A man’s maturity is both earned and learned.
Lived experience is life’s greatest teacher. It’s when a man leans into the dynamic experiences of life, including the pain and hardship, that he becomes fortified in wisdom, inner-strength and resilience.
Much of our internal programming, meaning our beliefs and attitudes, are adopted unconsciously by mimicking the qualities that were embodied by our caregivers. Those qualities tend to be the most difficult to track and change because they are so intricately woven into our experience of reality and our sense of identity.
I’ve been focused on intentional spiritual growth for over 20 years now. How I approach that growth has shifted from a desire to fix myself, to a learning to be with myself, flaws and all.
Being confronted with depression, anxiety and self-hatred since my teenage years, my original motivations stemmed from just wanting to feel better. Over time, through significant relationship pain and struggle, I became aware of the unconscious patterns of self-sabotage that kept playing out. Despite my best intent, and living under the illusion of being a “nice guy”, my inner wounded boy, had a way of consistently hijacking my rational mind, particularly in times of conflict, stress or duress in my closest relationships. Even while having conscious communication tools under my belt, my reactivity time and time again had gotten the best of me. It still does sometimes.
I’ve learned since that difficult early childhood events create trauma responses in the body. Trauma left unattended will cause us to repeat experiences, as an unconscious seeking of healing or resolution. Which for many, never arrives because most of us are ill-equipped to support our own healing.
In recent years I have focused my work with men on finding ways to integrate some of the pre-cognitive habitual responses, by utilizing internal dialogue and mind-body repatterning processes, in order to train in a new way of being that reflects the qualities of maturity that I’ve culled from my research that the world is desperately craving from men.
My intention here is to illustrate the differences in mindset that I’ve discovered in my process. Distinguishing the ‘wounded boy’ psychology from the ‘conscious man’ psychology; allows it to be used as a kind of self-assessment for men to see where they are on their path of development. Not as a tool for self-criticism, but more as a map of something to aspire to, with the right tools and support structures.
I’ve chosen the term wounded boy as a way to elicit a more compassionate response with the source of these behaviors, that can sometimes be expressed as aggression, neediness, or self-destructive tendencies. It’s with compassion not condemnation that we heal and create integration with all parts of ourselves.
A conscious man is not a perfect man. He is a work in progress that is committed to the path of growth, maturity and the healing of dysfunctional generational patterns. He has chosen to take radical responsibility for the impact he is having in the world and choosing that impact to be of benefit to the greater whole of existence.
Wounded Boy: Seeks permission from others
The boy in us has not come to know his value in the world. He places his value in the eyes of others. He defers to others desires before owning his personal truth and as a result loses contact with what is true for him. He is too afraid to fail, so he stays within the safety of what he believes will make others like him, not reject him. Because he has not learned to validate himself, he lives in a constant state of insecurity and anxiety, carefully formulating his presentation of self to the world in the hopes that he will be able to maintain his status as good or acceptable.
Conscious Man: Inspires others by leading with authenticity
We can contrast this way of thinking and being with someone that has begun to embody the mature man. The man knows who he is and what he stands for. He has accepted and made peace with the fact that not everyone will agree with him. This enables him to be authentic in how he communicates with others. He has found acceptance in himself so doesn’t need to hide his ‘imperfections’ or flaws. He has dignity in how he moves through the world and can own his shortcomings, not from a place of shame, from genuine humility. He trusts himself and this sense of confidence inspires others to trust him, and his leadership.
Wounded Boy: Waits incessantly for the perfect conditions to go after what he wants
The boy is afraid to fail and get things wrong. This mentality may have developed when he was young and had been scolded or judged for some mistake he had made. He equates failures to his sense of self worth and identity. He is shamed into correction. His timidity in taking action is founded in lack of trust of the personal responsibility required to manifest what he wants. He will excuse himself from responsibility and his inactivity, placing the blame on external conditions because he equates failed moments with himself being a failure.
Conscious Man: Creates the conditions that enables success to happen
The conscious man knows that he is not in control of everything, yet he still takes ownership of both his actions and his outcomes. Just like a meticulous gardener, he cultivates the soil of his environment, feeding it with the right ingredients that would most effectively enable success to happen organically. He acts in alignment with his intended outcomes. This can be distilled down to the choices he makes around his projected thoughts, his communication, how he physically carries himself through the world: What he has for breakfast, the clothing he wears, who he surrounds himself by. These are not frivolous details to a man. They are in fact all factors of accountability that he knows contribute towards his ability to manifest what he wants in life.
