Am I A “Real Man”? Or, How to Know When You Need to Flex on Some Turkeys : )

I was walking to a local shop not to long ago, to attempt to pick up my phone from being repaired after it stopped holding a charge. While I was on my why to the train station, I noticed a flock of wild turkeys bobbing around, looking for grubs to snack on. I thought that it was nice that I’ve been seeing more wildlife in the area, turkeys and rabbits being among them. So, with that in mind, I continued on my path towards the train station.

About a minute after passing the turkeys, I turned around for some reason only to notice that two of the turkeys had begun following me. I figured it was mating season, and I must have infringed on their territory. So I continued walking thinking they’d soon get bored and quit the chase. This however did not happen.

The turkeys got more aggressive, getting closer to me while pecking in the air in my direction. I turned around to face them, walking backwards while swinging my backpack at them in an attempt to shoo them, only to find that this was not helpful. While this was happening, a passerby drove up behind them and started honking the horn at them. This did not deter the turkeys. They raged on in my direction with an arrogant indignation of my presence.

The girl in the front seat of the car couldn’t have been more than 13 years-old, and was laughing hysterically. And trust me when I say, the humor was not lost on me : )

It was in this moment of levity, that my savior came. It was a little Yorkie Terrier guided by a man in his thirties. The man was explaining how waiving my bag was only making the turkeys more bold, while a dog one fourth the size of one of the birds, chased them into the nearby woods. It was a site to see, for sure and if I had my phone I would have definitely taken a video for documentation.

Is That What a Man’s Supposed to be Like?

Being chased by turkeys got me thinking, “how should I have handled this situation” and “does being chased by turkeys make me less of a man?” The conclusions I’ve come to are, no and let me tell you why.

My Role Models Growing Up

In the time and place I grew up, being a man was usually paired with gratuitous violence and a black and white way to choose and practice your morals and values. Characters like Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger from “The Predator” embodied these behaviors, that men were supposed to emulate in order to be a man. That was the unwavering standard of what makes a man, a man.

And needless to say, these were unreasonable. But to an eight year-old, they make perfect sense. Through the eyes of a child, there is most definitely evil in the world and it needs to be smote by a muscle bound savior. Most likely fighting against all odds to save the day for the masses, or a woman. The dangerous part of this message is that, we were all led to believe that deep down, we (real men) are the good guys and we could use whatever means necessary to achieve the end goal of, fighting for the greater good.

This is, from my understanding, the way we rationalize using violence to achieve our goals. But as I see it, this use of violence is a form of letting our emotions take the wheel and control our actions. I could have charged the turkeys and released my anger and frustrations on them for trying to chase me and do them harm in the process. And I have a few people in my life that would have told me that a “real man” would have drop kicked those turkeys into the next zip-code. But would I be more of a man for doing that? No. Losing control of our emotional states is more a trait of immaturity. More child like.

And of course, this reaction takes root in the male role models we had in our childhoods. Professional wrestling was a huge proponent of this type of machismo attitude also. All the posturing and flexing, mixed with the bravado worked to normalize the use of violence to alleviate the discomfort of feeling unsafe. Because at the core of conflict is that somebody, something or animals in my case, are threatening my safety. Perceived or physical.

So if I’m right, most aggression is really a way to avoid the difficult emotions of feeling unsafe, or not in control of our safety and surroundings. So how do we make the shift from feeling unsafe and acting from our fear based emotions to a more stable emotional place? I think it starts with practice and a little help from some healthier role models. Let me tell you how I’ve been practicing this.

My Role Models Now

I have a few photos on my phone’s wallpaper that rotate at random. They are, Dana Schultz from Minimalist Baker, Adriene Mishler from Yoga With Adriene, 2 Pac, Tom Hanks, Damon Albarn from Blur, Tara Brach, Mark Twain, Rumi, D’ Angelo the R&B artist and Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold the rock climbers. As well as a few photos of things I’d like to have or achieve.

Adriene, Dana and Damon are there to remind me to keep at it, whatever it is. They are so prolific as artists, writers and doers and give me inspiration to keep writing or stay on top of my yoga practice or do my best in my work. Whatever it is I’m doing, when I see their photos, I’m reminded to try a little harder.

Tom and Tara are on there to show me that I don’t have to be so hard all the time. The lessons I learned growing up, the ones that told me I had to be calloused and unfeeling as a man just aren’t true. Tom, especially his role in “Sleepless in Seattle”, illustrates the vulnerability we all have. And not that it’s only a female trait, but a humane one. Tara reminds me to be patient and also to nurture myself along the way. All ways of being that I was taught weren’t a man’s job.

