Power Comes from Your Ability to Create Emotional Safety

June 11, 2020

How, as men, can we create emotionally safe spaces? I’m still working on this, but the crux of it is: If you can stay present with your emotions while standing in your truth, you are being a man.

Holding space is the ability to create an emotionally and physically safe atmosphere. It is the feeling someone gets that allows them to let down their guard. Most people will not let down their guard until you do. You know the difference between walking into a room where someone is angry, and walking into a room where that same person is open. In the first scenario, you show up defensively; in the second you are relaxed, looking forward to the interaction. 

The ability to hold emotional and physical space comes with being mindful. You will not possess the power needed to hold the space for others if you can’t hold it for yourself. So be present for yourself—you need to be mindful and accepting of what is occurring for you.

When you can take that openness into a stressful situation, you hold the space for others to stay more open. Maintaining the focus and openness when chaos is occurring is a strong masculine quality. People gravitate to a man who is relaxed, open, and focused when others aren’t. They see that, under pressure, he does not pass the buck of stress to someone else. He holds his space of relaxed focus. That shows others that he can be trusted, and he will honor his word. When he says that he will do something, he will do it.

The man who holds the space is willing to risk relationships for the truth, because he knows without truth there is no true relationship. He knows that speaking the unspeakable sets everyone free, including himself.

Are you willing to face the threat of collapse to stand in the truth of the moment? Are you willing to allow yourself to feel your feelings? If you can stay present with your emotions while standing in your truth, you are being a man. You are willing to be and do the right thing regardless of the consequence. You serve the truth. As a good king would, you serve a higher source: your truth and those in your kingdom. True power is being fully present no matter what is occurring. 

You have been tested. You will be tested. You have failed; you will fail again. That is learning. Growing is using your failure as an awareness exercise—so that the next time, you are different.

Here is a secret to succeeding the next time: Forgive yourself. Accept your failure with compassion. That same compassion you might not have been given when you were a boy; the compassion you would want to give your son. Denying, stuffing, or pushing down your emotions will sabotage you. Those unacknowledged emotions will rear their ugly heads when you least want them to. 

Here is a tip: Focus on your vision of the man you want to be. Put that in the space you hold for yourself and others. When you see or feel that vision weaken, it is a clue that you are checking out—becoming unconscious and not mindful. Come back to that vision as you come back to your experience. With both of them present, breathe. Then you can step forward into the space as a warrior for truth. 

What Is Right Action?

One question I ask myself about how I should respond to a situation is whether a particular action will take or give me energy. In the long run, will I be more myself, more mature, more powerful if I do that particular act? The question is not much different than asking, “If I go out for a run will I feel better afterward?” This question will help you take the long view. It will help you see the full effect of your actions. It will have you asking whether this action is furthering you in being the man you want to be. If the action in question serves that deeper part of you, not the superficial aspects, it will be right for all. 

Others will often object to your growth. In my personal and professional experience, there will always be people who are threatened by this deep change. By virtue of your changing, they feel pressure on themselves to change—even if you never bring it up or discuss it with them. You’ve heard the old adage about “crabs in a bucket”—in a bucket full of crabs, if one crab tries to escape, the others will pull it back down? You may have friends, family, or coworkers like that—they would rather prevent you from growing than grow themselves.

When I first heard this Buddhist statement, I questioned it: “There is only one right action and it is the right action for everyone.” I see it now, though. Truth is truth for everyone. Others might not like it, but it doesn’t make it less true.

At the end of the day, you might not have achieved your goal, but you were being a man because you were fully showing up. You were true to yourself and your vision of yourself. You gave yourself a huge gift. You accepted yourself when others might not have. Keep this up; you will grow up. If you do no other step, do this one. This one will lead you to and through the rest.

From the book Grow Up: A Man’s Guide to Masculine Emotional Intelligence by Owen Marcus.

Owen Marcus, cofounder and director of education at Evryman, is a TEDx presenter and author of Grow Up: A Man’s Guide to Masculine Emotional Intelligence.

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