the same way. I was even more pathetic and powerless. I could feel it.
As an adult, doing shadow work, I see how I internalized the feeling of shame and helplessness that I felt from my dad. Small children are unable to distinguish "feeling bad" from "being bad". The story that I took away from this life-shattering process was that it was because I was "bad" that my mom left, that my life was ruined.
It wasn't an intellectual or conscious understanding. It was something I felt in my gut, that I encoded in my subconscious, then buried.
Looking back, I can see the way that this fear shaped my relationships. Early on, I would charm women and lure them in to fill the void; but I would not let myself be vulnerable. I would not open up. I would not allow myself to fall head-over-heels in love with them because at some level I knew that if I did, it would mean the pain of loss.
Later, as I learned to let myself be vulnerable, to let myself care, I made efforts to be good. Fighting away that nagging feeling that I was deeply flawed or "bad," I would do everything in my power to be the perfect boyfriend, the perfect husband. At some level, I felt that if I was good enough, I could keep her from leaving me. I could prove to her that I was "good" and not "bad".
When I did all the good things, she was delighted and I was validated. She would tell me how great I was and I would feel good. Her reassurance would push away the fear. This was my codependence cycle.
But being "good" was exhausting. It was different than just "being me." So I would crave ways to break out of the mold, break out of the role to find some escape. The moments in which I found escape, were the moments that my partner resented me. No matter how clear I was with my communication, or how much I felt I was in-control, there was always something that made her angry, uncomfortable. I suspect it was because I was being someone other than the "good" person that she had chosen to be with.
She would get angry. She would leave. My greatest fear would come true. I would feel like my world was crumbling around me.
When she came back I would vow to be "good" again. But I resented her for hurting me, for not letting me have my relief.
Being "good" became more tiresome. My need for escape became stronger. I would push the boundaries further. She would get more angry. I would become more resentful but would keep trying to be "good." Thus the relationship spiraled into demise. Thus I created my own deepest fear.
For me, salvation came in letting go of the idea of "being good". This took many forms. My coach pushed me to look at the "bad" part of myself. I did men's work and shadow work where we dove into all the messy imperfection of my true self. I experimented with BDSM where I could be brutal, domineering, and really "bad" and she LOVED it. I found a partner who was able to hold me lovingly in all my messy imperfection.
As it turns out, I'm not that bad.
The more of myself that I accept, the more free I am to just be me, the less codependent my relationships become.
It's a slow process, and the old dynamic still comes back. Recently, something upset my partner (she has her own fears and triggers). Rather than having a big fight, she chose to take some time for herself, to give us space. But all I saw was her getting mad, and her leaving. My world started to crumble around me.
Fortunately, she was able to tell me that it was not about me. The work that I have done helped me regain my wits. With a little time and reflection we were able to see the deeper beauty in each of us.
Each person has their own deepest fear. Each person has their own triggers and shadow work to address. Each person has their own ways of questioning their own value, and their own path to fully honoring their beauty and power. Each person has their own process for learning to love more fully.
Doing this work is slow. At first, it might seem useless or invisible. But as you fill your heart with love and acceptance, your world begins to change around you. Your life gets filled with more joy, love, and play. You look around at your life and think "Fuck Yes!" You feel more confident and can't help but swagger a little in everything you do. The world responds to this type of energy. Beauty is all around you, within you. You realize that you are beauty. You realize that you are divine.
Photo Credit: Stephen Flynn Photography: www.facebook.com/stephenflynnphotography/
Beautiful women used to drive me crazy. I would see an attractive woman and instead of being filled with joy, I would begin to strategize how I might talk to her, or whether I should talk to her. I would question whether or not I deserved to talk to such a beautiful women. I would question my own worth in the presence of such beauty. I remember feeling like I didn’t measure up. I remember feeling like she had all the power
If I got an opportunity to interact with such her, I would stumble over my words and say awkward things. I would try not to stare at her boobs. I would do my best not to show how attracted I was to her. I didn't want to seem like a pervert or a womanizer.
But if I didn't talk to her, I felt like a pathetic loser. I would feel ashamed of not "stepping up" and "going for it."
The feeling of desire that she evoked in me seemed to push me into the space of either perverted womanizer or pathetic looser. There was no honorable way out. I resented women for this.
