The word “need” could be defined as that which is required in order to maintain joy. I consider joy to be central to the purpose of human existence. By joy, I mean the experience of satisfaction, wellbeing, and completion; the sense that life is good, that it has purpose and meaning. I am speaking of joy in its mature, bigger–than–self form—not mere excitement, stimulation, or even bliss, although each of these may be part of joy.
A reverse description of “need” may add context: It is a need if not having it causes grief. You may experience grief as sadness, loneliness, intense yearnings, or loss of interest and creativity. Or you might experience your body’s defensive reactions to grief, such as depression, numbness, despair, or attractions to other men. These feelings are a message to you that some of your needs are not being met.
Those of us with SSA often do well at meeting some of our needs, but do poorly at fulfilling others. Typically, shame or emotional conflict surround the needs we don’t allow ourselves to meet. For example, meeting the need to feel at ease in the body—to feel confident and secure in our own skin—might require exercise and dieting. But intense body shame can make it very difficult to even acknowledge the body’s needs, much less to care for the body or expose it by going to the gym for a workout. Or, meeting the need to individuate from mother might require creating boundaries in the relationship. But conflicting feelings of love, anger, and guilt can undermine our resolve to set boundaries with her.
Shame can cause us to create false selves as a way of hiding and protecting our vulnerable authentic selves. False selves allow us to interface with our hostile or unpredictable world without being further shamed. But they can also cause us to lose awareness of our true selves and our true needs, compromising our ability to meet those needs.
The further in life we go without knowledge of our needs, the further off track we may become. For some of us, a fundamental incompatibility develops between our lifestyle and obligations and the meeting of our authentic needs. Marriage, children, debt, and career can lock us into lives that don’t work for us. Getting back on track can then require substantial effort and sacrifice.
Grief is what naturally happens when we are thwarted in meeting our needs. If our grief is too painful or pervasive, we might defend against it through various, ultimately self–sabotaging methods, including masturbation, pornography, and homosexual fantasies or behavior.
Authenticity opens the way for need fulfillment by increasing awareness of both cognitive and physiological aspects of emotion. This means that we can feel our feelings and understand what they mean. When understood, our emotions can give us surprisingly clear information about our needs and whether or not we are fulfilling them.
As difficult as the processes of learning about our needs may sound, the more difficult work of need fulfillment is often the daily devotion of time, energy, and resources that is required in order for us to actually fulfill our needs. For some of us, this can require substantial adjustments in our lifestyle as we begin committing time and other resources to meeting our needs. It can also require a high level of commitment from the people close to us, especially if we are married and have a family. And it is possible.
I believe men have six general needs. The first is the need for a mission, which can be described as some kind of productive activity that allows us to feel effective and useful. In Wild at Heart, John Eldredge says, “A man must have a battle to fight, a great mission to his life that involves and yet transcends even home and family. He must have a cause to which he is devoted even unto death, for this is written into the fabric of his being.”
Men also need adventure. We need the intense energy that adventure generates to prevent us from becoming lifeless, dull, depressed, and false. Adventure spurs creativity and feelings of power. It creates an energy of confidence, courage, discipline, generosity, aliveness, and self–expression.
A third general masculine need is for genderedness and complementarity, which we discussed as part of the topic: Masculinity. Women are our opposite—together the two sexes make a complete unit. Only by bringing together the gifts of the two genders can we experience wholeness in life.
The fourth general need is to have other men in our lives. We also discussed this as part of Masculinity. Simply and truly, men need men. We need to be seen, understood, and accepted by other men. We need the mentoring, support, and challenges we give each other. As the writer of Proverbs chapter twenty–seven advises, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (KJV). In pursuing our mission and our adventure, we need comrades.
The fifth general need men have is for spiritual connection. Spirituality brings a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves and provides a sense of comfort that we are not alone in the universe. It gives meaning and a sense of purpose by assuring us that life and creation are going somewhere. It offers ways to understand the suffering we see in this life. And it gives a hopeful context for what otherwise might seem meaningless and vain.
Finally, the sixth general masculine need is to care for our bodies. We must have a positive emotional connection to our bodies because this will determine how well we will take care of them. Physical fitness through diet and exercise is part of meeting this need. Rest and relaxation are also vital. And touch is an important part of meeting this need as well.
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.
- Consider the definition of “need” given in the first paragraph of this lesson. Write down in your journal a list of your non-negotiable needs. Also, write down those things that are absent from your life, resulting in the kinds of negative feelings described in paragraph two.
- Consider what may be blocking you from fulfilling those needs that are not being met right now. Review the third and fourth paragraphs for ideas on this concept. Journal what you discover.
- As you read about the six general needs we’ve suggested men have, consider whether you experience those needs, and if so, in what ways do you experience them? Also consider the extent to which each of the needs you experience is being fulfilled. Journal what you discover.
- Decide on one need that you can, with a little effort, begin meeting right now. Set a plan to begin doing so. Take into consideration your life situation, any expenses of time or money that may be involved, and, if other people are needed, whether they are available and willing. As you carry out your plan, notice how it feels as your need begins to be fulfilled. Journal your experience.
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 3: Invite group members to complete one of these activities on their own and then discuss their experience during group. You might develop an experiential activity to help men process what comes up.
- Activity 4: Invite group members to individually decide on a specific need they can begin meeting now that the group can assist them with. Then create a plan as a group to help each group member fulfill his need. Be conscious of realistic limitations on group members’ time and resources.
(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.
- Write about your experience with a core need that was not being fulfilled, the impact that had on your life, what you did to begin fulfilling it, and how that benefited you.
- 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