This first principle of growth is essentially a quest to experience similarity and familiarity with your own sex and to experience the opposite sex as different and beneficial to you. This can be broken down into four parts: gender congruity, same–sex affiliation, genderedness, and complementarity. When this principle is lived adequately, it creates what can be called gender wholeness.
The word congruity means being in a state of harmony or conformity with something else—to match or be comparable. Gender congruity is an inner sense that our ideas about who and what we are—our self–concept—adequately matches our sense of what a man is supposed to be—our gender concept. In other words, our gender traits substantially and adequately match the traits we see as important among others of our own sex. This might also be described as a conviction that who and what we are as men corresponds with what we believe men should be.
When we feel congruent with our gender, we have a secure sense of being men and being masculine, and we don’t question our masculinity in any significant way. We see similarity between ourselves and other males. We look at the men around us and think, “I am like them, and they are like me.” This doesn’t mean we think we are exactly like every other man, but in all the ways that really matter to us, we are close enough.
The word affiliation means relationship, connection, or association. It implies close contact, including cooperation and companionship, bonding, and love. Affiliation is about being united with or adopted into a relationship or community.
As I pointed out above, connection and community with others of our own sex is natural and normal. All males need it to one degree or another. I believe men have five essential same–sex affiliation needs. The first is attachment, which implies a strong bond. The second is resonance, which means being in harmony or feeling in sync with each other. Approval is the third need, and it implies that others have a favorable attitude toward us, which validates us. The fourth need is for support, which includes receiving help and care. And the fifth need is for affection, which includes kindness, warmth, and love.
When we experience same–sex affiliation as well as gender congruity, we live in a state of masculine sufficiency, which means that we feel sufficiently masculine within, and we enjoy sufficient masculinity around us through our male friendships. This provides a sense of being whole as men, in other words, gender wholeness.
Genderedness is the natural state of having two sexes that are distinct and different from one another. Genderedness requires masculine sufficiency, but that is only the foundation. Beyond that, we must also be aware of the factors that distinguish our own sex from the other, including the obvious physical differences as well as the differences in personality traits, such as interests, motivations, emotionality, and relational tendencies. When men experience masculine sufficiency in the presence of a woman whom we experience as different from us, we tend to feel gendered.
The term complementarity refers to a favorable relationship between the two sexes where each completes, fulfills, balances, and perfects the other. It implies that we see the opposite sex as desirable and as having something valuable to contribute to us. For men, it means seeing women as something that can complete and fulfill us—as our other half. And it means seeing ourselves as having something valuable to contribute to women as well and as being strong enough to make our contribution to them without being drained by their needs. We are not meant to be without our opposite. We are built to complement and complete each other.
Masculine sufficiency combined with genderedness and complementarity creates the most expansive and complete gender wholeness we can experience. We not only feel congruent and connected with our own gender, but we also experience a healthy sense of completion with the opposite sex. Gender wholeness tends to diminish homosexual feelings and impulses. And for some of us, gender wholeness creates or increases opposite–sex attraction. There is no way to tell how long this will take or even if it will work for each of us, but in my experience gender wholeness gives men the best oppor¬tunity for change. And of course, the deeper and more intense the sense of gender wholeness, the greater the change is likely to be. These changes tend to become more constant and consistent over time as gender wholeness deepens.
Take the concepts presented in this lesson to a deeper level in your life through action. Consider the ideas below, then come up with an activity that will stretch you.
Each topic presented in this lesson will be explored in much greater length over the course of the entire GWX curriculum.
- Journal your reactions to the concepts presented here. Notice the feelings that come up as you journal. Particularly, notice any feelings of fear, shame, anger, or resentment. Notice what those reveal about you.
- Carefully consider each of the topics in this lesson, evaluating where you are in relation to each one. Then determine which of these topics you feel is most important for you to address right now. Set a plan to begin addressing that. And notice the feelings that come up as you do all of this.
- Pick one topic from this lesson and observe other people over the next couple of weeks with that subtopic in mind, journaling what you observe, paying particular attention to how you feel about what you observe. For example:
- Gender congruity: Observe other men, noticing your perceptions and beliefs about what a man is supposed to be. Also, notice your perception of yourself as a man. Journal about ways in which you see yourself as congruent or incongruent.
- Same-sex affiliation: Observe the way men interact with each other. See if you notice their needs for affiliation.
- Genderedness: Observe both men and women, noticing and journaling about the differences you perceive. Notice how you see yourself in terms of your own gender traits.
- Complementarity: Observe women, noticing whether you see them has having something to contribute to you and whether you see yourself as a man having something to contribute to them.
- Read a book on the topic of masculinity, such as Growth Into Manhood, by Alan Medinger or Wild At Heart, by John Eldredge.
- Pick a topic from this lesson to discuss with someone whose ideas you value. Share your own thoughts, opinions, and experiences with the topic and invite them to share theirs.
- Push yourself beyond your comfort zone in one of the areas discussed in this lesson. Notice and process the feelings that come up as you do this. For example:
- Gender congruity: Do something you’ve always considered masculine that you have been too afraid, embarrassed, or insecure to try.
- Same-sex affiliation: Initiate or join in an activity or event that puts you in contact with other men. Or just spend time with a male friend or acquaintance who you may have shied away from in the past.
- Genderedness: Engage in a behavior or activity that allows you to experience the contrast and distinction between you and women. In other words, do something that feels very non-feminine.
- Complementarity: Spend time with a female (wife, girlfriend, acquaintance) and consciously try to notice and experience ways in which your masculine traits and her feminine traits enhance, enrich, or complement each other.
Ideas for Groups
All of the activities described above can be adapted for group use. Below are suggestions for how to adapt them.
- Activities 1 through 4: Invite group members to complete one of these activities on their own and then discuss their experience during group. You might use a process like clearings, or create an original group activity, to help men process and integrate their experiences.
- Activity 5: Pick a specific topic from this lesson that seems to be of interest to the majority of group members and discuss it in depth in group.
- Activity 6: Do an activity as a group to push yourselves beyond your comfort zones in one of these areas. The activity may be done during group in your normal meeting location or outside the normal group space or time. Be sure the activity is appropriate for all group members considering their level of development, emotional stability, vulnerability to being triggered, and physical capacities. Make adjustments as necessary so all can appropriately participate.
(Men with lengthy experience regarding this topic)
- Reflect on what you have learned and how you have grown in the areas discussed in this lesson. Identify the most important resources, experiences, processes, or lessons you have encountered. Write these things down and share them with GWX.
- Develop an individual or group activity for this lesson. Try it out to see if it works. Then share it with GWX.
Sharing our life experiences is a powerful way to more deeply integrate what we learn. You are invited to share your experience with this lesson with anyone close to you whom you trust. And you are especially invited to share your experience back to the GWX community by writing a post of up to 400 words.
If you have something longer to share, such as a group process protocol or some additional reading, please send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org