Wounded Boy: Needs to be ‘right’ to feel good about himself
In a conflict the wounded boy’s go-to response is defense. He lives with an internalized sense of guilt and needs to project his actions as correct because at his core he feels inadequate. This makes his identity quite fragile; he has no real definition of who he is outside of his projection of what others believe to be true about him. He tries very hard to get things ‘right’ to avoid the excruciating pain of disapproval and disappointing others.
Conscious Man: Knows his fundamental goodness, so is able to take responsibility for his shortcomings
The conscious man has touched down upon the ground in his own soul, landing in the place of deep intimacy with himself. In this he has discovered that despite his flaws that may still exist on the surface of his life, underneath is the meeting point of his humanity and his divinity. It’s from resting his consciousness here that he’s able to apologize from a place of dignity and own his mistakes without identifying with them. He has a healthy relationship with shame that allows him to keep his conscience clear without wallowing in it.
Wounded Boy: Intimidated, jealous, or judgemental of others’ success
The success of others feels like a threat to the wounded boy, it compounds the pain in him of not having what he wants. He might find ways to dismiss their wins as luck or privilege. Instead of consciously owning his jealousy, he projects negative ideas onto successful people, inventing stories of who they are in order for him to feel better about the lack of similar successes in his own life. He will deliberately avoid those that have been successful, in the areas that he wishes success for himself, because it triggers his insecurity and shame.
Conscious Man: Is inspired and motivated by other people’s success
The conscious man wants to surround himself with others that are succeeding and in their power: It challenges him to step up his game. He chooses to celebrate the wins of others because he sees the bigger picture of how their successes create a positive ripple effect in the world. He acknowledges the effort and consistency that was required to achieve that great thing as aspects to be honored, in doing so he reinforces the mindset in himself of practicing the same. Even if he has not lived into his larger concepts of success yet, he finds ways to acknowledge what he is doing right as a fuel to keep himself in the game.
Wounded Boy: Afraid to fail, so doesn’t take risks
The wounded boy hates failing because of the meaning he attaches to it. Failure to the boy means he is a failure as a person. He worries about how others will perceive him in his failure, so he stays safe by only doing things within his zone of comfort. This perpetual fear of getting it wrong, creates a constricted way of being. A kind of uptight perfectionism. This might show up in his speech, always planning his response to avoid upsetting others. He might remain at a job he hates for many years because he won’t step into the uncertain possibility of striking out on his own following a path that actually lights him up. He may even settle into a relationship that is uninspiring because he fears upsetting the security the relationship provides for him.
Conscious Man: Uses failure as a tool for growth
The conscious man knows that failure is an inevitable part of learning and expansion. He welcomes failure because it gives him information that he can use to direct himself forward from. He knows that the seeds of life are in death. So he creates structures in his life that challenge him to push his edges, confronting death openly. He is willing to let his ego die in service of his personal and our collective evolution. Rather than shutting down and avoiding it, every time fear gets triggered in his nervous system, he gets curious about that feeling and leans into it. He understands the relationship between humiliation and humility, which creates an internal atmosphere that is conducive to learning. He meets every bump along the road and every “failure” as an edge that continually helps to sharpen and refine his skill and character.
Wounded Boy: Seeks validation incessantly to know where he stands
The wounded boy’s identity is often based on what he does and what he can get for what he does. It’s a kind of covert contract that he uses to exchange acts of service for validation points that he uses to internally calculate his worth. It is rare for any act to not have this hidden agenda of attempting to exalt himself. He has indulged the external world with the power to define his value, which keeps him hooked on the addictive cycle of looking outside of himself for approval. He becomes emotionally tethered to others as he anxiously seeks a sense of belonging and identity. This externalization of his power results in a kind of lostness. The absence of an internal compass creates a void in him that often occurs to others as feeling energetically draining or even vampiric. Because he is unable to fill himself up he looks to the world to fill a hole in him that is insatiable
Conscious Man: Provides validation to lift others up
The conscious man has a full cup that he fills with intentional experiences and activities that nourish him. He has done the inner work to cultivate a sense of wholeness in himself. In doing so, he is able to overflow positive energy into the world from a place of generosity. He knows that his ability to appreciate and honor others brings value to the world. He does this with no strings attached as a genuine gift. He intentionally looks deeply into others and reflects back their highest self, not with an agenda to gain access to what they can do for him, but to help draw forth more of who they are. He believes in everyone’s potential and uses his leadership to inspire the actualization of that wherever possible. His loving presence is a force that opens others, lifting them into greater alignment with their essence.
