Ch. 15. His Empty Soul

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His Empty Soul:
How to Heal a Broken Man

There are only a few things every man needs in his life to feel as though he’s living the most fulfilled life that he can.

The first critical thing every man needs is a sense of belonging.  When we’re young and in grade school, we’re surrounded by other boys our own age and it’s generally easy to make friends.  In college we are again in a situation where we are surrounded by other young men and are given many opportunities to socialize, join activity groups, attend special interest clubs, try out for team sports, or join a fraternity.  Then we graduate and adult life happens, and overtime we become more and more physically distant from the guys we met in grade school and in college.

For those who never attend college, this awakening happens at a younger age.  In either case, men begin to realize that maintaining a circle of male friends becomes a lot more difficult.  Time, distance, immediate family, these are all factors that break down male friendships as we grow older.

Once in the workforce, most men find an opportunity to make new male friends to supplement those they have lost from childhood and their teenage years.  Though the workplace can be beneficial, there’s also the issue of competition for promotion that hinders trust and the filtering of just how much information you share with coworkers, or at the least those guys eventually quit and get a job elsewhere, and before you know it the new circle you were building has been broken.

It’s at this point in a man’s life that he loses that critical first factor in leading a fulfilling life: fellowship.  Men have evolved to function in groups and whether or not this pack mentality is established and maintained can mean the difference between leading a positive life or a negative one.

Women or possibly even some men, may laugh off such a claim, but take any athlete who participates in a team sport or any service member who functions as part of a squad or unit, and remove them from that group.  Very quickly they become consumed by a sense of loss and even guilt.  Not being able to support their group or team, takes away a man’s sense of self-worth and belonging.  Being part of a group and knowing his place within it, are essential to a man’s life.

Second, he needs to be healthy, and I mean that in the physical and mental sense.  Every man needs to get and keep his body in the best physical shape he can be in.  Being physically fit is important not only for the sake of his physical health, but also his mental health.  Confidence, something that’s crucial for any man, stems from being positive about how he looks on the outside and his sense of inner well-being.  Challenging himself through various forms of exercise grants a man a sense of accomplishment, as well as allowing him to vent built up frustrations.

The third critical component needed for every man to lead a fulfilled life is purpose.  Purpose can come in various forms, from spiritual faith to believing in the work he does.  Whatever purpose he finds it must grant him the feeling that he’s involved in something far greater than himself and that what he’s doing makes a difference.  A man who loses his sense of purpose, quickly loses his way through life.

The loss of any of these three critical pieces can lead a man to ruin.  From physical illness to depression, a man can quickly find himself falling apart when he’s not able to attain or maintain social bonds, health, and purpose.  Of these three things, I believe the most important is the first one: social bonds.  Without having fellowship, a pack, a brotherhood, a sense of belonging with other males, a man will often not have the willpower to attempt either of the other two.

What happens to a man when he loses his sense of fellowship?  Initially he will attempt to replace it with his romantic relationship, such as with a girlfriend or wife.  However, he will begin to realize that their are certain things he’s not comfortable talking about with his female partner because either he doesn’t want to worry her, he doesn’t want to appear weak, or because he doesn’t feel as though she will understand.

It’s at this point that men fall into a dangerous circumstance.  Male bonding can be complicated due to issues of trust, loyalty, honesty, value, honor, sacrifice, among many other things.  It often takes long periods of time for males to bond closely enough that two men or a group of men can move beyond acquaintances or normal friendship and into the spectrum of close friendship.  The ultimate goal of course is to create that pack mentality, a brotherhood.

There is only one way to speed up this process and that’s through suffering.  When men endure something together or share in the same suffering, they bond more quickly.  Not only does it cause them to bond more quickly, they also bond more deeply.  Enduring hardship, especially if they help each other through that shared hardship, forges mental and emotional connections between men that would otherwise take years to create, and once forged will take a lot to break.

So what happens to a man when he fails to forge these bonds with another male or males?  That vacancy in his life begins as a small void, a feeling that something is missing, and then it begins to grow over time.  Eventually that emptiness swells and starts to interfere with all other aspects of his life, methodically breaking down everything that he’s tried to build up, leading to depression and possibly suicide.

These men can experience many different negative feelings, such as feeling abandoned, unwanted, useless, ignored, they may also feel as though they are a burden or a failure, have low self-esteem and lack confidence, feel fatigued or lack motivation.  They tend to believe that no one wants to listen to them or talk to them, they can feel a sense of desperation, loneliness, sadness, as though their life does not matter.

The consequences of these things will bleed out into the rest of their lives, hampering their romantic relationships or even leading to their end.  It can affect family life through increased hostility, irritability, loss of patience, loss of interest, etc.  It can also affect job performance or social interactions at work.

While some men are more susceptible to these consequences than others, all men have that innate desire to bond with other males, even if it ends up being just two guys instead of a larger group.  In a world where we have more social tools at our fingertips than ever before, it has actually become more difficult for men to fully connect to one another.  Sports is one of the few ways that has consistently given men the opportunity to bond as the centuries have gone by and our way of life has changed.  Though men no longer need to form hunting groups, that sense of fellowship has not gone away and needs to be sustained throughout life.

For the men who find themselves without that sense of belonging, they shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed, many other men feel exactly the same way and are either unable to find the words to talk about it or are unwilling to openly discuss it.  For those who have been lucky enough to not yet experience it, you will recognize other men who are going through it by their behavior.

These men are eager to socialize with other men whom they believe they can have a connection with, either through a shared interest or hobby.  They will regularly try to set up social events or invite you to participate in an activity.  If you exchange contact info they may message you frequently or may pull you into long conversations.  Sometimes the guy may be willing to trust you enough to be open and honest about what he’s going through and other times he may act as though everything is great in fear of appearing weak or vulnerable in front of another male.

In my experiences, those who have felt the pain from a lack of fellowship for long enough, are always keeping an eye out for another guy whom they believe they can relate to.  Once they find another male they will try to build a friendship and during this process they will likely not hold back what they’ve been going through and what they are hoping to achieve through that friendship.

If you are on the receiving end of this type of communication you must be patient and understanding with them, as they are truly in a fragile state where you may very well be the only thing that stands between them and severe depression or worse.  If they trust you enough, they will try to talk to you about how they’ve been feeling.  They may describe it as a sense of being lost or not having motivation, others may describe it as feeling alone, or empty inside.

If they are in a romantic relationship they may express frustration that their girlfriend or wife does not listen to them, or care about the things they like to do, or that she doesn’t respond to them emotionally.  A lot of people think that women are always the ones who feel cut off from the their male partners, but just as many men also feel emotionally rejected by their female partners.

At the point where he feels comfortable enough to share these things with you, then he’s displayed a certain level of trust that can easily be built upon.  As time goes on and the two of you talk about these types of issues and share experiences through activities, the bonding process will be self-evolving.  To really galvanize the bonding process, incorporate the second and third components mentioned above.

By participating in physical activities such as going to the gym or joining a team and playing sports, the connection between you and he will grow deeper and stronger, not to mention it will improve both his physical and mental well-being as well as yours.  You should also consider going on a guys-only trip together, maybe start an annual fishing excursion.  Anything that gives you time and opportunity to bond.

Get involved in some sort of volunteer work, perhaps mentoring or tutoring, assist at a homeless shelter, or if you both have a religious interest you can attend the same church, temple, synagogue, mosque, etc, or take on any type of community involvement or secular educational activity that gives the both of you a sense of purpose and meaning.

Once all three core pieces are attained you will have not only saved the guy from being trapped in emotional darkness, but you will have also found fulfillment within your own life.

Recommended Reading:

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression


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