When I was young, my parents often referred to different men that they knew as either being or not being a “mensch”. The word is from Yiddish and it’s meaning is deeper than the same word in German. It means a man who is wise, responsible, giving, kind, and compassionate.
As men, we have the potential to become a “mensch” or to stay unconscious. In our unconsciousness, we can easily be narcissistic, competitive, insensitive, indulgent, arrogant, aggressive, and even violent especially when we feel threatened or we are not getting what we want. Or we go in the other direction and collapse, denying our male energy out of guilt and fear. In unconsciousness, we remain in a childish state, either obsessed with ego, power, sex, and success or pleasing, collapsed, and without direction in life.
Whether we live unconsciously or become a “mensch” is up to us.
And in my experience, one of the most effective ways that we can learn and keep learning “menschness” is by being in a committed, deepening, one on one relationship with a woman. (I would like to emphasize that this also includes deep intimacy in a same sex relationship. The dynamics are the same.)
Why? Because, it may be the best way to learn and integrate the feminine energy. It challenges us to recognize and feel the pain, damage, and limitations of living unconsciously in the male energy.
In my own 19 year relationship with Amana, I keep learning what it means to listen, to slow down, to see and accept my limitations, to recognize the hollowness of blind ambition, to be more flexible, less reactive and opinionated, and in all ways, more vulnerable and open to life. I learn that because she does not experience the world as I do. I get to see the world and people through her eyes, the eyes of a sensitive woman.
To take this journey, I would like to offer a few understandings and guidelines that have helped me.
In an intimate relationship, we are invited to confront two basic wounds, which when unrecognized and unhealed, keep us unconscious. Dealing with these two wounds also separates an unconscious relationship for a conscious one. The first is facing the castration wound and the second is facing the abandonment wound.
In relationship with a woman, especially a deep and committed relationship, our castration wound can be easily provoked whenever we feel criticized, out of control, losing our identity, having our opinions challenged, feeling sexually inadequate, or we sense that we are being controlled, possessed, or manipulated.
For this reason, we will often avoid intimacy and justify our choices based on our love of “freedom”. Most often it is just a compensation for not wanting to confront our castration wound.
We may also compensate with money, power, image, cars, guns, insensitive sexuality, and even violence or collapse and holding back our male energy. In fact, much of our conventional behavior is a compulsive avoidance of feeling this wound. As long as we live in compensation, we are disconnected from ourselves and from others.
What is it that we men are so afraid to feel?
We are terrified of feeling powerless, emasculated, helpless, and on a deeper level, empty inside. We are terrified of feeling that we are not in control of our life, of failure, and of feeling humiliated, worthless, and useless. We are terrified of being controlled and manipulated. We are terrified of our own aggressive energy. That is the castration wound and it comes from earlier times of feeling repressed, invalidated, shamed, humiliated, and patronized.
Oscar, a free-spirited 44-year-old Swede who lives in a community in the South of France, came to a two-week holiday retreat with us eight years ago. Even though he was aware that the focus of the Learning Love Work is on intimacy, he was quite clear that he loved his single lifestyle and had no intention nor did he see any reason to enter into a committed exclusive relationship with a woman. After that seminar, it was many years before we heard from him again. He recently came to another seminar and then contacted me for individual work.
“Krish, I know that I have avoided intimacy for a long time but now I feel that something is missing in my life. I want the experience of living with a woman and learning what love is. But to be honest, I am terrified. The times in the past when I have been even remotely intimate, I lost myself. I am so afraid of the woman getting angry with me that I become a good boy.”
At the time he began therapy work, Oscar was dating a woman who wanted to move in with him. He didn’t want that but was terrified to say no to her.
I asked, “What would happen if you practice being clear that you don’t want her to move in with you even if that is what she wants?”
“Oh, no,” he said, “I could never say that!”
But he did and discovered that she could accept it. Slowly in this relationship and also with his ex-wife with whom he shares two children, and whom he perceives to be irrational, demanding, and unpredictable, he is now practicing being much more clear with his own needs and feelings and setting limits with her when he has to.
