Man guilt


Published: 13 Aug 2020

Man Coaching

Over coffee and a chat recently, with a guy who I admire professionally, I mentioned that I’d read a viral blog by Matthew Fray.

The topic of man guilt came up. I said, “Is that a thing?” He said, “men feel guilt from the past”, about things they had done, and hadn’t done, sometimes they don’t know the difference.

I have a quest in 2020 – to get 1,000 answers from men to the question, “What is a modern-day man?” I’m hoping to be able to link the patterns and trends in a way that I can use to help men in my coaching with them. To really get to the bottom of what this is about.

The idea came from 2015 when I did a whole year of working with women to embrace compassionate assertiveness. During that year I asked 1,000 women the question, “What’s your biggest fear as a woman?” The results were mind-blowing – over 750 women said the word ‘failure’. When pressed further, women would often say things like “Fear of not being enough”, “Not being able to keep up with everything.” “Being everything to everyone – if I do a great job at work something slips – being a wife, mother, lover.” Guilt was ever present for many women – even though it was sorely misplaced.

I am now almost 400 men into the quest to get to 1,000 answers and a similar thing is happening, there are trends. The question has thrown up mostly one word, just as it did for the women. The word isn’t failure. The word is confused. When I ask men “what is a modern-day man?” They invariably say ‘confused’.

When pressed to expand on that, they have said things to me like, “confused about what my role as a man is.” “Confused about what I should do, and what I shouldn’t do.” “Confused and lacking belonging.” On a more positive note men have also said, “We are more open and positive nowadays.” “I feel like I find some time to do things that make me less stressed.”

One woman talked to me about what she thought her brother would say if I asked him the question. That conversation broke my heart a little bit that day as she said, “Hmm (with a huge sigh and holding her heart), my baby brother (who is 40), would say he feels like he’s always in the dog box at home, and he doesn’t even know why mostly, it’s just a general feeling. He doesn’t seem to get much opportunity to just be him nowadays. His life has swallowed him up in mundane stuff. All he wants to do now and again is play golf but he’s stopped now, because he says it’s not worth it. I worry about him.”

Here’s where my interest is really piqued – is there a link to what women felt back in 2015, and what men feel now? Did it take five years – from being ‘everything to everyone’, keeping all those balls in the air, to get to where we are now? Women I spoke to back then were living in a state of competition and fear – with both other women, and men. Did that somehow along the way morph into resentment and confusion on both sides? Is there even a ‘side’ anymore?

Somehow we need to get to a different state. One of collaboration and trust. So, resentment goes away, feelings are voiced, we gain clarity by not making assumptions. Ego’s don’t get wounded.

Perception is EVERYTHING in communication. The chances of your version of reality matching someone else’s (about pretty much anything) is actually so miniscule – once you own that, your life becomes instantly simpler. Different communication styles, learning styles, pre-conditions from your past, life events (good and bad), even lack of drama and loss in your life impacts you. Peer influences, environments you live/work in, limiting beliefs – they all play a part in making up the wonder that is a unique, and individual person.

So, how do we get back to an acceptable equilibrium? To Collaboration and trust, instead of competition and fear?

Thousands of people have poured their hearts out to me the last 10 years. The wisdom gained – by me, and them, was hard won at times. However, as is usual in communication, there are patterns and trends. Here are a few that might change your perspective:

Step away from saying, “Just tell me what you want me to do!” Men are great at this BTW. They get exasperated and ask this question because they think it will be the solution – but here’s how that question works in reality

  • It puts an additional burden on the other person to manage your time as well as theirs.
  • It makes the massive assumption that only the other person’s way is the ‘correct’ way or the normal way.
  • It puts your ‘other’ into a parent/mother mode. They are not your mother or your parent. They are your lover!
  • Everything just becomes a task to ‘get through’.

Have a frank and honest discussion (it’s never too late, no matter how long you’ve been together), about what you are great at, what you love doing, don’t mind doing, or hate doing. Be honest about what is not even on your radar. Your other may be surprised – or not! FYI you can re-set this discussion/negotiation at any time – you are not signed up for life for what you agree on. How this helps:

  • You can allocate things to yourself that sit with your natural inclinations – not against them.
  • Resentment doesn’t kick in as much.
  • You can break the stereotype and myths about who should do what. You get to choose. Don’t worry about what other people/couples think.

Consider outsourcing anything you can to free up time for you, and/or your other.

  • Get your kids to step up and do more chores/take responsibilities/do things they are great at
  • Online food shopping/other shopping.
  • Gardener/lawn mowing
  • Book keeping/accountant
  • Cleaner
  • Food box delivery with ready planned meals

Bring back the joy and bliss in your life. What would it take? Where do you ‘lose’ time? Do you need to say no more often to people that chew through your time? What would you use extra time for?

  • Exercise
  • Sex
  • Pampering your body
  • Adventures
  • Learning something new
  • Doing something you find fun/relaxing

Ask yourself honestly how much of this joy you could do together/would you want to do together? Or would you want to do things by yourself? At least some of the guilt both men and women appear to feel stems from wanting to do things separately from their other (which is perfectly ok). You are indeed separate people with your own individual personalities outside of anything else. Instigate that discussion, rip the band aid off and just begin. What is it about for you?

  • Exercising together – yoga, running? Exercising alone – gym time, swimming, golf?
  • Sex – together more often, more time for it?
  • Pampering your body as a man or woman. Do it for you – waxing, massage, manicure.
  • Adventures – girls/boy’s weekends/events, family trips, romantic weekends. Bucket list trips.

When I first founded Elemental Potential, I worked mostly with couples, and later morphed to more corporate coaching and life coaching men. The things that came up in couples were invariably small in the scheme of things – and yet, when done  (or not done) often enough, pushed a relationship to breaking point – and a messy and un-natural end. The same in workplaces – small things done often enough to the many by the few, change the dynamics.

The answer is always about two words – consideration, and compassion. That’s it.

All you have to do is consider you, and be compassionate to yourself. This is your life after all. Simultaneously consider others in your life and be compassionate to them.

  • Choose you. You deserve a joyful life.
  • Don’t always choose right (that’s just your ego getting the better of you), choose fair.
  • Be willing to see where you need to adjust as you go – who had the worst day? Be extra kind on those days. Listen more. Notice more.
  • Let things go where you can. If you knew about some of the traits you now don’t like going in, and you thought you could ‘fix’ them – good luck with that! What if you could reverse engineer that annoyance into an endearment?

Guilt, is the most wasted emotion of all. It sucks up our time, energy, and joy, while you could be doing something else. Don’t let it get the better of you. Be better. Choose better. Feel better.