Mark, Rumi, Tommy and Alex are there because they are great at what they do/did. And what made them great was their persistence, resilience and dedication. When I see them, I know that if I work hard enough, I’ll accomplish my goals. Anything’s possible. “Courage is mastery of fear, resistance to fear, not absence of it” – Mark Twain.

D’ Angelo made the list to remind me that as a man, it’s okay to show emotions deeply. To feel deeply and to be seen. I was taught that men didn’t have emotions other than anger. And even though we showed anger freely, we were shamed for showing it. Of course we were relating to it in reactionary ways. This was unhealthy. I now recognize the full spectrum of my emotions as they happen and wait before I respond. Giving myself a little more leeway.

And 2-Pac made the list because “everybody and their lady got a little bit o thug in em.” I sometimes need to be reminded that it’s okay to break the rules sometimes. We’re not perfect and that’s okay.

So with these new role models, I’m rebuilding a new version of myself. One that is strong and flexible. Loyal and dedicated. Feels deeply and is not ashamed of it. Not afraid to take some risks, but also knows how to be soft when I need to be. Especially with myself. I’m building a better man, from the new resources I’ve been collecting. And it’s not easy.

The Road Is Most Definitely Difficult

There are definitely times that I want to give in to the feelings of being overwhelmed, or fatigue. As an old co-worker of mine used to say, the days when you “just don’t wanna.” Thanks Chris. But it’s worth remembering that feelings are fleeting. They never last.

There are times like today, when I wake up at 6:30am to work in a bakery/restaurant and then go directly to my second job at a family shelter, where on top of my professional duties, I also plan my personal responsibilities for the upcoming week. After 16 hours of working straight, I am definitely ready to do absolutely nothing.

And it may be easier to take the road I once did. Where I would work minimal hours and spend the rest of my time playing videogames and drinking. Chasing pleasure rather than building the connections and experiences that would persist and bring me joy in a sustainable way. But the “easier” way of living brought with it a consistent sense of fear and anxiety. Not to mention I had almost no close friends to share my time with. I was alone and I had no idea that it was connected to the ways I was isolating from everyone.

Isolation is yet another lesson I learned on how to be a man by my caregivers and culture. Something I’ll be exploring some more in next weeks post. There’s something deceptively comforting in thinking you can do it all alone. Though impossible to actually accomplish, we still try. This is mostly due to, I believe, being told and shown we can by the culture. Being afraid to ask for help because it means you aren’t in control was another lesson on manhood I received in my childhood.

But avoiding connection was all connected to running from the fear of being hurt in relationships. We all get hurt by one another eventually. It’s only a matter of time really. But we need one another. Because being connected and sharing experiences are what makes life worth living. We can’t do that on our own.

So When Is It Okay To Flex On Some Turkeys?

This is by no means an exhaustive list on the many pitfalls we face when measuring ourselves up against the standards of what it means to be a man. These are only my perspectives of the lessons I’ve had impressed on me and what I’ve learned from them. But know that if you have some fears or questions on what it means to be a man, you are not alone.

It’s hard to come to the conclusion of what being a man means to us on an individual level. And what it means to you may not be what it means for me. But we’re all on the same journey together. And sometimes our paths do cross and we walk for a little while together. Hopefully my experiences have helped you in some way understand your experience a little better.

And I think the answer lies in something that Adriene from “Yoga With Adriene” says often, “find what feels good”. Only I’d add, in a sustainable way. Peace : ) and thanks for reading. Oh yeah, if you found that you’re being chased by turkeys, the common wisdom is to show dominance by waving your arms wildly while shouting and slowly walking towards them. Also having a dog on a leash helps as well. One more reason to own a dog : )

Image Credits: “I had to inch my way past this gang of local hooligans to get out of my driveway this morning. #lifeinthesuburbs #morningcommute” by Lorianne DiSabato is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Do I Know What My Boundaries Are? How to Tell if You’re Boundaries Need Shoring Up

Boundaries are another area I spend a lot of time on in this blog. Reason being, if you were raised in an environment where your boundaries were constantly being violated as I have, then it can be difficult to know what is and is not acceptable in regards to boundaries. I didn’t even know what a boundary was! And even worse, I confused a lack of boundaries for affection in some cases. This was not ideal.

What are My Boundaries

Luckily, I’ve learned a lot about what healthy boundaries are and what they are not. But it took a lot of putting myself in some pretty shady situations. Lessons that I could have probably learned in a much healthier fashion. In this post I’ll be talking about how to establish your boundaries and also how to tell when they’re being encroached on. These are difficult waters to navigate when you have no bearings in the way of role models. But there are ways of finding your bearings. It’s not impossible, but it can be difficult. And in difficult times I like to remember the phrase, “we were built for this”. Let’s find some healthy boundaries together. : )

Where Are My Boundaries?

