First published on InterGifted
For many gifted and twice- or multi-exceptional men, the self-leadership process requires resolving experiences of impasse and feelings of “failing to actualize potential”. InterGifted coach & community leader Merlin Györy recently shared his wisdom with us on this topic in a community Q+A, which we’ve adapted to an article here. Learn about what self-leadership for gifted men entails, how to find a starting point on your path, how to overcome resistance on the journey, and where to find attuned and connection support along the way.
By Merlin Györy
Self-leadership is the concerted effort we make to take responsibility for guiding ourselves along the path to developing into fully mature, generative adults. For many gifted men and twice- or multi-exceptional men, the self-leadership process involves resolving experiences of impasse, such as being deeply stuck in a kind of rut that can be felt as “failing to actualize potential”; or standing still even while making seemingly titanic efforts to move forward in one’s journey of self-development. This experience can be lived with overtones of isolation, lack of connection, and dissonance between the cultural images of what it means to be a man, versus one’s complex, unique lived experience. Being a multi-exceptional man who has struggled to embrace my own journey of emotionally balanced self-leadership, I’ve made some progress on the question and in turn work to support other gifted men on their respective self-leadership journeys. Given that many of us have been or are being raised in repressive and oppressive cultures which encourage a toxic masculinity rather than a healthy masculinity, there is work to be done, both personally and collectively. Here I will share some of the meaningful stepping stones which are common on the gifted male journey of waking up to the self-leadership call and finding the agency to holistically and meaningfully engage in it.
There’s no real “one size fits all” starting point for this quest. The more different gifted men I get to know and support in coaching, the more I understand that we all have our own profile based on which doors we closed most tightly for various reasons in our development, and which doors are contextually ready to be opened in the present. I’ve recorded a talk in which I explore some of the entry points into self-understanding, which you can watch here. Additionally, below I share some of the “doors” which can be opened, depending on your own contextual present-moment opportunities:
For myself, my starting point was a consideration of the systemic level of what it means to be a male in culture. Since men have been the “dominant” group in our culture for a long time, I had to face how much of that culture has seeped into my sense of self by growing up in it. That meant I encountered parts of myself, my behavior, my worldview, etc., that I didn’t want to accept as a part of me. My natural response was to reject them, so I would not have to endure the pain, shame, trauma, and regret that were entangled with them. But I saw that I couldn’t change what I rejected, and only continued to be the “victim” of it. I realized I couldn’t pretend to be separate from something and at the same time gain insight about it. It took a lot of will, strength and compassion to own the parts of culture and myself which caused me pain and shame, and through my engaged attention, to allow it to transmute itself into something I could be proud of. If you’d like to explore this angle, I encourage you to investigate how male culture has led to normalizing certain kinds of behaviors that are unacceptable. Getting below the most basic understanding of racism, narcissism, abuse, sexism, entitlement, etc., and seeing how these are part of everyday interactions can be immensely eye opening, the focus of course not being only outside but also inside. We all do this stuff more than we think and it’s become so normal it’s nearly invisible. Here are some resources to get you started:
- My personal exploration of gender norms as a gifted male: Gender & Giftedness: Toward a Human-First Model of Self-Expression
In this vein, biological and historical research and fiction can also be a starting points, particularly of cultures and species that don’t act in the same image of masculinity we humans are currently maintaining in the cultural (Western) majority. Books like Steven Taylor’s The Fall have provided me many interesting perspectives and examples for alternative possibilities of masculinity. And some fictional works like Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing and its sequel City of Refuge also have been a great resource. Here are a few resources you may want to explore:
- Matriarchal Societies
- Orca Whales
- A Socio-cultural Perspective of Gender Equality
- The Fall, by Steve Taylor
- The Fifth Sacred Thing, by Starhawk
If the systemic (meta) view doesn’t feel like a good fit for you as a starting point, you may find that it’s more helpful to look at specific issues you struggle with on the daily (micro) level, such as shame, addiction, isolation, disconnection from your mind, heart or body, emotional blindness or numbness, strained relationships, entitlement, lack of meaning, stymied potential, or even narcissistic or covert narcissistic tendencies if you find them present in yourself. The following resources are great places to start:
- The work of Brene Brown on vulnerability
- The work of Pia Melody on intimacy
- The work of Terry Real on male development. In particular, there is a very simple journaling exercise in his book The New Rules of Marriage that targets specifically gaining awareness of the emotions we feel, and it has been a lot more fruitful for me than I expected from such a simple practice.