What I know now is that I'm not the only one who has experienced this. Indeed, I hear it from men in workshops, in personal coaching sessions, I read it online. Men don't want to be an aggressive pervert nor an emasculated looser, but the cultural narratives around the experience of sexual desire and masculinity tend to push men into one (or both) of those categories.
I see men struggling with what appears to be a binary choice of either being an aggressive pervert, or a pathetic looser. I see men choose.
I see men who have bought into the idea that being a man means having power over others, either women or other men. These guys tend to be more aggressive and, and they tend to mask their deep insecurity with a veneer of contrived bravado. It's tiring to maintain a power hierarchy and these guys are always on the lookout for someone who might threaten their place in the social hierarchy.
Conversely, I see men who are committed to rejecting the more toxic expressions of masculinity. These men are usually more honest about their emotions, but they often get caught spinning their wheels, thinking about what they DON'T want to be rather than what they do want to be and they get caught in analysis paralysis. They end up appearing even more insecure than they actually are.
Neither of these options are ideal.
The third option I like to call "Authentic Swagger". This is non-hierarchical confidence. Authentic Swagger is when you are comfortable in your own skin. It's when your sense of self does not depend on validation from other people. It's when you can take feedback from others without feeling attacked, and without retaliating. Authentic Swagger means you are passionately living your own life and expressing yourself in your own way, rather than trying to fit someone else's ideals.
Authentic Swagger is something that I have been cultivating in myself and helping my clients cultivate for many years. The more you have it, the more joyful life becomes. You find yourself filled with more passion and energy than ever before. For me, the experience of seeing a beautiful women is now one of joy and curiosity. Hanging out with other men, I don't feel like I need to defend my place in any hierarchy because I'm not investing in hierarchy. I also appear really confident. Granted, there are things in life that I'm still figuring out, there are so many ways that I want to grow, but I can follow that path with a relaxed confidence that I am on the right road. With this knowledge, life has a certain amount of ease and optimism.
Most people have felt some amount of Authentic Swagger at some point in their life. But it tends to be fleeting and fickle. Some men have not felt it in a long time, sometimes so long that they forget what it feels like.
But, Authentic Swagger can be cultivated at any age, at any income level anywhere in the world. It does not require a particular amount of money nor a particular type of car, it does not require a certain type of clothing nor living in a certain part of town. It is accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime, because it only requires embracing your own TRUTH.
And it's not easy. It requires facing personal fears, shame, and shadow self. It requires taking responsibility for your own psycho-emotional conditioning. It's not easy, but it sure is fun. The more that the old stories are burned away, the more your own truth can shine.
It's not about consent... It's about mind-blowing love.
Pleasure requires relaxation, and relaxation requires safety. If my lover does not feel safe, she cannot relax, so she will not be able to feel her desire or her pleasure. The same goes for me: if I don't feel safe, I will not relax, and I will not feel my desire nor my pleasure.
Love works in the same way that pleasure does: for people to open up emotionally, they need to feel emotionally safe. They need to trust that their partner will be there for them, otherwise that connection cannot happen.
What is required for pleasure is required for love: safety, trust, relaxation. The more in love we are, the more we can relax into the ecstatic magic of loving connection.
When I'm with my lover, we play. Without a worry in the world, we feel safe enough to be silly. We feel our desire and tease out the sensation. We bask in the moment, the little touches, the soft kisses. We have all the time in the world, and we enjoy the feeling of wanting each other. We make eye contact and breathe together. "I want you!" I say with my eyes, my arms, and with every cell in my body. I can feel the desire in her body radiating like a cast iron fireplace radiates heat. Her eyes, her breath, her lips, they all scream, "I want you!"
With every kiss and caress, I dance to the music of her desire. Always listening, I feel the ecstatic energy pulsing through my body, and through hers. Our desires mix into an elixir of electric passion and mind blowing love.
In this dance, the word 'consent' does not feel appropriate. It's not about me getting her agreement for something I want to do; it's about both of us celebrating the magic of our connection.
The consent conversation is a tough one because it's happening in a world where we are disconnected from our own embodied 'yes,' where we are deaf to the sound of another person's desire. We have forgotten what safety feels like, and we no longer know how to relax into the magic of love.
