Creating Support Groups

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT SUPPORT GROUPS

Join a group and get your life the way you want it!!

A support group is a gathering of people who want to accept, respect and love one another unconditionally. They achieve this through facing their fears and judgements so as to bring about healing through the sharing of their story. They are committed to creating a safe and nurturing space where they can express themselves and be head so as to face their fears and bring about healing to their wounds and learn to take responsibility for their experience.

The support group can be facilitated by a person who has either experienced this process or who is willing to step into the role of facilitator. An important part of a support group is to rotate the role of facilitator through the group. To encourage two to people get together and assist each other so as to co-facilitate a meeting or to bring a process or an experience that will encourage a deeper sharing within the group. The group should not be dependant on a facilitator as the group will ultimately own its guidelines and ensure that they are followed.

The following Purpose, Guidelines and agreements could be read at every meeting of the group.

1. Purpose

To create a safe, nurturing, non-judgemental environment to give and receive unconditional love, acceptance and support by opening our hearts to explore our feelings and moving through our fears.

2. Guidelines

 To remember our purpose: we are here to accept and love one another unconditionally and we are not here to analyse, judge, rescue or attempt to fix one another.

 We agree to share from our hearts and to be honest about what we are feeling and thinking.

 When we are aware of making judgements of someone, we will bring our attention and focus back to the person speaking.

 We will not interrupt the process of the person speaking. We will give the person sharing our full attention. We will not carry out cross speaking.

 We will give at least a 30 second pause of silence as acknowledgement between each person’s sharing.

 We will not monopolise the group’s time and attention. We will give each person an opportunity to share themselves in the group.

 We will use “I” statements not “You” statements. We will take responsibility for our own experiences and respect the experiences of others. We will not attach “our “ meaning to something someone else has said.

 We will not hide our hurt or angry feelings. We will share them honestly, without making others responsible for how we feel.

 If one of us shares a hurt or angry feeling with us, we will acknowledge how they are feeling. We will not defend ourselves or try to justify our words or actions. We will share all feelings that come up for us.

 We will stay in the present moment. We will not bring up the past or the future, unless they are happening for us here and now.

 We will keep everything said in the group confidential.

 We will honour the silence, knowing that it is an opportunity to look within and to become more aware and present of ourselves and of others.

 If there is a feeling the group is moving away from its purpose, we will ask for a moment of silence, so that the group can refocus and re-centre and remember its purpose.

 Remembering that we are learning through this process and that we will not always do this process perfectly, we will learn to be gentle with ourselves. We will use every opportunity that arises within the group as an opportunity to forgive and let go of our expectations.

3. Agreements

We commit to:

 Honour the purpose of the group.

 Practice the guidelines.

 Be on time.

 Attend every meeting of the group. (If an emergency arises, we will notify the facilitator and make them aware of our situation.)

 We will keep everything said in the group confidential.

Prospective members of a group who do not feel comfortable with the purpose, guidelines and agreements of the group should not participate in the group process.

The ideal group consist of between 8 and 12 people. This will give each person time to share and to be heard.

Groups meet once a week for about 2 hours. A commitment of between 8 to 12 weeks is recommended. Once this commitment is fulfilled, the group can restate its intention and commitment and either leave or invite new participants to join. The group is encouraged to implement what they have gained through this process into other settings and bring it into their lives where it may be more helpful and meaningful. This encourages the group to stretch and prevent the group’s views becoming closed and narrow and to extend the process to others so that they may also receive the benefits.

The group serves the greater good of those participating in it. The experience is gained through the sharing of its thoughts and feelings of its members. Participants are asked to share significant and highly charged moments in their life’s experience. The invitation is to remain in the present as much as possible. The more authentic and honest the sharing, the deeper the group will go to bring about healing by dealing with their shame and blaming of others.

Sharing does not have to be profound or note worthy. Growth will happen even if the sharing is guarded and superficial as the group learns to deal with being present and listening to others willing to share their life’s experiences. The aim is to create a safe space for its participants to feel supported in.

The group can focus on topics such as relationships, career, service, and so forth. The content is to come from sharing personal experiences of the participants rather than intellect and theories.

