In this week’s episode we talk with Owen Marcus, an incredibly committed men’s coach and self-described “Emotional Superman” who founded the nonprofit, Men Corps, along with co-founding the company Evryman — both of which are dedicated to providing men with the skills and tools they need to build meaningful relationships, and thus, fulfilling lives. In our conversation we discuss the mind-body connection, the importance of psychosomatic therapy and the emotional struggles men face. We also delve into the benefits of emotional risk-taking, the connection between safety and vulnerability and why our society desperately needs to rewire its preconceived notions about what it means to be emotional.
Finding the Mind-Body Connection
Owen’s first introduction to the mind-body connection came through Rolfing, a form of bodywork whose practitioners claim reorganizes the connective tissues, called fascia, that permeate the entire body. Rolfing has been known to alleviate chronic stress and induce emotional catharsis, though most evidence remains anecdotal versus scientific. In Owen’s own experience, after 9 months of consistent Rolfing sessions, he had lost 20 pounds, gained an inch in height and learned how to truly relax.
Hakomi: The First Psychosomatic Therapy
Developed in the 1970s by Ron Kurtz, the Hakomi Method is a body-centered, somatic form of psychotherapy that centers around a specific set of principles: mindfulness, nonviolence, unity, organicity, and mind-body integration. The method first starts with guiding the client to a state of mindfulness before processing any strong emotions that may arise and ultimately re-working any negative “core material” the client may have.
You can’t have an emotional experience without a physiological or somatic experience.
Releasing Locked Trauma
Owen often works with clients who have experienced trauma and as a result have suppressed emotions. Studies have shown that suppressed emotions can lead to serious psychological distress, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or dissociative disorders. While we usually equate trauma with major life-changing events — abuse, war, etc. — Owen emphasizes that “micro traumas” built up over the course of a lifetime can have equally as damaging effects. He explains that by harnessing mindfulness, one can begin to unwind the effects of trauma and build a new narrative surrounding these negative experiences.
In this society, in our lineage with duality — the mind-body split — we’ve been led to believe that if we understand something in our rational minds, then that fixes the problem. But often for emotional issues, it’s not true.
The Healing Power of Healthy Connections
The research of Dr. Stephen Porges has found that we as humans learn who we are through others — it’s impossible to truly understand yourself within a vacuum, within pure isolation. As we’ve seen time and time again, humans thrive best in environments that foster community and meaningful connections. Porges found that trauma can affect our ability to connect, but our connections to others can heal our trauma. Owen has found that although the men in his groups may initially find it very difficult to connect, once they start sharing their personal stories and relating to one another, they begin to feel seen and can start to address and heal past wounds.
Being a human is really about being connected.
Creating a New Definition of Emotional
Our society equates “emotional” with “feminine,” ostracizing men from the emotional arena and leaving many of them repressed or shamed for feeling emotional. Owen urges us to re-examine what we define as “emotional” and to recognize the universal human need to express ourselves.
Men grow up with a certain model of what it is to be emotional. But that model is skewed towards the feminine. What happens is, we don’t know as men what it is to be fully emotional as a man.
Safety First: How to Cultivate Vulnerability
Vulnerability has been soaking up the limelight in the psychology and self-help realm for the past few years. We know by now that vulnerability is essential to forming deep, meaningful relationships. But how do we allow ourselves to become vulnerable? Owen offers us some guidance: safety first. If our parasympathetic nervous system is running on high-gear, we’ll never reach vulnerability. What we have to work towards is feeling safe first and foremost, both externally and internally. Owen says slow down, become mindful and recognize your own needs in order to feel safe and secure.
Remember the ROC Formula
Owen has created a simple acronym for his students and clients to remember the steps to connection.
R – Relax
O – Open up and embrace vulnerability
C – Connect
Take the Risk
Embracing vulnerability feels like one the riskiest things we can choose to do, but it’s a risk that comes with incomparable rewards. Owen urges us to take that risk, to speak the unspeakable truth and to watch as over time it slowly gets easier.
Last, but not least: what questions should we be asking ourselves?
- What are you experiencing in this moment?
- What are you experiencing in your body?
- Where do you feel tension?
And after those questions are answered…
- What do I want?