We live in a world where abuse and coercion is so commonplace that people are just measuring how much they can endure. Sex is both vilified and commodified. Rather than an expression of loving connection, sex is a naughty pleasure that we get to indulge in when no one is looking, an exciting treat that we get when we have done things right.
We live in a world where sex is no longer sacred. Men are starving for physical affection. Boys explore "sexuality" through moving images on a computer screen, rather than an embodied connection with another person. In this way, the heart is completely disconnected from sexuality. It's only physical pleasure with mental obsession; love doesn't even enter the picture.
Women's bodies are then viewed as sexual objects, and their minds viewed as gate keepers to sexual experience. And paradoxically, when women are objectified in this way, men feel like women have the power because they hold the key to the desired experience.
When women are objectified, everyone loses.
We live in a world where sex is disconnected from love, where sex is no longer sacred.
And I am a part of the world I was raised in. When I was younger, I played the game of figuring out what I needed to do to gain access to sexual experiences. I had sex that was disconnected from my heart. At the time I felt the mixed experience of triumph and disgust.
As an adult, my healing has been a process of reconnecting my sexuality to my heart, to reintegrate as a full human being. I have often failed at this effort. I have failed to fully honor my own heart, my own body, and the body and hearts of others.
There have been times when I thought I was exploring mutual connection, to find later that she was just going along with something she didn't really want. Learning this has been heartbreaking for me and hurtful for others. Why didn't she say something? Why wasn't I able to tell?
What I'm learning is that consent is simple in concept, but infinitely complex in application. Social pressures and past trauma can get in the way of people speaking their truth. Power dynamics and passion can get in the way of mutual agreement.
What's important to know about consent and boundaries, is that we are all going to fail; we most likely have already. We are going to unintentionally over-step another's boundaries, and we're going to forget to voice our own. This is part of being human and interacting with other humans. And while there are those who intentionally violate another's boundaries, so often, people cause harm without intending or even knowing that they did so. This is the product of living in a culture of sexual repression, where we don't have healthy ways to talk about our sexual experiences.
I want to live in a world where we can talk about these experiences, where we can listen and own up when we make mistakes. I want to live in a world that is not filled with victims and aggressors, but of people exploring loving connection.
I want to live in a world where we are able to hear, and dance to, the music of desire; where everyone feels safe, loved, and cared for.
I want to live in a world where sex is sacred.
You see, it's not about 'consent'; it's about mind-blowing love.
It's not about consent because that word implies an agreement that happens (or does not happen), but in reality it's far more complex and nuanced. It's about the full context of intimate exploration. It's not just about the power dynamics, sexual repression, and our culture of coercion. It's also and more importantly about listening to each other, listening to our bodies, and listening to our hearts.
Because when we listen to each other, we can build the conditions for safety, trust, relaxation, and eventually, mind blowing love.
These were the phrases that popped into my head while trying to figure out what felt so vulnerable about this photo of me. There is a certain softness about the photo, an almost feminine quality to it. I look younger than I am. I look vulnerable. This photo was scary for me and I couldn't figure out exactly why until those two phrases popped into my head.
I don't want people to think that I'm stupid. I don't want people to think that I am weak.
If people think you are stupid, they don't take you seriously. If you say or write anything that is different from their existing beliefs, they will brush it off as uneducated naïveté, rather than backed-up and contextualized insight. Rather than asking where you came up with your ideas, they tell you how you are wrong.
I know this is true because I have experienced it when people brushed me off as a 'pretty boy'. I have also seen it when powerful, beautiful, and intelligent women in my life have tried to speak their mind. I see it in the news whenever a beautiful woman says anything controversial.
This is the double bind that we put women in. All women are expected to be pretty, but when they achieve this feat, they are automatically downgraded on their perceived intelligence. And we see it all around us.
To associate beauty with stupidity is commonplace; it's also a form of misogyny. What most people don't realize about misogyny is that it impacts men as well. It pushes men to repress parts of themselves that they deem feminine.
I'm afraid to be pretty because I don't want people to think I'm stupid.
I also don't want them to think I'm weak.
Beauty is associated with weakness in mainstream American culture; for a woman to be weak is expected (because they're just girls, right?). However, for a man to be weak is laughable and shameful. In mainstream American culture, weak men get pushed around. Weak men get beat up. Weak men are at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
I know this because I have been there. I was smaller and prettier than most when I was growing up. I was picked on, bullied, and beat up accordingly. It was awful.