- The work of Abdul Saad and Sam Vaknin on the various forms of narcissistic expression
- The work of Pete Walker on Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from developmental abuse or neglect, which is not uncommon in men
–Leading with Curiosity
If the “issues”-oriented view doesn’t feel right as a starting point, curiosity might feel more inspiring, as it is a more emergent and intuition-led phenomenon. As gifted men specifically, we need to find ways to engage with our process of developing healthy masculinity by finding questions that fascinate us. We can use our curiosity and multi-level mind as an engine in this endeavor, for example by asking what our ideal model of masculinity might look like. Many gifted men have been discouraged from being curious about their own personal development or their inner emotional landscape, and their curiosity about these crucial aspects of themselves have been closed away in an unused spot in their brain (ironically, their curiosity has stopped extending toward themselves or their personal development). Thus, active cultivation of the skill of curiosity is a good place to start. However, it is important that your curiosity takes you outside of well-worn paths. Here are some resources to explore:
- Curiosity is a Must-Have Skill
- My upcoming Gifted Men’s Group will be a great way to explore your curiosity with peers (more on that below)
- Daniel Siegel’s work on Mindsight
–Building Somatic Awareness
On a physical level, we can get more in touch with our body. Our emotions are not separate from our body, but we often don’t allow ourselves to feel them there, and rather experience them exclusively by thinking about them. What can help here is building somatic awareness and find ways to be more intimately connected with our own body. For example, developing a practice of integrated fitness through dance, certain martial arts, parkour, Feldenkrais, or other movement method can be a great way to restore intimacy with our body, self, and emotions. Here are some resources to start exploring in this direction:
- The work of Katy Bowman
- The work of Move Nat
- The work of Ido Portal
- When developmental or shock trauma has affected our ability to feel our bodies, or to feel good in our bodies, somatic experiencing is highly recommended.
- The Feldenkrais Method
–Building Relational Skills
From an interactional angle, we can familiarize ourselves and build skill in concepts of how we engage with the people around us. Many gifted men struggle in personal and professional relationships for reasons they don’t really understand. This can make self-leadership extremely frustrating, as self-leadership is only fully possible when we also know how to wisely navigate and integrate our social context. It is a feedback loop: we can only fully embody our values and integrity as individuals if we are able to sufficiently connect with our “social nervous system” or our social ecosystem in a way that meets our basic needs for safety, belonging and self-esteem. Here are some places to start exploring this direction:
- Betty Martin’s work on the Wheel of Consent (her model is focused on sexual touch, but applies to all relational interactions, including the relationship within the self)
- My wife Karin Eglinton’s work on the social ecology of gifted relationships, and her Wholeness-based Relating Course for gifted people
–Finding Role Models
Another angle that can be useful is finding real or fictional male characters that embody certain aspects we wish to cultivate, and then studying them as though we were actors learning a role. Of course we’re not trying to become the character, but it can be helpful for us in discovering sides of ourselves we didn’t know existed or could exist. Finding roles models I can really relate to has been wonderful and hard, but so worth it. It has helped me figure out and solidify who I want to be, and who I want to become. Here are a few resources that have been particularly helpful for me:
- This TED talk by Toku McCree has been an inspiration and illustrates how I work with role models.
- One person I chose as a role model is Neil Gaiman, but what was important for this choice was the perspective of him as a partner I gained from reading his wife Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking. The book isn’t about him or their relationship specifically, but she mentions him here and there, and this offered me a perspective different from his media presence or his creative work. It has been useful to me to observe, to study and be inspired by another man who seemed to me to be a loving, compassionate, kind, vulnerable partner in ways I didn’t feel I knew very well how to do, but wanted to learn. It was helpful that he is older and more experienced than me, but even more that he is an artist, a “creative weirdo”, someone who seems humble and open about failure, and someone who isn’t trying to be perfect or fit into a lot of majority molds. Of course, I don’t know Neil personally (yet) and the “role model” I see in him (which I create from a blend of what I study and what I wish to see) isn’t necessarily how he really is. But that is also not a problem for the same reason fictional figures can work as role models. We aren’t trying to “follow” them, we are trying to grow our own version of some specific parts of the patchworks we see in them.
