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New movement encourages men to embrace feelings

by Pam Lilley
from The Plain Dealer

If World War II's Rosie the Riveter signaled the approach of the women's liberation movement, today's metrosexual - call him Beckham the Beautifier - might just be an early indication that men's lib is on its way. Defined as straight men in touch with their feminine sides, metrosexuals dig fashion, appreciate culture and some, like British soccer star David Beckham, have even been known to use cosmetics.

David Kundtz, a native Clevelander, is near the forefront of this burgeoning movement. He stands just outside Beckham's spotlight with his new book about the changes in how men see themselves and their emotions.

Three step

"Feminism has brought about big changes in the way women see themselves and their roles," Kundtz writes in "Nothing's Wrong: A Man's Guide to Managing His Feelings" (Conari Press, $14.95), which hit bookstores last month.

"I believe [men] must admit that, on the whole, we are behind on that score. Women have embraced their guts; have we embraced our hearts?"

Kundtz, a family therapist, believes many men live only half their lives.

"Our first response is on a thinking level, not a feeling level," the author said in a telephone interview from his home in the San Francisco area. "We've been made to feel that we're goofs when it comes to feelings."

Many experts agree that many men find navigating the emotional side of the self far more difficult. But there is a wide range of opinion about why that is true. It might be nature, it might be nurture, or it might be a little of both.

On the nature side of things, it has long been accepted that males and females have different dominant hormones: testosterone for men and estrogen for women. But now, more recent studies show that there are even sig nificant differences in the neurological construction of men's and women's brains.

The corpus callo sum, for instance, which connects the right and left hemi spheres of the brain, is, on average, 25 percent smaller in men than women, according to "What Could He Be Thinking?" a book written last year by family therapist Michael Gurian.

"Because of this, men don't connect as many feelings to words, or even thoughts to words," Gurian writes. Which means that women are physically better equipped to communicate their emotions.

Nurturewise, culture plays a strong role in perpetuating what Kundtz's book calls "The Big Lie For a male to show feelings is weakness." Male adolescents insult each other, Kundtz points out, with words such as "sissy" or gay epithets. As a result, boys tend to steer clear of the feminine realm by blocking displays of emotion.

He advocates a simple three-step process for smoothing out the bumps in the terrain between the heart and the brain.

First, Kundtz writes, when a feeling arises, just feel it. Don't run from it, don't cover it. Just notice the bodily changes that are taking place.

"When I first went into recovery I thought I had no feelings, no emotions," said Tom, a Clevelander who is a longtime member of an anonymous 12-step recovery program. "I never realized how far down they had been pushed. In group therapy, they would ask me what I was feeling, and I would say, 'nothing.' Then the counselor asked me to describe how I was feeling physically, and I would say I had a knot in my stomach. I learned that if I worked my way through it all, I could determine by that knot in my stomach that I was having feelings; I just couldn't identify them."

This is Kundtz's second step: Name the feeling. Accuracy is not key here, but it will improve with practice. In his book, Kundtz provides an extensive list of words that might be useful in moving beyond "good," "bad" or "angry." It's important to emphasize here that feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are, Kundtz writes. "They are pre-moral. That is, they happen before anything moral or immoral happens."

Third: Express the feeling. This usually involves doing or saying something, but it should not violate one's personal value system.

"One of the tools of 12-step programs is writing an inventory and then sharing it with another person," Tom said. "This really helps identify problems. Another tool is the process of verbalization. There seems to be something very therapeutic about having it go out of my mouth, over my tongue and into the ears of another person. Journalizing can be another terrific tool, as we often come to truths through writing that we do not come to just mulling something over in our own head."

Kundtz recommends ongoing maintenance of emotional health through regular exercise, gathering with friends, communicating and exploring your spirituality through organized religion, meditation or groups.

"The fellowship provides a training ground to practice newfound skills," Tom said. "We use it to learn how to deal with peo ple. We have the possibility of coming out whole people with whole personalities. It is about experiencing our spiritual side - and this happens through investigating our emotions and feelings."

Thanks to Rosie and her feminist sisters, liberated women became presidents of corporations. If Kundtz and his metrosexual brethren have their way, perhaps liberated guys can become captains of their souls.

The results can be damaging. Stuffed feelings build up over time and can result in physical sickness, mental illness or addiction, Kundtz writes.

In his book, Kundtz provides men with a basic blueprint of their emotional sides.

Lilley is a free-lance writer in Cleveland Heights.


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