Relieving Our Pain

Why would I judge you for needing relief from the pain you feel inside?

(Terrence Real in I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression.


We do live in times of great pain and suffering—locally, nationally, and internationally. And with television and social media we can see and feel all  of the world’s angst—often more than we can bear.

Some of us use chemicals to alter how we feel and become addicted. Others become dependent on sex, porn, food, power, money, status, gambling, video games, the Internet, “likes” on Face Book, our children’s successes, and scaling the corporate ladder. And most of us appear driven to consume the biomass of the planet as fast as we can despite the threat to humanity.

Anne Wilson Schaef and Diane Fassel wrote in The Addictive Organization, “An addiction is any process over which we are powerless. It takes control of us, causing us to do and think things that are inconsistent with our personal values and leading us to become progressively more compulsive and obsessive. A sure sign of an addiction is the sudden need to deceive ourselves and others, to lie, deny, and cover up.”

Addiction is not the way to end our inner angst nor is profound denial of reality. For those of us with addictions (most of us), we must first manage our dependencies. We see reality honestly and stop the compulsive behavior, we feel the pain within us that we avoid so strenuously and we set out to learn how to live and how to feel alive naturally. We embrace the support of others and we get right with ourselves. We embark on a lifelong journey of human and spiritual development. We become wiser and better people.

Change is hard.

We must fight against relapse (the failure to maintain our improvement) as we work to learn new ways to deal with emotional pain. Research shows that 90% of open-heart surgery patients fail to sustain lifestyle changes longer than 90 days. Diabetics relapse when they eat too many sweets. Most offenders fail to learn how to live and go back to prison. Alcoholics “slip.” Few organizational change efforts sustain themselves because people fall back into old habits when under stress.

Relapse happens to most of us in one way or another — chronic disease or not. How many times have we failed to live up to our commitments for change in our lives?

When we stumble, we get back up, learn our lessons and go back to work.

We want relief from the emotional pain we feel. But quick-fixes only deny reality, refuse new learning, make our pain worse and are never sustainable. We’ll live wiser, better and longer if we do the hard work to manage emotional pain in healthy ways. Some things to begin with: daily exercise, a healthy diet, acceptance of the things we can’t change, change the things we can, cultivate healthy relationships, gain the perspective of time, meditate to calm our minds and make room for new insights, learn to feel and express our feelings appropriately and detach from materialism and nurture the spirit within us. And sometimes we just have to feel the pain of life’s realities.

Colleague Myron Lowe, said, “I learned to live with pain and joy at the same time.” We live with the pain of greater awareness and deeper empathy for all that lives and continually transform that sorrow into even greater compassion for others. And we see the joy of  moments of authenticity and glimpses of the potential that exists in each of us.

We may not change the world. But we will live true to the best within us and do what we can to stop the life-destroying ideas, lies and behaviors that destroy our spirits.

No one said life would be easy.



Abuse: A Symptom of How We Raise Boys

The Adrian Peterson switching case led to a broad discussion of corporal punishment in America. The Ray Rice case led to greater awareness of domestic abuse. The recent story of hazing and sexual abuse in the locker room of the Sayreville, NJ boy’s high school football team shocked a community and led to the cancellation of the remainder of the season.

A deeper common theme resides below the surface in each of these stories: How we raise boys in America.

Joe Ehrmann, minister and former Baltimore Colts football star wrote, “All these problems I’ve been trying to deal with, they’re not just problems, they’re also symptoms. They’re symptoms of the single biggest failure of our society: We simply don’t do a good enough job of teaching boys how to be men.”

I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s, a typical middle class American boy: Sports mostly, school less so, buddies, and later girls. I learned from family,coaches, teachers, neighbors, and older boys the rules of masculinity and how to create the false and unhealthy facade Joe Ehrmann wrote about in his book, Inside Out Coaching: Strength, silence, stoicism, and emotional denial and disconnection—warmth withheld, hearts disconnected from heads, and failure not allowed. Terrence Real wrote in How Can I Get Through to You: “I have come to believe that violence is boyhood socialization. Disconnection is masculinity.” Boys who resist the rules of masculinity get belittled, bullied, and beat up.

I began to drink in college and the disease of alcoholism moved fast for me. My dad got me into a tough alcoholic treatment center and saved my life. The counselors broke down my defenses. Staff and patients gave me painful feedback all day, every day, for a month. I explored my values, thought about my purpose in life, and shared my personal inventory with a priest.

I began to learn to be emotionally self-aware, how to experience and understand my feelings, and how to connect with others. I felt the power of love and a sense of community in treatment that I’d never felt before. I wanted to live and to feel alive and left the treatment center scared and committed to a value-driven life. Treatment rescued me from a false self and the unhealthy rules of manhood, and I began the life-long journey to greater authenticity.

I’ve spent the past 40 years on a quest to learn and evolve not as a man but as a human being. On this journey, I’ve wrestled with the beliefs I was taught—mostly subtle and unconscious–about money, career, success, control, conformity, competition, masculinity, and relationships. I realized that most of what I had learned about masculinity and being a man is wrong. Moral courage, excellence, authenticity, human connection, and personal responsibility became important values I strive to live my life by—always imperfectly.

Ehrmann wrote that life is about relationships and purpose. He encourages boys to ask, “What is the core purpose of my life, why am I here?” and to think about the kind of son, brother, husband, father, friend, and neighbor they want to be.

American is in dire need of mature and healthy men who can put violence aside: Men who know what they feel and are able to express their emotions appropriately. We need men of strength—even ruthlessness in honesty and decision-making at times–who can also be caring and compassionate. We need kind and gentle men with empathy who can lead with tough-love  and hold others accountable. We need men of great moral courage who can tell the truth and stand up to the evil and dysfunction around them.

To raise boys differently, we must become aware of the unwritten rules of masculinity and change them and the ways we engage with young boys. Grown men who find the old rules insufficient for a meaningful life must embark on a journey of personal introspection and transformation. Personal evolution to become a more complete human being is difficult. Those who deny the journey as “touchy–feely” are saying, “This stuff scares me.”  Courage is required.

The goal isn’t to turn men into women but for men to become more alive and whole.


I recommend: Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx and Inside Out Coaching by Joe Ehrmann.   Visit: