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How To Escape the Inner Man Cave of Isolation

May 15, 2016

Fellas, it’s time we had a talk…

Most of us have been there in our teens and twenties. Some of us still live there. Where is “there?” Your time spent with other guys is spent in conversation only about external things.

Think about it – you’re with the boys and the conversation is familiar, comfortable; women, tech, sports, women, politics, the weather, lighthearted abuse and banter. Oh, and women.

From observing most men it seems this is what it means to be a man — to only talk in banter, jokes, and superficialities. Unless it’s with our significant other. Even then a lot of us are poor at communicating what we’re really thinking, let alone feeling.

Half the men reading this just shuddered at the thought of actual, real, icky emotions. Yes men, we have them too. We’re not ostriches. Pretending they don’t exist doesn’t make it so.

This behavior forms a dangerous pattern: we develop insular relationships that lack quality man time. We never share anything of significance with other guys, and we generally lack time and real conversations about meaningful topics with other men in a purely masculine space.

We’re reluctant to get deep, unless we’re already too far deep – in the drink. Some asshole (or a thousand assholes) told us that “men don’t share our feelings, we keep things in and either sort it out ourselves or ‘deal with it’.”

If there is time away with ‘the boys’, then it’s often for beers and involves banter; giving and getting stick [Editor’s note: this is Aussie slang for “giving and taking light and fun abuse”].

This can’t be undervalued. Time with the boys helps to keep us honest. We know our mates will pull us up on things that the wife or partner won’t. It can be brutal… yet healthy in a good, forced self-reflection way.

But at times it can be too much, leading to deeper isolation and even less desire to share what’s really going on.

But we often take it if we can get it because many men don’t even have this time with other guys — it’s work colleagues at best, then maybe family. True friendship time is rare. Can you relate to this?

It can be lonely being a man over 30, right? Forming male friendships seems daunting. We age, grow apart, and we become easily isolated from the company we formerly kept.

There is dire need for adult, mature man time. I see this all the time in my coaching practice. The biggest thing adult men are missing is true, open, honest friendships.

It’s rare to have a real conversation with another guy in today’s society and one of the big reasons why so many guys are struggling with depression, isolation, and loneliness. If you only ever have deeper and emotional chats with females – or never at all – then you’re going to find it hard to be courageous enough to share with other men and truly deal with the hard things in your life.

But if you know this is missing you can at least work on it.

Most men have no grasp of the importance of such discussion. For many, our only interaction with other men is superficial macho banter. So we get stuck in our deep inner man cave – a dark place, hard to get out of, and what sees men aged 35-44 as the highest sufferers of suicide, anxiety, and depression of any demographic.

What’s the Inner Man Cave?

Have you ever had this experience: something serious or difficult happens and you withdraw into yourself? Instead of asking questions or telling anyone, you turn within and ask the questions only of yourself. You listen to your own thoughts, what your gut is telling you, and attempt to process the information or situation without anyone else.

This is the top level Inner Man Cave — a healthy place for self reflection and processing.

But when we don’t recognize the next step, don’t ask for help, avoid the difficult conversation, and don’t truly experience emotions we risk going deeper into our Inner Man Cave.

This is where we can find ourselves more and more isolated and withdrawn – stuck in our heads – which is a harder place to climb out of.

The next and deepest level of the inner man cave is when our entire life is played out in our head. We’re hardly present to our surroundings and interactions with others. This place is infinitely harder to get out of. Once here, it means we’ve already fallen down the slippery slope of self-imposed isolation.

Climbing Out of the Cave

Depending on where you are in the inner man cave, it may be tough to climb out. If you feel isolated, like bonding and conversation with guys would be amazing, but you can’t begin to think where to begin finding it, try pulling back, looking at what you love and seeking communities that involve this.

If you simply don’t have an outlet or support in the form of a partner either, then simply understand that connection is one of our core needs. Starting with man time can be the window and catalyst to any other type of connection.

We must embrace and seek out man time in any form. At the same time, be aware that  it doesn’t become an excuse to simply escape and hang with the boys on more of that shallow, meaningless level.

It’s important to express this to your partner — a much needed time for balance in your world and to ensure you don’t get caught up in an insular and downward spin. It will allow you to appreciate your time together with your partner more, which is healthy.

This insular spin can happen in a relationship or alone.

We need to be surrounded by masculine energy (this is not the same as just boozing and talking crap with the boys), and it’s the same for women and feminine. However, women naturally do it more, whereas we tend to lack the courage to be vulnerable to our mates and have real conversations, so we stick to the comfortable surface.

Start scheduling it in with your mates, family members, or close colleagues. Look for signs that your mates need to have a real chat and talk about some of life’s big things, or what’s actually going on below the surface — not just female/male anatomy.