Support groups, can be a powerful tool to bring about change, through effective communication, as the process allows all those who participate, time to be heard and a place to bring about change. Differences can be better understood and respected and help people accept each other as equals and to work more effectively together.

How men’s groups work

“To make personal change easier, and to make global change possible, we have to build and belong to a community of men who are working towards similar goals. Even small groups of men who are willing to meet regularly and talk, can give each other huge insights, enormous amounts of encouragement, and occasional kicks in the bum – all essential to keeping you open and moving towards liberation! If you really want to get your life moving as a man, then you should consider joining a men’s group.”

Steve Biddulph: Manhood.

The structure of the group is based on a few key guidelines:

 There is no pressure to speak unless you choose to.
 There is an emphasis on hearing someone out, rather than interrupting with an argument or well meaning advice.
 The emphasis is to share from the heart, not the head through discussions or theorising.
 The rule of ‘no bullshitting” and to ‘say what you feel’. Men’s groups can be very emotional and liberating at times. Something very special happens when time is set aside to hear men’s stories and they feel honoured. Much comes to the surface and men learn to delve deeper into their life’s experiences.
 Men’s groups are practical, with a range of topics to share experiences from.
 Men’s groups tend to have rules such as honouring confidentiality and no put-downs. The tendency to confront bullshitting and irresponsibility.
 Leadership tends to rotate, rather than not having a leader - acknowledging that men prefer structure and are goal orientated.

Benefits of a Men’s Groups:

 Young men may find surrogate fathers and uncles to replace absent men their fathers seem to be.
 Ethics of men’s groups are strong – particularly with regards to acting (or speaking) violently towards women, children and other men.
 Men’s group talk has a different approach and style to women’s talk – there is less tiptoeing, and they have fewer tendencies to agree with every thing that you say.
 The reason for men’s groups is varied – from dealing violence, health and marital concerns.

You do not have to spill your guts in a men’s group – there is no pressure. Perhaps for that very reason, though, you find yourself hoeing in, prompted by the similarities of your own experiences with those being shared by other men. You get practical tips for living and feel you can breathe more deeply, all at the same time it adds a sense of relaxation to your life because the changes are cumulative. Your life starts to make more sense.

Steve Biddulph: Manhood.

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STARTING YOUR OWN GROUP FOR MEN AGAINST SEXISM

Basil Elias.

Many men have been latching on to feminist politics without taking up our place in the struggle for too long. Its’ not enough to read bell hooks or Angela Davis, call ourselves feminists, hang out with riot grrrls or rock the emo-boy style anymore. It’s time to get out there, look inside and deal with the fact that most of us have been socialized in a society that teaches us to take power away from people around us. The fact that 1 in 3 girls are raped before the age of 17 is our responsibility. The fact that 1 in 5 boys are sexually assaulted before they turn 18 is our responsibility. Dismantling patriarchy is, in part, our responsibility. We have to step up—and here’s one place we can begin.

Okay. So, you want to start a group for men against sexism, and have been wondering how to do it. That’s great. There aren’t many resources out there already, but you’re not on your own. This article is a primer—a for-beginners guide to creating this group.

The first step, in my opinion, is to do a little soul searching of your own. Take the time to answer some important questions. Why are you putting this group together? What do you expect to get out it? What do you want to see accomplished? Are you willing to let control over the group go? How does starting a group like this boost your own ego? This is the time to be honest with yourself and know your intention.

In Chicago, in 1995, I started a group for men against sexism. I received a lot of validation from people around me and this definitely went to my head. Because of this, I was a little more controlling of the group and a little less critical of my own actions. This is definitely something to watch out for.
When you’ve answered some basic questions for yourself, it’s time to get the group together. Before you put the word out, think about who you want to invite. Are trans people welcome? Is this a group for bio-men only? Is this a group for people of all genders who have been socialized to be men? Think about gender, in all its’ complexities, and make sure to address it while starting your group.

Flyers, emails and word-of-mouth will do the trick in gathering together the first meeting. Figure out the time and place, how long the meeting will be, who will facilitate and what preparation you need to do.

During the first meeting, spend some time-sharing the results of your soul-searching. Get group members to answer some questions as well. Why did they join? What are they expecting to get from it? What are they willing to put into it? Challenge yourself and other members to take the risks that are necessary in effectively undoing the sexist socialization we’ve all received.

