By Owen Marcus, co-founder of EVRYMAN
Through elementary school, I had only a few friends. I was picked on until the spring of my last year in elementary school when I fought back. For six years, I felt alone. I felt I didn’t belong. My strategy was to not be seen. I became a master at being invisible.
The experience of sitting at a desk in an empty classroom sobbing will never leave me. After one too many taunts about my speech impediment, I couldn’t hold it in any longer. The teacher did the best he could; he took me to a safe place. He went back into the classroom to talk to the class. There was no more bullying after I returned to the classroom. I was left alone.
When my family moved to another part of the state at 13, I committed to doing a reset. No one knew me, so I was determined to be outgoing. It was when I began rebelling that I started belonging. Taking physical and emotional risks was a better option than going back to the past. I discovered something I was good at and enjoyed. With that, the seed of being true to myself was planted.
Knowing well the pain of being alone, I would always spot the person who felt like an outsider. To this day, in some way, I attempt to connect with the person, even if it’s just a smile. I remember when someone would ‘see’ me — it felt as if I was human.
Part of my healing came from realizing how I denied my pain and longing. I told myself I didn’t need anyone, and that needing others was a sign of weakness. Another day imprinted into my consciousness was the day Ron Kurtz, the developer of somatic psychotherapy, explained to me the self-reliant body and emotional type. It was as if he was reading my mind, body, and emotions in every sentence he spoke. He described how I held my arms back, my self-talk, and my denial of needs. He connected the disconnected parts that I could no longer disown.
As the science of attachment theory came out, I learned how we need others to survive as mammals. It all made sense. We needed our parents because, unlike other animals, we develop slowly and thereby need caretaking. Through the work of Stephen Porges, Ph.D., we learned that being emotionally connected to others will down-regulate our stress response.
Selfishly, I wanted to improve my connection abilities and opportunities, so I began to cheat. I started men’s groups. After ten years of them, I decided to go for it. Rather than have prescriptive processes, I wanted a group that would dive into the emotions of the moment, whatever they were.
My men’s group in Sandpoint, Idaho gave me many opportunities to lean into my trauma and survival mechanisms around not belonging. Some of my best healings came from my biggest challenges. On several occasions, I had to risk not belonging to stand up for what was right for the group. Ten years ago, I quit the group, and I started a new group that would have the integrity I needed.
In risking what I desperately wanted, I ended up getting more than I expected. The new group exploded with new members and a deep level of work and commitment. Men and the group matured, as I did. Men continue to take ownership of the group. We all discovered when we risk, own, and contribute, we belong.
My little boy crying alone in the empty classroom has a band of brothers that now extends beyond the boundaries of Sandpoint. With EVRYMAN, we are worldwide.
Research and our surveys of our men over the years tell us that many of us come to EVRYMAN feeling alone. As we age, our circle of real friends decreases, and the opportunities to belong and feel connected drop. So often, we hear on our Global Community Calls when a man, for the first time, experiences one of our Zoom breakout groups — “I thought I was the only one.”
I am an excellent example of how we grow to accept aloneness.
To be released from the bondage of aloneness and not belonging, we need to slow down, drop down, and experience what we deny. We could go off to the mountains and allow solitude to bring our denied past to us. Or in the emotionally safe space of our groups, we collectively explore our isolation.
I encourage you to journal about belonging. Here are some prompts to consider:
- How are you alone? Less story, more what does it feel like to be alone or not belonging? Name the feelings that come up when you feel into being alone. Now describe those feelings. Name at least one self-talk phrase you tell yourself so as not to feel. Then name what you don’t want to feel.
- Dive into an incident that was traumatizing or representative of many incidents where you were abandoned. As you describe the incident, slow down to feel what you couldn’t feel when it happened.
- What do you risk in attempting to belong?
If you are in a group, I encourage you to explore these prompts with them. When we don’t have others supporting us in our experience, we deny the full experience. What we deny stays separated from us, leaving holes in our being. As we feel and are witnessed, as we belong, the parts return.
Lean into the feelings of belonging. Lean into the fear of being abandoned if you show up fully.