Wounded Boy: Must be in control to feel safe
The wounded boy does whatever it takes to control himself, his environment and other people, because he has not tethered himself to inner sovereignty. He will try to manipulate people and situations to meet his needs. He doesn’t trust anything he can’t control or predict. He spends a tremendous amount of life force energy suppressing the parts of himself that feel out of control, like his emotions. Keeping himself wound up so tightly often results in erratic discharges of energy that comes out as attacks on others. And then does whatever he can to manipulate what people think of him to protect his self image. He tries to intuit his environment so he can put on the right camouflage, adjusting himself to the behaviors that will give him the optimal character reading from others. Underneath, he is afraid that if people saw who he really was that they wouldn’t accept him.
Conscious Man: Trusts the wisdom and order of life and is able to surrender
The conscious man has a sense of stability and security in himself and a respect for the things that he cannot change, predict or control. He is able to let go because he understands that life is about growth and learning. He allows himself to be humbled by nature and is able to hold the great happenings of existence, which he is included in, with awe and reverence. He doesn’t define himself by limits, but allows himself to be adjusted in relationship to the times. His integrity lies in his values, which becomes an anchor point that allows changes of life to flow through and around him, without getting thrown off balance. He believes in a natural order and harmony to things, even if that order sometimes creates chaos to find equilibrium.
Wounded Boy: Sees women as a means to an end that he can feed off of energetically
The wounded boy is malnourished at his core because he doesn't believe he can receive from the great feminine that is nature and existence. He feels unworthy of love, so cuts himself off from the potential for direct connection and the freely given energy that is available to him from the world. He is indirect about getting his sexual or emotional needs met. He plugs himself into the feminine energy in women in order to fill this insatiable internal sense of emptiness. This shows up as grasping for attention from women, salaciously gazing at any female bodies that he can draw from, addiction to pornography, con-commital relationship orientation. In some ways he is suckling at the energetic teet of the mother, yet attempting to do it shrouded in the guise of being a good boy. He seeks out sex and relationship to fill this gaping wound inside, thinking that each next one will complete or satisfy him.
Mature Man: Honors, blesses and protects the feminine in himself and the world
The man experiences feminine energy in women in the world as a gift that should never be expected. It occurs to him as a blessing that he holds with a deep honor and reverence. He fortifies himself through his own practices being sourced in such a way that he feels satisfied to the point of not needing to be filled externally. As a result he tends to magnetize attention and appreciation from the feminine. He radiates enoughness and this abundant state tends to draw to it more of the same. Because of his great appreciation for women and the feminine, he takes on the role of protector, doing what he can to create safety and stability for her beauty to pour forth into the world. He is also in touch with his own inner feminine, giving room for the fertile flow of his emotions and creative gifts to have the safety of his own container to be expressed.
Wounded Boy: Is impatiently trying to get to the end of things so he can relax
The wounded boy lacks patience because he doesn’t trust in the natural pacing of things. He tries to bring things to completion because he feels incomplete in himself. His anxiousness to get to the end of a project or experiences, stems from his desire to finally feel satisfied with himself. He can’t handle being with the tension of uncertainty, so tries to rush things to their end goal to avoid the feeling might come with the possibility of not doing things right. In effect, he tends to leave things incomplete from his impatience or done in a cursory way because he has approached it from a harried state.
Conscious Man: Is meticulously bringing things to a completion that reflects a standard rooted in his values
A man puts his attention on being process oriented vs. product oriented. He knows that in order to be productive he needs to focus on the present moment, not outcomes. The quality of his results are a product of his attention. He cares to do things well not to please others, but because he believes in doing things well. He is not driven by perfection but by precision and that precision involves bringing the best of himself forward into a given moment, no matter what stage of development he is at. He will not try to represent himself as more than he is capable of. Yet he will still stretch himself to meet new edges, pushing the envelope wherever possible rather than resting on his past accomplishments.
Wounded Boy: Lies or hides parts of himself so as not to risk being rejected
The boy is desperately afraid of losing the possibility of being liked or accepted. He doesn’t believe he can show who he really is because he has a belief he is not good enough as he is. What he presents as himself to the world is a false mask which is formed by gleaning cues from his external environment that will ensure the survival of his presentation. He will go as far as lying to others to avoid their upset and protect his fragile identity that he is trying to form that will allow him some semblance of feeling good about himself. He remains trapped in a vicious cycle of pretending as an act of abandoning his true self, which leads him to hate who he is. So he feels he needs to continually cover himself up.
