The shadow exists in all of us.
All of us have struggles and challenges, and I’m pretty sure all of us experience and have experienced the full spectrum of human emotion. In other words sometimes life is a little more difficult than we would like it. We experience hurt, sadness, fear, anger, anxiety, depression, and frustration.
I imagine that many readers here are engaged, or have been engaged, in doing a lot of the work required to balance, harmonise and integrate the underlying causes of extreme emotional states. This is fantastic and, as I have mentioned in other articles, it is one of the most valuable processes we can engage in to become healthy functioning adults.
However, despite how much work we have done, despite how deep we might have gone, despite how good we have created our lives to be—this stuff will still come up. It will come up not just for us, but for our loved ones and all the people in our lives.
One of the beautiful things about deep emotional work, I think, is that the more we practice being able to hold ourselves in loving kindness regardless of how we feel, the more we become capable of truly spacious empathy for others. The real kind of empathy where we aren’t trying to fix, change or give advice to other and instead we just meet them exactly where they are.
As a man cultivating this kind of spaciousness in my presence has been an invaluable attribute to develop in taking my relationships with women, and all people, that much deeper. What I have found challenging often is in experiencing support from women when I am the one flailing around in quagmires of uncomfortable emotion.
I am not saying this is the case for all women, and if you are a woman and what I say next does not apply to you in any way then awesome! I appreciate you immensely and the hard work you have done to integrate your masculine and feminine dynamics.
In my experience, and the experience of many men that I have spoken to, when we share the deeper, vulnerable and hurting parts of ourselves with women things do not always go very well.
It’s a tricky situation, I have full compassion for women as these kinds of things are not taught or even spoken about much. There is also biology at play. Biologically I think it is in a woman’s nature to seek out and value strength in a man to protect and provide for her. Granted the world most of us live in does not work this way anymore.
Yet it’s still there buried in our biology and as such I think it is a natural response for a woman to feel turned off and wanting to create distance from a man if he is in a funk of emotional distress. A woman may no longer feel safe with a man when he is not resting in his strength and, again at a biological level, this is a concern.
This creates quite a dilemma for us as men. On the one hand we are encouraged to open up, to express our vulnerability yet only if we hold it in a place of strength. Granted, that is the kind of superman I constantly aspire to be, yet it’s not always going to be a reality. Myself, and pretty much all men out there, are going to slip up sometimes and we are going to need support, especially from the closest people in our lives.
So how can a woman support a man when he is in a dark patch of life?
I think there are two very important pieces to this puzzle. The amount and order of each is going to depend on the man and where he rests on the spectrum of masculine-feminine. We all have masculine and feminine components, and I use these terms intentionally even though I run the risk of heavy criticism to do so. I am a man with a lot of feminine, my challenge is often to feed my masculine and when I am struggling my feminine is the more active part needing the most attention first.
What I have found supports the feminine is simple presence. The feminine parts in me yearn to be heard, accepted and wanted exactly as I am even in my darkness. So when this part of me is active and a woman experiences a dip in attraction and begins to create distance my experience is that of significant betrayal. Just like I have heard women feel if they are to express their vulnerability and not be accepted for it (and unfortunately in our culture this is a common phenomenon for all of us).
Similar is if a woman begins a fix-it, advice-giving scenario that men are usually the ones better known for doing, yet I find many women enter this space too especially when called on to bring more masculinity to a man in his wounded feminine. Equally disheartening is that lukewarm placation and consolation “there there it’s not so bad, things will get better.”
None of these responses foster trust and the space to really allow ones heart to open and be held.
If, as a woman reading this, you are now groaning, I want you to know this is only part of the support process and may or may not be needed depending on how sensitive your man may be. You may be thinking “this is what I do with my girlfriends, I don’t want to do that with my guy too” and I hear you.
I completely think spirituality is about transcending and integrating. It is about growing beyond the limitations of culturally and socially imposed conditioning about what we should value and how we should be as men and women. It is also about integrating them back into us with a sense of choice, with a conscious ability to play with polarities. To be able to express both our healthy masculine and feminine as both men and women.
Once this hurting part feels heard, seen and held then we can move on to the fun part, that of skillfully challenging a man to rise up into his greatness.
The feminine tends to be soothed and nurtured by being seen and heard unconditionally. The masculine, however, tends to respond to challenge. As men we do this to each other all the time. The competitiveness that we as men can get into sometimes is all a function of us challenging each other into our greatness.
Depending on how healthy and integrated, our psyches will see very different forms of competition (the etymology of the word “compete” originally comes from ancient Latin and has at its roots “to strive for”). At our higher expressions we will compete in a way that causes us all to grow healthily.
As women, you can also challenge us to grow and when done with love, skill and appropriateness we will thrive on it. How to do so might seem a little tricky, and is done depending on your own disposition and that of the man you are supporting. The most important piece is to not be holding any judgement of the man. Do not shame, make him wrong or emasculate him for his moments of weakness. The worst thing women can do to us men is emasculate us or mock us for being weak as men.
Rather than try to outline ways of doing this I am going to share a little story about one of the times I have felt most deeply supported in challenge by a woman.
It was in Boulder, Colorado. I was rapidly nearing the end of my travels and the flight back to Australia. I had been seeing a woman there for a couple of weeks. When I had met her I was exhausted, depressed and in a deep existential funk. This woman met me with immense curiosity and empathy.
Her non-judgmental explorations of me and what was going on for me gave me so much space that I discovered many insights into deeper layers of my psyche and I managed to come out of my slump significantly enough to play and enjoy my time with her.
It was one of my last nights and I had met up with her at a big conscious party happening in town. I had slipped back into melancholy again and was ambling in and out of the party restless, frustrated and in a bad mood. At one point we were on the dance floor together and she pushed me and, again without any judgement against me, said “what about me?”.
My whole being stopped in its tracks with a big question mark. What? I asked myself. “What about how I feel? What about this night for me? What about my experience?” she said to me. I think my mouth must have dropped open a little bit at this point as I realised she was right.
I was neglecting her experience by indulging in my own misery and her challenge of me in this moment caused me to rise to meet it. I threw off every last bit of my heavy feelings and we ended up dancing together like crazy into the morning.
Author: Damien Bohler
Editor: Renee Jahnke
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