In high school I joined the wrestling team, worked out a ton, and began learning martial arts. This was HUGE for my self-esteem. I began to know that, if someone started a fight with me, I would at least be able to defend myself, I could at least be able to hurt them too.
What I learned, however, is that adapting to a society that glorifies violence has it's own dark side.
When I was in my early 20's I got into a fight at a bar. I am ashamed to admit that I started it. I was pissed at the other guy and thought he was being an asshole. My original intention was to have strong words with him but before I knew it I was swinging fists.
It was easily the darkest time of my life. I had been depressed to the extent of suicidal ideation. As I was coming out of depression, I felt full of rage and self-hatred. As I began to throw punches, despite my inebriation, my body knew what to do. All my working out and martial arts made me more skilled in violence than the other guy. When the bouncers pulled me off of him, I had his blood splattered all over my clothes.
The cops found me at my house later that night and arrested me. I spent four hours in a cold concrete room before they finger printed me, took my clothes, and gave me the orange scrubs to change into. I spent two nights in a 15-man cell. My family bailed me out, but I was charged with felony assault. I went to anger management, therapy, and pleaded guilty with request to have the felony reduced to a misdemeanor offence. They went easy on me and I didn't have to do any more jail time, just community service.
I realized that there are no "winners" in a fight (unless it's a fight with a referee, rules, and boxing gloves). When violence, or the threat of violence, is used to enforce a social hierarchy, everyone loses.
I remember in high school, thinking that a constant fear of violence was something that only men had to deal with (except cases of spousal abuse and other "fringe" situations). I remember, at times, being envious of women because they didn't have to worry about fighting other men at school. The more I learned about feminism and gender based violence, the more I came to realize how much everybody suffers from the culture of violence. The sheer volume of #metoo posts drove home the emotional impact of that reality for me.
I want to live in a world where we can all be our different kinds of beautiful and our different kinds of brilliant. I want to live in a world where we can listen to each other and hear different perspectives. I want to live in a world where violence isn't used to enforce social hierarchy. I want to live in a world where we get to decide on our own interpretation of beauty and brilliance. I want to live in a world where neither beauty, brilliance, or violence are used to create hierarchy. I want to live in a world where, instead of thinking about how to defend ourselves against others, we think of how to open our hearts to others.
Photo credit: Stephen Flynn, firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.redtemplepriestess.com/photography/
The #metoo movement has made clear what many of us have known for a while: there is a problem with the culture of masculinity. In the past, it was debatable, it was ignorable. It can no longer be ignored and there is very little real debate about whether or not the traditional culture of masculinity is problematic.
Thank you women, again. Thank you for having the courage to do what we men could not do. Thank you for making it clear that something needs to happen.
Now that we agree that there is a problem, what do we do about it? There are both symptoms and the underlying causes. What is the symptom and what is the cause?
I read an Op-ed in the NYT that argued that masculinity is fundamentally brutal. I hear a lot of variations on this argument. "Male sexuality is fundamentally predatory". I see this perspective as neither accurate nor helpful.
This view leaves men with two choices. One, accept brutal and predatory nature, in a sort of "boys-will-be boys" and "that's just Locker room talk" sort of way. This leads to acceptance of brutal and predatory behavior. The other option is for men to repress the very nature of their gender experience and their sexuality. This leads to isolation, insecurity, and an inability to connect with other people.
In my more liberal community, I see a lot of the latter. In my experience, depression and anxiety come from repressing what is a natural part of the human being.
As a contrast, I believe that masculinity is fundamentally beautiful. I believe that male sexuality is a gift that can be offered when appropriate.
But people see men doing bad things and take the logical step that they are bad people. It's easy to look at the #metoo posts and assume that most men are sex crazed, unfeeling, assholes. But what if their behavior was actually a symptom of a deeper disease?
I think the deeper cause is an unhealthy culture of masculinity that shuts men off from their feelings, that objectifies and dehumanizes women, that is violently homophobic and misogynistic, that is entitled and addicted to power.
Men have grown up being told "not to be a pussy." We have been told not to cry. We have toughened up where we once were sensitive and it's no surprise that we have trouble reading the intuitive signs of an intimate interaction.