As I said above, boundaries can be tricky to establish. If you’ve been immersed in an environment where a lack of boundaries was the norm, than knowing where yours end and another’s begins isn’t clear. Or maybe your boundaries were too rigid, too defined. This can be just as frustrating as having no boundaries. Either way, if you’ve been left in one of these boats, you’re gonna need to find another vessel. Luckily there are places to find out what a healthy mix of boundaries looks like. Let’s take a look at being raised with no boundaries first. These can be, I feel, the most confusing.

No Boundaries

Being raised with no boundaries can be very confusing when trying to navigate your young, chaotic world. For me, no boundaries meant being mean to others with callous disregard for their emotions. Eating anything and everything I felt like when I felt like it. Picking up vices like smoking and drinking at an early age (14) and using them to excess. Also using others and confusing a lack of boundaries for affection.

Living without boundaries was due to a lack of healthy role models showing me appropriate boundaries. I was mostly looking to feel loved by my neglectful caregivers, by acting the ways that I watched them behave. My caregivers were mean and rancorous. So I was mean spirited and rancorous. It’s what I thought it meant to be grown up, mature. Later, when I realized that my role models were acting like Jim Morrison, I knew I had been mislead.

Trying to Fit in by Copying What was Shown to Me

Being raised with no boundaries came with a feeling of desperation because of the lack of connection I felt. My thoughts were consumed with what I could do to feel a sense of love and belonging. I thought I could feel connected by doing the things that my family was doing. But these things were clearly disregarding my best interests.

For example I stopped going to school at around age 15 and was drinking quite a bit as well. Also in my teen years, I never exercised and my diet wasn’t stellar either. And I did this all because I was looking for some way to belong. To anything that would give me a sense of comfort and security. Who at the time were my family and the people I was friends with who resembled my family. Not realizing all the while how far I was straying from the ways I could have cultivated, to create a sense of security and comfort for myself.

Confusing a Lack of Boundaries for Affection

And the worst part of having no boundaries was, I confused a lack of boundaries for affection. I assumed that any chance for contact was good because I was so desperate for it. This was because I didn’t have a tight bond with my caregivers. I figured, if I let them do whatever they wanted to me, the greater chance I would have of being loved by them. For me that meant they could say whatever they wanted to me. Or go through my personal belongings whenever they felt. Invade my personal space on a whim and treat me as though I weren’t a person with basic needs and rights.

However, this set me up for my relationships with the women to fail. I would often times feel as though I were never enough. As though I needed someone to treat me poorly in a relationship, because I felt I wasn’t worthy enough to be in a healthy one. This left me feeling uneasy in my relationships. Also, lucky that a woman would even consider being with me. This perpetuated the cycles of poor boundaries and low self esteem. So I acted in arrogant ways to cover over my feelings of inadequacy.

Result? Burnt Bridges

The end result was a lot of burned bridges and a staggering amount of unhealthy habits. I had no career prospects. I had ended the most stable relationship I had been in for eight years, almost on a whim. And I had no idea what my future was going to hold or felt like I had the ability to change it. For all intents and purposes, I was one unfortunate event away from being homeless. Completely without resources. I had made a life’s time worth of poor decisions and many of them could be traced back to being raised with no boundaries or very rigid boundaries.

Rigid Boundaries

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, my other caregivers had very rigid boundaries. There was no physical touch (not that there was much with the other side of my family.) We never talked about how we felt either. There were never conversations about who we were as people. Preferences, likes and dislikes weren’t discussed. We seldom had any conversations that went deeper than the state of the weather. We also barely saw each other as well. Any chance we had to build a relationship was frozen by the oppressive frigidity of the nature of our relationship.

These types of boundaries left me feeling as though I wasn’t good enough to be around. As though there was something wrong with me. Though nothing was ever explicitly said, there was an uncomfortable air of feeling deeply wrong. Looking back, I can recognize that if my family didn’t want to touch, talk to or get to know their own son, there must be something wrong with me. Again, a sense of desperation set in as I tried to figure out why I was being rejected. Only this time the rules had changed. I felt empty and as though I wasn’t good enough. But there was also a lack of trust on my caregivers part as well.

Trusting Others is Difficult with Rigid Boundaries

I had no idea that the lack of trust didn’t stem from me. Only that the rigidity, the stiffness of the boundaries made me feel as though, if I wasn’t behaving properly, or wasn’t as stoic or serious as my caregiver were, than I wasn’t good enough.

I was being rejected again, but I had no idea what I was or wasn’t doing. However I did know that some attention was better than none. So for me, a lack of boundaries was more “nourishing” than being completely rigid.

