Curious about men’s groups? Interested in what actually goes on in a men’s group or why men benefit from them so much?
If you have questions about men’s groups, you’ve come to the right place! My name is Sean Galla and for the last 10 years, I have been running men’s groups covering a wide variety of men’s group topics. Over that time I also checked out many different kinds of men’s groups and attended a few of them for years on end.
For those who are new to men’s groups, the landscape can be intimidating and confusing. There are many negative associations that come up when we think about a men’s group thanks to the conventional men’s groups and their cheesy men’s group exercises.
With all of this in mind, I decided to compile a complete guide to everything you’d want to know from our decade of facilitating men’s groups:
Table Of Contents:
Why Do Men’s Groups Exist?
For hundreds of thousands of years we humans lived in small groups. Groups of men would hunt and gather and spend evening in small living quarters with family and friends. Here it was ingrained in us to talk about life and share wisdom through story.
Then in the last few hundred years, our societies have driven us towards isolation wish single-family homes, small groups of friends isolating jobs (industrial revolution) and societal expectations upon men that they must have all of the answers. Now men are being conditioned to go it alone, not express their feelings and to never ask for advice or consider joining a men’s group.
And while some men can operate like this, even the most successful of men don’t have all the answers and this expectation causes all kinds of pressure and private suffering. This has led to all sorts of horrible results for men, including the suicide rate is 80% men.
Going through adversity alone makes things that much harder and the reality of life is that nobody escapes adversity. So this is a bad situation for men quietly feeling trapped in isolation.
I’ve seen guys in our men’s groups have a run of 3 or 5 or even 7 years of good luck, only to have their wives cheat on them, their dog die and their child to become very ill all in the same week. A dramatic but good example that expresses the underlying fundamental truth about adversity and life.
So men, recognizing that the whole ‘going it alone’ thing wasn’t working for them – especially when facing challenges – began to privately organize groups where they could talk about their life experiences and how to handle them.
Men quickly saw benefit in having a confidential place to share and talk through the more sensitive parts of their lives. They quickly saw how they could bring the fruits of this men’s group work back into their lives for the betterment of their health, wealth and relationships. The men’s support group became popular underground.
The History Of Men’s Groups
As mentioned above, some of the wealthiest, most famous and most powerful men of all time had a men’s group behind the scenes.
Early on when we were still living a tribal life, there would be regular group meetings and even men’s circles to discuss community decisions. Ceremonies would be held around the fire where elders would answer questions and pass down wisdom by way of stories. Rites of passage were held for adolescent men as they approached adulthood, where they would venture off into nature in a pack of men. The young man would learn from the elders how to be a man.
Flash forward to the agricultural and industrial revolutions and you began to see powerful businessmen form secret men’s groups. They called them “think tanks”, “masterminds”, “brain trusts”, “syndicates”, “learning circles” and “men’s clubs” (not strip clubs haha).
At the end of the day, these leaders would inevitably share the same things that we talk about in men’s group therapy today.
Men’s Group Topics – What To Expect?
Some groups are more structured and discuss men’s group topics on specific days, but the large majority of men’s groups are more free-flowing where guys can bring up whatever topics they want. Typically no topic is off-limits.
Often the unique situations that the men find themselves in – the context, the variables – will be different, but in reality, their challenges all seem to fall under the same categories of:
- Relationships and sex
- Emotional Intelligence & Communication
- Career & purpose
- Health: Body & Mind
So you will find that each guy will enter into a men’s meeting with a different intention or goal.
A man may be in need of support because his relationship is falling apart or he is going through a divorce. Other men may have just hit a rough patch in general, feeling down or facing multiple adversities. Some men are grieving a father dying. Some guys recognize that they have baggage from the past that they need to let go of and are holding them back from being happier and more successful. Some guys want to learn how to control their emotions. And many men don’t have their kinds of people around them day-to-day and just want to have real conversations and friendships with other guys that share their goals and values.
Time and time again we’ve seen that no matter what the topic is that gets brought up, it often ends up turning into a discussion around the man’s past, perhaps even his parents, because that past baggage is usually the cause of today’s suffering, whether we like to admit it or not.