–Energetic Presence & Management
Yet, another angle is through engaging energetically. For me, it has been fascinating to explore different forms of meditation and mindfulness. It was quite healing to learn that I can regulate my nervous system and not lose control through emotional outbursts, for example. I regularly recommend this practice to my clients both as an entry-point and as a maintenance practice for self-leadership development. Here are some starting places to explore:
- The work of Rick Hanson
- The work of Stephen Porges
- Kelly Pryde’s work with gifted mindfulness and the Gifted Mindfulness Collective
–Engaging Our Creativity
And of course, we can also make huge leaps by engaging creatively. Writing, music, building, painting, all creative disciplines really, can have a profound reflective aspect and also help us process emotional content which is otherwise hard to access, express or share. Here are some resources to get you started:
- See the wiki page on Art and Emotions
- 100 Art Therapy Exercises you can explore
- I invite you to join my Gifted Creatives Group via InterGifted to start exploring with your creativity with gifted peers
WHAT TO DO WHEN RESISTANCE ARISES
It can be really important to notice resistance that arises when we try to engage with any of these self-leadership starting points. Resistance is not necessarily a negative; it can actually serve to point us toward something that needs our attention. As we have been “taught” to be men through fear, resistance is often fear that we encounter in various forms. If we respond to resistance with habitual force or denial, we are only pretending to be “strong” and “invulnerable”, and we only get more weak and more powerless. Instead, when we feel resistance, we must start to admit we lack skill in leadership and in some other key areas of our lives, and work towards building up that skill in an empowered and self-compassionate – not forceful or fear-driven – way. We will fail at first and others will see us fail, and try, and fail again, and it will be uncomfortable, and we can learn to feel that, without having to hide it or to make it go away by denying it or projecting it outside of us. The resistance we encounter can also come from outside. As we change who we are and take back our true (em)power(ment), we are questioning systemic values and norms. This may make others very uncomfortable and they may try overtly or covertly to sabotage our change. I’ve found it’s incredibly easy for me to fall back into silencing my emotions and acting against my own values when I am in a social environment that does not support or value my vulnerability and true empowerment. This may necessitate updating who you spend your time around, or tough conversations with the people you value and want to keep in your life. Toxic masculinity in all of its forms feels like something contagious, so you’ll want to do your best to limit interactions with men who aren’t working towards healing from it or who are actively spreading it. My own life has changed immensely for the better now that I actively seek interactions with those who I know to be dedicated to learning, building and nurturing healthy masculinity, and limit my exposure to those who are not.
SELF-LEADERSHIP WITH OTHER GIFTED MEN
I hope this article has given you a few ideas of possible starting points on your journey. If you’ve found this information helpful and would like to engage in a group setting with other gifted men who are committed to their own emotionally-balanced self-leadership journey, I warmly invite you to consider joining our Gifted Men’s Group. We gather a group of gifted men together in a unique setting – mixing the concept of a men’s peer group and an incubator. Our aim is to cover fundamental topics such as leadership, self-leadership, self-reflection and self-development. It’s a space where you can learn to trust and support other gifted men on a peer level; a space that has room for humor and open hearts; a space to practice our skills of relating and regulating; and a space to cultivate safety and awareness for our own process. I am providing prompts, discussion and resources on topics which will follow along on each participant’s journey, and the groups’ shared journey, flowing emergently from the meta-themes below to the micro-themes of each man’s daily life challenges and opportunities for inner and outer growth. Meta themes:
- moving things collectively that we can’t move alone
- creating a space to be heard in one’s unique challenges and sense of meaning as a gifted man
- to have access to reflections from other gifted men
- transforming the restrictive “normative culture” mold of what it means to be a man, and a gifted man at that
- developing relational skills as a man
- the path to healthy self-empowerment
We meet once a month, and more details for the group can be found here. Our next season starts August 1, 2020. To apply to join or to inquire about whether the group is a good fit for you, contact me. If a group setting doesn’t feel like it corresponds to your needs for support at this time, I invite you to consider working with me individually in coaching. You can learn more about what coaching with me entails here and reach out to schedule a session. If you’ve found this article helpful, please share it so that other gifted men can benefit too!