“Don’t be a pussy – man up!” The hidden cost of “masculinity” in sports and modern culture

* Please note I am aware that the phrase “Don’t be a pussy” may be offensive to some of you. My intention with this article is to shed light on part of modern culture that is very much alive, and this phrase is still widely used among men to shame other men or boys into being tough. While there may be another article that could go into the female side of this equation, that’s not what this post is about. If you’re sensitive to this phrase, maybe skip this article.

When I first met Stefan (my man), the conversation quickly turned towards sports, movement, healing and my work with fascia (since yes, as cliché as it is he asked what I do, and when I replied with “I step on people to get them out of pain” he was instantly intrigued, as most people are!)

He was really open about his own physical struggles (of which there were a great many), and curious what I could tell him about how to heal.

Probably the greatest bond we have is that we’re both fascinated by the human struggle, by pain and healing, consciousness, evolution, movement and optimizing human performance.

Naturally, I wanted to show off and work on him, but I wasn’t expecting what happened when I did. His body responded unlike anybody else’s I’ve ever worked on.

He wasn’t shy about telling me what wasn’t working for him; and the way I usually work on people wasn’t working for him and his nervous system at all. We had to slow waaaaay down so he could find his breath; he needed to move very slowly; he needed me to add the weight gently otherwise he would panic involuntarily. I felt like I was walking on eggshells! Yet, this was not a man who couldn’t “tough it out” when it comes to pain. Quite the opposite.

He had one of the most inflamed, adhesed IT Bands I’ve ever worked on, with fascial “knots” the size of large grapefruits from knee to hip! Every square inch of this man’s body was full of adhesions: big and small throughout his legs, back, arms, abdomen, neck…everything was rigid and restricted and full of balled up fascia.

He got instantly “high” from the work, and experienced a correlating catharsis; but it didn’t budge any of his pain. Why?

It would take more than a year for us to truly “get” why he couldn’t heal, and – it makes so much sense now.

I’m betting there a LOT of men (and women) who have experienced something similar to Stefan. Maybe you’re one of them. We decided to write this blog post together in the hopes it will shed some light on an epidemic of silenced pain and cultures that shame its expression and make no room for healing.

Stefan grew up in Texas, where sports are a way of life.

He started playing basketball at age 5, and played soccer, football, tennis and basketball competitively through junior high and high school.

Most of his coaches used the drill sergeant method to train these boys, so Stefan learned from a young age to silence his own wisdom when it comes to pain, and simply pushed through while being yelled at; or he would volunteer to take a beating (over running) if punishment was required.

Did you know that in some places in Texas they still use the paddle all the way through high school as a way to “discipline” kids?

I can’t believe I’m even writing this, or that this approach is still being used on kids today! I was never spanked myself, let alone beaten with a paddle at school.

Stefan has shared a great many disturbing sports stories with me, but there is one in particular that can illuminate what this culture is all about, what it taught him and who it told him to become if he was to be accepted and celebrated instead of shamed and punished.

In his own words:

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Deserving Desires: A Nervous System Story, Part II

This post is Part II. For Part I click here.

If I wasn’t so strong, I’d probably be dead.

If I hadn’t become so fiercely independent, perhaps I’d feel at peace; nestled securely in the warmth and sturdiness of – you.

I wish you’d let me help you.”

I want to be here for you, but my efforts just seem to make it worse.”

You always know what’s best for you, so I feel like I have nothing to offer when you’re going through something hard.”

How to identify a nervous system pattern:

Since we met in spring 2016 Stefan has been trying to tell me something about myself that I was willfully blind to. I couldn’t see it. We’re never ready til we’re ready, right? Besides, I felt justified in my ways.

You’re right,” I’d say. “I DO know what’s best for me. What’s wrong with that? I’m really good at knowing how to take care of myself and I don’t understand why this upsets you. Why is this a bad thing?”

‘Justified’ is a pretty unyielding state. On top of that, I secretly (or not so secretly) wanted him to be better at taking care of himself instead of relying so much on me.

No wonder it took a year to crack this one open!

More like 27 actually.

We sat facing each other on the couch a month ago when I told him “I need you to be self-sufficient. I need you to be autonomous. I need to know you’re ok without me.”

Here was that pernicious nervous system pattern of mine in action, the one hiding in plain sight all these years that – once liberated – was about to rock my world when a savvy therapist asked me a few weeks later:

Do you believe you deserve the kind of relationship you truly desire?”

What I couldn’t see and didn’t know about myself was ruling my life and painfully influencing my relationship (and business, but I’ll get to that part later). My recent behavior and feelings were a direct result of my subconscious patterns, and I: their unwitting accomplice.

His reply: “Why are we in a relationship then?”

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Deserving Desires: A Nervous System Story

“Do you believe you deserve the kind of relationship you truly desire?”

This question, along with a viral chest infection that lasted for five weeks (and I rarely get sick for more than 3 days), has drastically altered the course of my personal and professional life.

Did you know that it’s entirely possible to heal something and still carry around the nervous system pattern that created (or was created by) the old wound?

When this happens, the pain will keep hanging around (or come and go, but never leave completely), because the pattern keeps playing on repeat as directed by the brain.

This is true for physical trauma as well as mental and emotional pain.

What is a nervous system pattern?

A nervous system pattern can be a belief or behavior we have about or in relationship to ourselves, other people, the human body as a concept, our body specifically, money, relationships, the world etc.

Do I believe I deserve the kind of relationship I truly desire?

A nervous system pattern can also show up physically, with or without the presence of pain. If we’re experiencing pain then our body is asking us to change that pattern!

Many patterns are supportive, healthy and necessary for our vitality.

Then there are the ones that limit our vitality, and those are the ones I want to talk about.

A nervous system pattern can be how, where and why we process trauma – aka, stress of any kind – and whether we know how to move it out, or allow it to get stored in our body. (Shoulder knots, anyone?!)

If you’ve ever felt like you’re trying your hardest to heal something, you’re “doing everything right” and you’re still in pain, still feeling stuck, still repeating the same old story – then chances are there’s a nervous system pattern that’s running in the background.

This is why it’s possible to, say, get a (necessary) hip replacement and do all the PT, acupuncture and massage and STILL be in as much pain as before – because the brain and nervous system are still running a pattern of perceiving hip pain even if there’s no reason for it anymore.

I’ve personally seen this in my private practice, and – I’ve seen the pain go away when the nervous system patterns were interrupted and changed.

This is also why it’s possible to do a TON of therapy, self development, relationship work etc and heal the emotional or psychological trauma but still keep repeating the same patterns in our lives and relationships.

Do I believe I deserve the kind of relationship I truly desire?

Maybe you sprained your ankle when you were 10. Then, as a teenager and adult, you start rolling that same ankle a lot. The more this happens, the more it happens.

Just think about the “phantom limb” phenomenon for a moment: the amputated limb isn’t there, but the brain (nervous system) still perceives that it is. People with amputated limbs can even feel pain in the limb that’s no longer there! This is a nervous system pattern.

Or maybe, like me, you experienced some kind of psychological and emotional trauma or pain in the past that rears its head in your current relationships (I’m pretty sure we all experience this to varying degrees). The trauma is over, maybe it’s even healed fully, but the nervous system thinks it’s still happening – and you behave accordingly.

Do I believe I deserve the kind of relationship I truly desire?

Hmmmmm….

Simply put, a nervous system pattern could be said to be the physical or psychological manifestation of perpetually re-living a past experience in the present.

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