Making the Choice

So I chose to emulate my caregivers that resembled Jim Morrison. And live the destructive lifestyle that came with it. I would later make the switch to becoming rigid in my boundaries. Basing my values on how much I could sacrifice, while thinking in black and white terms. But no matter which path I chose, I still didn’t feel belonging. This was where I came to realize just how unhealthy my boundaries and relationships truly were. This is something I’m still coming to terms with. But I’ve picked up some resources along the way that have helped me to make some sense of my relationships. Let’s take a look at a few of them. Hopefully some will find them useful.

Finding Insperation

I have a few photos on my phone’s wallpaper, that rotate as reminders to me. They are: two photos of dogs I want, a photo of Adriene from yoga with Adriene, a photo of Dana Schultz from The Minimalist Baker, Tom Hanks, a picture of the bedroom I would one day like to build in my future home and a photo of Tupac Shakur. The reason I bring up these photos is because they’ve come to represent a sense of balance in my life. Things that I’m aspiring to and where I’ve come from.

Companionship

The photos of the dogs helps to remind me of the possibility for companionship, unconditionally. I’ve never seen a dog look at a person and say, “I can’t wag my tail at you. You’re too ugly.” They are just little fluffballs of loving energy. This helps to remind me that no matter how rigid boundaries have been in the past, there are always sources of healthy connection and affection. I just need to find them and choose them.

Caring for Myself & My Limits

The photo of Adrienne reminds me that there are people out there doing good work. They don’t have to sacrifice themselves to be liked or accepted. And in fact, are loved and accepted for pursuing something they love to do. Adriene is also a source of positive energy and motivation. As well as helping me to look out for my health.

Yoga has taught me how to care for my physical self without pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of. Taking care of myself on the mat is a way for me to respect my boundaries around how much I feel I should be accomplishing. Especially when I feel my boundaries are too rigid. I.e. pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of achieving. I know that the purpose of my practice isn’t to push myself until I pass out. I’m there to listen to my body. Also respond to its needs with care. Push my limits, while also listening to what my body is telling me.

Nutritional Needs

The same is true of my photo of Dana from Minimalist Baker. She has seen me through some tough times while helping me learn how to cook for and care for my nutritional needs. All the while, not sacrificing the flavors I love. I owe her a great deal and am constantly grateful for what she’s taught me. Dana was the start of me understanding what healthy boundaries looked like in regards to food and nutrition. And I eat a healthier diet thanks to her.

Kindness

Tom Hanks is there mostly for the roles he played in the movies I grew up watching. There was a time where he was the only responsible role model I had. I watched as he showed care for the people he was acting with. And cared for them in a stable and responsible way. He was never abusive, mild in temperament and shared freely his emotional world. These traits showed me that it wasn’t ridiculous to have a reasonable expectation of a person. That it was normal and healthy to have healthy boundaries.

And growing up in a void of healthy role modeling meant that there was nobody to talk to. The T.V. was my closest family member. This made for a very lonely upbringing. I was never really sure of what I was feeling. And the lack of connection and neglect was, looking back on it, abusive. I’m surprised that I’ve made it as far as I have. And relatively unscathed.

Levity

Which brings me to Tupac. Tupac is on my phone to remind me of where I came from. As the man said, “everybody and their lady got a little bit of thug in ’em”. Me included. Which is funny, because I was and still am, mostly a hippie. : ) But Tupac reminds me that when I feel those rigid boundaries begin to creep in, the ones that tell me I have to be as good as humanly possible, or else, to ease up.

Bringing Balance to Your Boundaries

Everybody has a little rebellious streak in them. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, if you let that side take the reigns as I did, life can get out of control quickly. But stifle it too much and you’ll become paralyzed by fear.

So whether you’ve had poorly defined boundaries, or too rigid ones, there are ways to find a new way of being that leaves you feeling as though you are in charge of your life. While also being able to let go a little and relax. But it takes work. Boundaries, unfortunately, don’t build themselves. But with some dedication and a few good role models, it’s possible to create ones that will aid you.

So if you’re looking to shore up your boundaries, start by choosing some healthy role models. Are there people you are drawn to that seem to have a healthy grasp on their life? Start there. What are they doing that you admire? What are drawn to? Do you have behaviors you are unhappy with? Or wish you could change? These areas are worth exploring more. Maybe find someone who has been in your shoes. What are they doing and how have they changed?

I hope this has been helpful to you in some way. It isn’t an easy path. To nurture something like boundaries that have been neglected for such a long time. But it’s worth it in the end. So stay strong! And remember, you were built for this! Thanks for reading : ) peace.

Image Credits: “Blurring Boundaries” by Karthick R is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 10/25/22

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