If, on the other hand, you find yourself with few options in this space – no mates to call on or appropriate male colleagues, get online. Visit MeetUp.com and look for groups in activities that interest you. Connect with like minded men, or simply seek out men’s groups.

I have created one of these in Sydney where I live, and inside the first couple of meetings there’s been some wonderful sharing, some laughter and bravery.

I get it though, it can seem daunting. However, let me share a story of someone who’d probably be finding it more daunting that you…

Joe is a big guy. A BIG guy. Over 500 pounds big, and is stuck in his inner man cave, but he reached out to me.

That’s the first step, finding someone you can talk to. However, just because I’m clearly someone who will listen and isn’t going to judge, that doesn’t make Joe’s step of asking me any easier. That’s the nature of being stuck in our head — it’s a daunting journey out, and asking someone, regardless of who they are, can be confronting and terrifying.

Yet it’s looking at things logically – nothing bad is going to happen to Joe if he asks me to talk – then using that to work up the courage to ask, to speak up and take the first step.

This is what Joe did, he stepped out into a busy part of the city and joined a room of men all with different stuff going on, but in strangely similar places: Willing to be vulnerable and ultimately get more out of life.

It was a huge thing for Joe, but it started with making that initial step of finding someone to talk to. It needn’t be the perfect person – that will never happen – just find someone you can trust, and talk.

But Vulnerability Means Weakness, Right?

It’s time to re-frame this: it takes courage to be vulnerable with your mates, and if you do, not only will you benefit from it, but you’ll open the door for them to do the same. And because we’re such closed beings, you might just encourage a mate to share some seriously crucial information that he was otherwise too afraid to talk about.

This can literally be the difference between life and death — with isolation being a primary driver of suicide. You should be able to drop your guard around mates. Make sure they can do it too.

On the flipside — weakness means holding back out of fear. Brave men share the important things that need sharing.

Vulnerability needn’t be solely big issues either. For example, late last year I flew to Cambodia with a bunch of other men as a part of the Stella Fella campaign with the wonderful organisation Project Futures. The mission of this charity is to end human trafficking.

On this trip we covered 450km by bike, visiting centres and meeting women who have been victims of modern slavery. It was eye-opening and confronting.

This issue is not something that impacts me as an individual, however, it’s an issue that needs men to stand up and speak out about. This is the type of conversation we also need to be having with each other.

Modern slavery, sex trafficking, and human trafficking is an issue that starts and stops with MEN. The more men having this conversation and taking action to spread the message the better.

However, this is the kind of issue that we can start addressing day to day. We can do it at the pub, where we constantly objectify women and where we create a market for this by fueling the sex trade.

Regardless of how innocent that kind of chat can be, it’s part of a bigger and much wider issue that leads to this nasty problem. I say this to bring into context the full spectrum of conversations and situations we can be having as men.

For some of us it means ensuring we can get out of our heads, share some genuine masculine time with another guy, connecting and talking things through. For some guys it’s about asking for help and being able to confide in someone. For others still, it means keeping a balance in our lives and relationships.

Our voices are powerful tools, whether in our own lives or in helping the lives of others. It’s time we push past the comfortable surface and our own pride because on the other side lies growth, more happiness, and better connections.

I believe in this type of open, honest, communication so much that I’ve launched my own web series of real, raw, and honest conversations with men called: ‘Beyond The Beers – Men Breaking The Stereotype Through Conversation’.

This show will be an example for men of what more meaningful conversations look like and will encourage men to start taking them up everywhere.

It’s a place for men to listen, learn, laugh, and grow. The first series will be rolling out soon. We’ve completed 5 interviews and are now at the post-production stage, but we need your help.

To make this happen we are turning to you — the people this series was designed for. We’ve created a Kickstarter campaign to fund the editing and production.

There are some great interviews already complete with more to come, and we would love YOUR support in making them a reality; funding post-production is where the focus is right now.

So this is me being vulnerable and asking for your help, asking for support and also accountability – with this out there now, I have to follow through and create a damn good show!

Will you join the conversation with us, start breaking the stereotypes, and embrace meaningful conversations?

You can start here by watching the teaser for our conversations and then following along in your own life.

Read more by Mike Campbell on the ManTalks blog:

The Sweet Spot for Modern Masculinity

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Bio pic 2

Mike Campbell is a Man Coach who helps men find significance, worth and personal power. By challenging the broken model of manhood, he helps men to drop the ego and get out of our own way, and in doing so become their own perfect mix of James Bond, Nelson Mandela & Batman.

Plus he loves to cook, eat and talk to his food. He loves his fiancée, stone fruit, cold beer, red wine, whisky and to think of himself as a low level Batman. He also likes to lift heavy things and play Goldeneye on his vintage Nintendo 64.

You can connect with him at the following locations:

Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, or Snapchat at ‘mancoachmike’

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