Conscious Man: Is honest to the point of accepting the end of relationships that are unable to meet him there
The man chooses the straight and narrow path of honesty and allows things to adjust in the wake of his truth. He accepts the consequences that are a result of his integrity even if they are sometimes painful. He trusts that those that are not aligned with him in business or intimate relationships will find a right alignment in his absence. He is clean and clear in his communication, not withholding anything for the sake of manipulating an outcome in his favor or rescuing others from their discomforts that arise in the clarity of his transparency.
Wounded Boy: Avoids intimacy with self and others
To the wounded boy, to be intimate would mean to be exposed. Being seen for who he believes himself to be would be utterly terrifying. Because he has built comfort in a kind of insulated, isolated effort to stay disconnected from others. His nervous system doesn’t have the capacity to handle the intensity of connection. He has numbed himself to the point of not being able to feel his own experience because he cannot even handle the truth of his own heart. He cannot look in the mirror without criticizing himself. He is too uncomfortable to look deeply into another's eyes because they mirror back to him his self-loathing.
Conscious Man: Practices to expand his capacity to be present with the depth of feeling in himself and others
The conscious man knows that intimacy requires presence and that presence amplifies our sensory experience. The man has trained his nervous system to handle the higher volume of sensory experience that is a result of intimate connection. He has done this by learning to sit with his own feelings long enough to integrate them. His feeling body includes his capacity to empathize with another’s experience, not intellectually but literally sensing into them. This allows for him to create great depth of connection while building the bonds of trust in the containers of his relationships. As a result it creates a circuitous flow of shared connective experience that allows the relationships to continue to grow into new expanses.
Wounded Boy: Follows trends
The wounded boy is somewhat directionless. He looks to the world outside of him to find orientation. Having predictable results means he wouldn’t have to potentially face failure or ridicule. He bases his values on the ones trending in popular culture to make sure he doesn’t stand out or rock the boat in any way.
Conscious Man: Follows his inner compass, intuition, values, and spirit
The conscious man has cultivated a state of sovereignty. His soul is his guide and map that he has formed an intimate bond with in order to track his purpose. His values are clarified in the circuit between his heart and mind and this allows him to be consistent and make powerful choices that are not always easy to make. He has learned to listen to the wisdom of his body to sense into what is aligned with his integrity. Sometimes this means he chooses the harder path or the more adverse outcome. He doesn’t allow a need for security, or his or other’s emotional reactions to sway him off course. He has a relationship to a spiritual sense of order and wisdom that directs him. He is wise enough to heed to the timing and guidance that directs him through witnessing creation and the stillness underneath his ego.
Wounded Boy: He seeks to never offend anyone
Because the boy needs to be liked to feel good about himself he censors his speech constantly. He has a persistent monitor in his ear steering his words to be socially correct. He is afraid to challenge the status quo, so he holds the tension of his truth in his throat never allowing it to see the light of day.
Conscious Man: He speaks his truth courageously, with kindness and compassion
The man has accepted that not everyone is going to like or agree with what he has to say. He respects differing opinions and is receptive to learning from others. He doesn’t dump his opinions but he also doesn’t withhold his truth. He is courageous enough to own an unpopular opinion even if he may later determine it is not what he believes. He communicates with kind regard for others, that may be simultaneously gentle and firm, compassionate and fierce. He doesn’t need to exert dominance with his perspective because he is more committed to seeking truth than being right.
Determining and acknowledging where we are on the journey towards maturity and consciousness, is an essential part of the work of arriving there.
It’s this kind of self-reflective honesty that is one of the most important qualities of a conscious man. We need to be able to see ourselves as we are honestly and start where we are authentically, in order to effect change.
The primary perspective that distinguishes the boy from the man comes from a very specific internal motive. The boy asks the question; “What can I do or get for myself?” The man asks; “What can I do for the world?”
The beautiful thing about choosing the latter is that it can open us up to an incredible amount of energy and motivation that pushes us to do things that would not be possible if we are coming from the limited self-focused orientation. There’s also a great freedom that comes from the lack of concern of needing to protect the self, which allows a man to embody his true power and potential.
So, what’s driving you?