Why is Men's Group Work About Non-Judgement
And not about Advising, Changing, Fixing or Challenging Another Man?
I've attempted to break group behaviours down into clear and straightforward concepts - the Fundamental Principles - and as written they represent my idea of what a men's group could be. There are other types of groups, based on different principles eg 'encounter groups', '12 step groups' - which have their own Principles, Modalities and Outcomes. At any rate I feel it is beneficial for the group to try to understand that what we achieve in group (Outcome) is based entirely on 'How we treat each other', which again has it's own basis in the Principles we use and apply. Thus any 'group behaviour' can be analysed in this way - if someone suggests a certain type of 'behaviour' or approach, it would be helpful to consider what is the Principle behind this action, and what are the possible outcomes.
One area of obvious contention comes under Principle 2 - Non-judgement. The idea of 'challenge' is often discussed in groups and carries its own pitfalls for reasons outlined below:
- We experience 'self-challenge' simply by attending and confronting our own issues.
- It is appropriate for a man to say 'challenge me' or 'I need some advice' to ask for group input ie that man is asking for what he needs - Principle 6
- It is not appropriate for a man who is telling his story to be arbitrarily challenged/advised by another man:
- Maybe he just needs to be heard right now - and may experience a challenge as invasive or even abusive - as he shares (and reveals himself) from a vulnerable deep place.
- Am I really listening? - Principle 3 - or considering how to formulate my challenge/advice? Some deep healing occurs simply when we listen to and witness another man. Perhaps my challenge is for myself, to really listen and appreciate what is being said?
- Am I owning my stuff? - Principle 5 - Any reaction/feeling 1 have that occurs as I listen to another man belongs to me -1 need to take ownership - and not try to 'fix' him, a common error, based on my own value system which amounts to a 'judgement.' Perhaps my challenge belongs to myself - why did this feeling come up for me, what is it about?
- Am I Speaking my Truth? - Principle 4 - and allowing him to speak his truth as he sees it? In this modality we come to our own healing in our own time, as each of us is allowed to tell our stories without them being rejected, judged or ridiculed. This is a powerful experience, and may be the first/only time (in a men's group) that we have this opportunity - and is again a healing experience.
- It is appropriate/respectful and non-invasive to ask a man if he would like some feedback etc- and his wishes in this regard being respected - he knows when he's ready - better than anyone else.
- In general terms, any kind of 'judgement' carries the implication that that man is 'wrong' for having those ideas/feelings/wants. Outside of group this happens inevitably to all of us, and each of us necessarily makes these judgements in our daily lives. Arguably each culture sets up its 'norms' and expectations/values that governs our lives; again arguably in our culture men experience judgements that block our self-expression, lead to us stuffing our feelings and becoming disconnected from them, and also to becoming isolated from each other in any meaningful sense. In group its about setting up a new 'system' of non-judgement to have a different emotional experience in our lives.
- This really does determine how 'deep' a group can go in its journey; as men take risks to reveal their issues, they become vulnerable (this is how we 'do' relationship) - this can be scary/unusual/unexpected even shocking - sometimes a reaction comes out of unconscious mind and here the real work begins to own and validate mv own reaction and work with what my reaction is about. Too often these reactions are 'dumped' or projected onto another man inappropriately, just at his moment of greatest vulnerability (out of fear - it can be hard to own your own reactions). If a man is judged or even shamed in this way this inevitably blocks 'deeper' group processing, and a group may find itself stuck at a superficial level of sharing without anyone wishing to take the risk of revealing himself and being shamed for it. Stuckness and conflict may occur around some men being ready to and wishing to go deeper, and others not being ready and blocking that process.
Generally then I feel the concept of challenge is a difficult one for a beginning men's group, with some pitfalls to be avoided. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the one each individual gives himself, and the biggest gift and support we can offer each other is acceptance and non-judgement.
The above notes are my understanding around the concept of 'challenge' and are presented for discussion. It is not expected that a group will instantly be able to apply these ideas, but that it is a process that they work at over time, to discuss and change, to come to a fuller understanding of how to be a 'support group'. I expect this discussion will be an ongoing one in the group and bring its own rewards.