Focus: Denial - Avoiding what's really going on
The basic structure of this meeting is the same as Meeting 1.1 - refer back for more information.
Some issues may have come up during check-in that the group may wish to spend more time on rather than moving straight into the 'focus'; or perhaps some issue is still to be dealt with from the previous week. When it is appropriate the leader moves the group into the main focus for this meeting.
5) The Big Bit in the middle - the leader announces the focus of the meeting
Denial is the inability to see - or the refusal to acknowledge - all of the issues. Sometimes issues are buried deep in our psyches ie a child who has been abused may hide it deep inside because of the tremendous psychic and emotional wound. This is an innate survival instinct or coping mechanism for all of us.
The reason it is buried is because there is no support mechanism available (eg for a child overwhelmed by parental abuse) and/or it's not safe to do so - a threat to survival or possibility of further wounding is perceived.
Examples occur at different levels - Individual - Families - Organizations;
- Individuals who have come from abusive backgrounds
- May not be conscious of wounds suffered
- Conscious of pain - but unable to deal with it so far "My father/mother wouldn't do anything to hurt me, they're supposed to love me"
- Families not 'dealing' with an addiction - eg alcoholism etc -its kept a secret - in an attempt to have sense of a 'normal' family and 'save' family unit by projecting 'normalcy' to self/others ie how it's supposed to be and not how it really is
- Organizational dysfunction - abuse uncovered and not confronted eg priests sexually/physically/emotionally abusing children in schools.
Insofar as men in group have a safe place and are supported in and are able to speak their truth, they may be able to bring up and deal with some long-denied issues, and find some healing for past wounds.
However, it is also true that groups are 'family units' in the sense of bonding and relationships that develop - and we may bring our dysfunctional ideas/behaviours to group with us - as these are what we've learned from our families of origin. Thus denial may be repeated within group for reasons noted above.
In addition group will create its own issues within itself and will constantly need to work with ideas of 'Truth' and 'Denial' - both as individuals and as a group.
- 'Am I speaking my truth? - What is really going on for me? - for them?' We may have a sense of a man not 'revealing' himself, this can be frustrating and 'crazy making' and can often be a source of conflict - ask yourself
- 'How can I take care of myself in this situation? What do I want from him? Why?' 'How can I support (not force) him to speak his truth - What does he need?'
- 'Why aren't we talking about _______?' eg Why Jim left; Last week's conflict etc
- What is really going on for you?
- Are you able to say it to the group?
- If not, what is the issue for you?
Lack of support? - State what support would look like to you and ask for it. Can the other men agree to give you that support? If not, then perhaps now is not the right time to risk revealing yourself/issue.
Fear of further wounding - from whom? - how-? Again, you may not want to reveal this to group until you have established a 'safe place' as a group.
- What active steps can you take to create/ask for what you need?
- Is this group able to work at that level for you? Now? Perhaps in the future?
- If this group is unable to give you the space/support you need - are you able to confront any 'unconscious' denial on their part? Are you able to make this issue conscious within group and work towards a supportive and safe place?
- How' much effort are you willing to make? Sometimes a group just doesn't want to go that 'particular direction'. What are your options?
- Reflect on your personal issues of denial - Share. What was your need/want at the time? Now? Has your attitude/feeling changed?
- Your 'own' personal issue
- Within your family
- In other circumstances, eg friends, organizations etc.
- 12 Step groups have a saying - "We're as sick as our secrets" - What do you think?
Notes for Meeting 5-3
- Denial can be extremely difficult to deal with - there is a very definite 'timeliness' factor ie a right time to deal with an issue - for instance I may not be able to confront my own inner issue until I've grown in awareness about it as an issue eg 'sure my dad left home when I was two and has never called or spoken to me since, but 1 guess he had his reasons…' - there is a very real emotional wound suffered by a child when the father is absent, but who knows when the right time will come to deal with the pain long since buried. A man may come to group not knowing why - but as time progresses he comes to realise what his issues are and starts to work with them ie why does he distance and isolate himself emotionally from other men?
- One thing a group can do is to invite, even encourage - but never force - a man to look at an issue. We set up a safe space just so we can support each other to do that. Each man knows his own limits and may step up to the brink before crossing - but he should never be pushed. We empower each other by supporting and encouraging and recognising limitations as OK. This lets a man know' his self-choices are ok and are supported; he feels valued, listened-to and not judged as inadequate or failing (eg to meet someone else's standard). This is healthy group behaviour that creates warm relationships that open to new' possibilities of 'mutuality'. The reverse - judging, forcing etc - are invasive unhealthy group behaviours that will further wound and isolate men in mistrust of each other.
- Finally, if the group goes into denial on an issue, perhaps all you can do is to bring it up and speak about as your issue until such time as they are willing to own their part of it, perhaps by saying (at your invitation) what their feelings are on the subject - then they may start to look a little closer… Reflect/give feedback on their energy - ask what it's about for them? If we 'go into our caves' you may have to light a camp fire and say: "Hey, come on out over here where it's warm". But you may have to tend the fire alone for a while.