Setting up the foundation of the group is very important. Even though people within the group may want to jump into the material, it is important to make agreements about how to deal with critiques and self-reflection, picking topics and challenging group dynamics. Set up some ground rules around welcoming critique and consensual ways of bringing these critiques up. Make agreements about looking at group process and using this as a basis of discussion. Figure out ways to flush out the sexist dynamics that are taking place in the group and within the relationships that group members have and use these lessons as places to work from. Have people learn what their bodies feel like when they’re feeling defensive and get support from other group members to recognize and keep their defenses down.

After this process is initially set-up, you can decide on what you want to accomplish. The following sections are topics you can choose and tasks you can take on. But don’t limit your group to my suggestions. Work the creativity in the room and grow as a group!

Reading/Reflecting

There are a lot of great reading materials out there that will feed hours of discussion. Authors like Joanna Kadi, bell hooks, Cherie Moraga, John Stoltenberg and Michael Kimmel; Books about feminist politics, abuse, men’s issues and all forms of oppression; Zines about men against sexism, feminism, disability and many other topics; and countless web sites will provide an abundance of materials for the group to consider. If you choose the ‘reading/reflecting’ route, make sure to select reading materials from a wide variety of sources and to keep plenty of time for reflection about what you’re reading and what it brings up for everyone. Challenge the group to get personal with the readings and not stay in an academic or head-driven space.

Accountability & Amends

I’ll bet that at least one person in that group has had nonconsensual sex, non-communicative sex, sexually assaulted or harassed someone, and/or raped someone. I’ll bet that everyone in that group has acted out of sexist patterns in one way or another. Because of this, it is really important to talk about accountability and amends. Many anti-sexist men’s groups focus on the question: Where do we go from here? I think it’s important to address our previous and present actions. With this, it’s important to ask ourselves: Who have we hurt? And, How can we make amends to them? What does real accountability look like? How can we actualize this in our group and in our lives—past, present and future.

Men’s Intimacy and Homophobia

How many guys, when hugging, look like we’re burping each other? How does homophobia play into our fear of intimacy with each other? These are great questions to deal with in the group. And there are great ways to deal with them. Have groups of two hold hands and walk around the block, and then process everything that comes up. Have people look into each other’s eyes and take time to talk about it. Challenge each other to take respectful emotional and physical risks.

More, More and More

Don’t limit yourselves. Aside from these topics here, you could discuss sex, men’s health, talking about sex, power, privilege and so much more. Have brainstorming sessions to verbalize all the possibilities of topics, exercises and ways to interact. One of my favorite groups would meet for one long day per month, have workshops in the morning, cook a big lunch together and have more workshops in the afternoon. We would bring in outside facilitators, bring in our own ideas and challenge each other constantly.

While your group is getting going, there’s another thing to consider. In the world of men’s groups, there are usually many different types. These include: pro-feminist, mythopoetic, father’s rights, and religious groups. Pro-feminist groups have been the most active in confronting sexism and facing oppression head on. While all of these groups have different values regarding men’s’ roles in society and different takes on the role of patriarchy, pro-feminist groups traditionally have taken a stand against patriarchy. It is important to consider who your group is aligning itself with and how that reflects on the commitments of the group to help each member work toward the end of sexism in their lives.

And the last thing I want you to consider is evaluations. As the group moves forward through the weeks or months, consider the ways in which you can put thought into action and evaluate the progress you’re making. In a group I was part of, we would work on all these issues month after month. In between meetings, the partners of people in the group would call me up to tell me how their partner was being sexist. I would bring up these phone calls in the group and we would work out the issues. This was not ideal, but the idea sparks energy in me. Thinking about who we take our sexism out on in our daily lives can bring us a list of people who may help evaluate the effectiveness of this group and our work in it.

You will definitely make mistakes, come across a bundle of challenges and grow. Keep an open mind and your defenses down. Good luck.

Finally, Here are a couple resources to help you along the journey:

On The Road To Healing:
A Booklet For Men Against Sexism.Available through the Planting Seeds Community Awareness Project.

XY Online Magazine

Men Against Violence Web Ring:

The Art of Facilitation: How to Create Group Synergy. By Dale Hunter, Anne Bailey, and Bill Taylor