Men are starving for physical affection. We live in a world where all touch with women is sexualized and all touch with men is either violent or stigmatized as gay. Any biologist will tell you that humans need human contact.
Craving human connection, men turn to pornography where they get dopamine hits to the brain for over sexualized and dehumanizing portrayals of women.
Men are threatened, bullied, beaten up and forced to embrace violence as a means of survival. Often, the men who perpetuate abuse are people who have been abused but do not recognize it as abuse because it is normalized. So they perpetuate abuse unknowingly. As Rohr said, "Hurt people hurt people."
I say this not to let men off the hook. Quite the contrary, I say this to call men to action. Because, your conditioning may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility.
So many of these #metoo cases were committed by “regular guys” who didn't know better or who had become def to their own empathic wisdom.
Toxic masculinity isn't just "out there", it's right here. Like it or not, we are either perpetuating an existing culture of masculinity or evolving to the new context. Guess which one is easier?
I hear guys say "I'm married so this isn't relevant for me". And I say "Oh, really?" Because people can have different symptoms from the same disease. The same culture that gets in the way of men respecting boundaries is the same culture that keeps men from emotional vulnerability in relationship. It keeps men from full honesty and integrity in relationships.
Even after almost 10 years in men's work, I still catch myself holding the energy of disconnection and entitlement. I get in a group of men, with a subconscious fear of the violence in being on the bottom of the social hierarchy, I strive to be at the top. I compete and create an energy of disconnection from my brothers rather than an energy of non-hierarchical brotherhood. When I do this, I degrade others and I degrade myself.
Toxic masculinity isn't "out there,” it's in here. But I don’t want to stop the conversation there. I read so many articles and posts about toxic masculinity that I get tired of it. I catch myself focusing on what not to be rather than what I want to be. We know what toxic masculinity looks like, so what is the alternative? What does healing masculinity look like? What does beautiful masculinity look like?
To me, it looks like guys who are not afraid to hug other men. Beautiful masculinity looks like guys having close friendships with other men. Beautiful masculinity to me looks like men who are willing to hold each other accountable, able to support each other in hard times so that men don’t depend on women to do all the emotional labor of life.
Beautiful masculinity looks like men giving up power that is attributed merely for gender, so that others can thrive.
Beautiful masculinity looks like men who ask if they can sit next to someone. It's guys who can sense if someone is uncomfortable and can adjust their behavior accordingly. It looks like men who acknowledge power differences in relationship, and seeing power differences in relationship, they investigate if those differences would get in the way of full consent for intimacy.
Beautiful masculinity looks like men intuitively reading the energy of a connection and either moving forward or stepping back in order to honor everyone involved. It looks like men who are in touch with their deeper desire and can make clear requests for what they want. It looks like men honoring the "no", the "maybe" and the "YES!"
Beautiful masculinity looks like men who are curious rather than persistent.
Beautiful masculinity, to me looks like men who are not afraid to feel pleasure and feel love, to celebrate another's pleasure and love. It is men who allow themselves to be vulnerable and find the joy and power of vulnerability.
It looks like men who are able to hold someone else in their strong arms with compassion and caring. It is men willing to be held, willing to let go of control.
Beautiful masculinity to me is men willing to laugh, cry, sing, and dance.
But that is just my perspective. What does beautiful masculinity look like to you?
We are men who are not ashamed of our masculinity We are men who are willing to look at our faults and our demons We are men who see that we were raised in a culture of disconnection & abuse We are men who see that the misogyny and homophobia in our culture hurts others and ourselves We are men who are committed to our personal growth We are men who are willing to dance and sing We are men who are willing to laugh and cry We are men who acknowledge our privilege and corresponding blind spots We are men who acknowledge that we have perpetuated a culture of disconnection and abuse due to our own ignorance and desire to fit in We are men who are willing to be better We are men who acknowledge the potential for violence within us We are men who stand up for what is right We are men who will step aside when it's not our battle to fight We are men who support our sisters and siblings in their pursuits and empowerment We are men who are willing to give up power so that others can thrive We are men who are able and willing to listen We are men who are able and willing to love We are men who express our affection with awareness and consent We are men who do not cover our hearts when we take off our clothes We are men who know how to express our love within and without sex We are men who create lives of abundant friendship, love, and affection We are men who follow our dreams and create the world that we most want to live in We are men who are dedicated to our own personal growth