What Kinds Of Guys Are In A Men’s Group?
If you take a look at their backgrounds or professions or income levels, you will see that guys in men’s groups are from all walks of life.
That being said, there are some commonalities that bind all men’s group members together. All men in a men’s meeting typically have:
- A desire to become a better man: personal growth
- A curiosity and openness to learning
- A deep need for friendship and community
- A benevolent interest in supporting others: a contributor
And while these characteristics may not appear that important, they are everything when it comes to your growth as a man. These traits are what make someone an ideal teammate; a supportive pillar you can rely upon to help you grow.
The Benefits Of A Men’s Group
Men’s groups have been widely studied and the studies suggest* that men’s groups lead to individuals becoming happier and more successful. Self-pressure, overwhelm and emotional suffering result from going it alone. However, talking things through with people has been shown to help a man feel better emotionally, make better decisions and ultimately be more successful in life.
More specifically, here are some of the benefits we’ve observed that come from being a part of a men’s group:
- Feel happier: the reality is that facing our challenges alone doesn’t feel that great. So being in community and sharing your life feels better.
- Become more successful: people make better decisions with a group of supportive peers they can bounce things off of.
- Be a better father, husband & friend: men take their shit, process it with a group and then bring the fruits of those discussions back to their relationships. Your loved ones will benefit hugely from having you be a part of a men’s group.
- Get stuff off your chest: even just talking about what you’re facing makes things easier and lighter. Venting is healthy when done in the right place.
- Get motivated & inspired: every man goes through periods of apathy and even subtle depression. Being around the guys and seeing their progress motivates and inspires.
- Save time & energy: a man can try to figure things out on his own, or he can just ask a guy in his men’s group who has already been-there-done-that, saving him time and energy.
- Real friendships: research shows that men have fewer close friends than ever. Through a men’s group, guys will make new life-long, supportive friendships.
- Community and contribution: it just feels good to be in community with others sharing a similar goal and to help others achieve their goals.
And there are many more secondary benefits and positives you will see in your life by being part of a men’s group.
*Sources: 1. Masculinity, Social Support and Community, The Men's Group Experience - A Research Article 2. Men's Perceptions Of The Need For And Access To Male-Focused Community Programs 3. Men's Social Connectedness - Movember Foundation
The Many Different Kinds Of Men’s Groups
The underlying purpose of all men’s groups is typically the same: guys supporting other guys on their journeys of personal growth. Yet there are many different types of men’s support groups out there, including:
- Topic-specific: These groups focus their discussions and efforts to grow around one area of life: Divorce, grieving, cancer, career, sexuality and more.
- Spiritual: Many groups have strong spiritual practices associated with them such as chanting and acknowledging the gods.
- Online / Virtual: Many men choose to join an online men’s group because they can’t find a relevant group nearby. Men will meet via phone or video conference.
- Free vs. paid: Some men’s groups are free, while others are paid memberships. More on this below.
- Academic: There are a large number of men’s groups that focus on more academic discussions around men and societal norms.
- Retreat experience: These groups are only held over weekend retreats and involve a lot of masculine exercises and rituals.
Which kind of men’s group a guy ends up rolling with will largely be determined by his preferences. Does he enjoy academic, philosophical discussions? Is he drawn to spiritual-warrior bros? Does he enjoy masculine exercise like screaming at other men to learn about dominance or proximity-stare into another man’s eyes to get more comfortable with male intimacy? That stuff might be for you!
One thing is for sure, you’re not alone man. There are men’s groups with guys looking for similar things and a similar format as you.
Are There Men’s Groups One Should Avoid?
I used to feel that any community is a good community. That isolation was the worst thing possible for a man.
However, after fully exploring the space over the last 10 years, I have found that what’s more important is the underlying values of a men’s group. Do the leaders and men embody values that you desire to hold.
It’s sad to say, but there are some men’s organizations out there who call themselves men’s groups (for the positive association) but in reality, they are men’s rights movement groups: groups for men that feel that they have been wronged by the feminist movement. Some of these can border on hate groups or male supremacy groups. We advise you to steer clear!