It takes tremendous courage and awareness for us as men to be able to honor a woman’s power and still feel our own. We need to be well grounded in ourselves, in our creativity, in our intrinsic value as a person, and in our ability to set limits. Until then, we may find the woman’s power threatening. We probably will resist and rebel and/or resort to blame and accusing her of being controlling.
In my own relationship with Amana, I have had to explore this castration wound continually – both how she provoked it and how it developed from my relationship with my mother. With time, I could take distance from the emotions that came up and see that Amana is neither my mother nor the enemy of my masculinity. Now, I can even laugh when I see my tendency to react and feel controlled. It also helps me that I feel grounded in my creativity and that I regularly find ways to move my energy.
Our work with people has shown me that this wound is deep for every man and we have to use our awareness to deal with it. In a committed relationship, in those moments when we are finding fault in the woman’s power and accusing her of being controlling it is a time to feel the emptiness, helplessness, and impotence inside.
Intimacy also challenges us as men to become mature because it brings us face to face with our dependency – our wound of abandonment.
Wilfred, a 59-year-old client of mine, explodes when his wife isn’t as interested in sex as he is, or when she gets too busy with friends or other activities and doesn’t give him the attention he wants. He is a successful businessman and is accustomed to getting what he wants. Fortunately, his wife does not allow herself to be manipulated by his demands and anger. As a result of his therapy work, he is beginning to understand that all this anger and disturbance is coming from his abandonment wound, from feeling deprived and empty when he is not getting the sex or attention he wants.
We as men are much more dependent and needy than we are willing to admit. But we may not realize just how dependent we are until we allow deep relating with a woman. Intimacy opens the abandonment wound because the hope and the expectation of having all our dependency needs met is often met with frustration. Without awareness, we can easily react when we get frustrated. On the other hand,
when we know what is being triggered, and take time to go inside and connect with the frustration and fear, it takes us on a profound journey in inner growth, dignity, and deepening.
Before my relationship with Amana, I was a hardcore anti-dependent. I was convinced that I could manage quite well on my own and that my greatest passions in life were my work and my tennis game. I really had no idea what love was and I certainly had no idea of how profoundly dependent I was. The women I had been with up until then were looking for a man to take care of them and I conveniently took on the role of the caretaker/anti-dependent. But Amana does not and never did need a man to take care of her. Somehow, I had the good sense to find someone strong and independent that allowed my hidden needs to surface. Once they had surfaced, I could go deeper and explore the wound that lies behind.
It can be very frightening for us as men to discover these dependency needs for several reasons.
First of all, our ego doesn’t like it. We may not like to think of ourselves as being needy. But we are.
Secondly, it can be alarming to recognize how strong our need to have the woman there for us is, and to feel the frustration or neediness when we are not getting what we want. It can be shocking to see how disturbed we can get when our woman isn’t giving us as much sex, attention, closeness, or support as we want.
Finally, as part of our abandonment wound being opened, we have to confront our terror of rejection or loss. It is not until we are deeply in love that we may begin to see how vulnerable we are to this fear. We may feel jealous if she looks or expresses even the slightest interest in another man. We might get worried if she doesn’t come home on time for fear that something might have happened to her. All of these fears came up for me and it was a surprise. I still get nervous when I have to go on a trip without Amana or visa versa. Sounds a bit crazy doesn’t it? But I think that’s what it means to be in love.
When our abandonment wound is triggered, it is an opportunity to go inside and feel the fear and panic inside rather than reacting. If we look closely, we may recognize that so much of our unconscious behavior and so much of our rage and complaining is driven by our not wanting to feel this fear.
I began this article by asking, “what can a man learn from opening to a woman in deep intimacy?”
We can learn to become a mature person.
Our unconscious male behavior and attitudes are mostly driven by not wanting to feel our fears inside – the fears of desperately needing love and our fears of feeling powerless. We cover these fears with collapse, masks, aggression, violence, narcissism, and the illusion of the ego. For an intimate relationship to survive and go deeper, we have to learn to take off these masks. And then we earn what I consider one of the ultimate gifts of life – the experience of long lasting, deepening love.