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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/
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With Noé Khalfa, founder of https://worththejourney.com. We talk about the culture of masculinity and the stigma around male touch.
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"If you are pretty you are not smart."
"If you are beautiful, you are not tough."
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, stephenflynnphotogtaphy@gmail.com or https://www.redtemplepriestess.com/photography/
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This was a short segment to promote our town hall event on evolving masculinity in a post #metoo era. It was exciting to share this work in a more "main stream" venue.
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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
We are men who are not ashamed of being men
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