So in your quest for finding Mens’ Groups, we highly recommend that you first investigate the community values, the leaders and what the community represents.
Common Issues In Men’s Groups
While there are incredible benefits that come from being a part of a men’s group, over the years I’ve run into some annoying issues as well. Here they are in no particular order:
- No moderation: Straight up, folks can ramble. Men’s groups that don’t have a moderator/facilitator don’t last long because guys get frustrated with people rambling on and talking over one another.
- Coach-centric groups: While coaching can be highly beneficial for an individual, it can also be counter-productive in a group setting. It limits perspective by creating “group think” around the leader’s way of thinking. It also snuffs out the primary benefit of being in a men’s group: accessing the wisdom of the other men.
- Victim mentality: Sharing vulnerably and expressing emotions around a situation is healthy. However, some groups encourage men to continue complaining about their situation as though there is no way out of it. Look for a group that is supportively challenging each other to take action and make change.
- Free groups: Without financial commitment often there is wavering emotional or time commitment. We’ve found that free men’s groups end up having inconsistent attendance and less quality than groups that request the contribution of small members due.
- Telling men what to do: We’ve found – and psychological studies confirm – that when you tell someone what to do, chances are high they won’t listen or apply your advice. This way of offering guidance within a group can also lead to arguments from two men who are making counter-points. Instead, look for a group that applies the Gestalt Feedback protocol. This is basically instead of saying “you should do this”, you share from your own perspective: “here’s what I did and what I learned”. Let people jump to the conclusion themselves and they’re more likely to take action.
- No shared values or goals: You must make sure that guys in your men’s group share your goals and values to some degree, otherwise you may be getting bad advice. For example, if you’re in a men’s group with guys that only care about money, when you care about lifestyle, their advice may not be relevant to your goals and values.
The Most Important Things In A Men’s Group
Above we covered what to avoid, now it’s time to dig into what makes a great men’s group thrive.
Over the last 10 years we have narrowed it down to the following:
- 100% Confidentiality: Most guys have a lot of hesitation when it comes to opening up, primarily from fear of being judged. Some of the topics discussed are personal matters that are very sensitive in nature. Accordingly, it is of the utmost importance that a men’s group is 100% confidential. Nothing leaves the circle.
- Full transparency: A men’s group does no good if a man isn’t fully honest with his group mates. In men’s groups, you’ll find a lot of sensitive conversations around everything from sexual performance to challenges with debt. Without full discloser, guys can’t support one another and help them get to the root of their challenges. Look for a group with members that aren’t afraid to concisely speak their truth.
- Healthy challenge: The most impactful men’s groups we’ve been a part of had a healthy amount of supportive, direct challenge at times between members. Calling guys out, for their own benefit, in a loving, supportive way is highly productive and beneficial for everyone involved.
- Open to feedback, even when it hurts: Often the greatest personal growth for a man can come from some feedback that may sting to hear. Successful men’s groups are able to directly share with one another without fear that someone will take the feedback and get defensive or upset.
- Committed to growth: Men in a men’s group must be fully committed to taking action to progress in their life. Otherwise, it just becomes a complaining group full of victims. Research shows this is an important part of peer support groups.
- Commitment: The best men’s groups I’ve been apart of have full commitment from its members. It is crucial that guys in a men’s group are committed to attendance, for the benefit of the group and to support one another. Without this, a group will quickly fall apart.
There are lots of men’s groups out there with the above key elements that you can benefit from being a part of.
Warning: You May Hear Some Stuff In Men’s Groups That Will Make You Feel Uncomfortable
Everyone has shit they’re dealing with. Sometimes other people’s shit can feel scary when it comes out and you aren’t prepared for it. Everyone will naturally feel confronted by uncomfortable feelings with topics that come up like loved-ones dying, addictions, depression, suicidal thoughts, horrible things said, sexual preferences and more.
One particular experience comes to mind: I once sat in a men’s group where the gentleman beside me went first and described in full detail how he witness a loved one die in a unique, tragic way. It was hard to listen to, as are many of the men’s issues that get brought up.
Uncomfortable feelings aside, it is these dark shares that reveal fundamental truths in life. My challenges at that time seemed trivial in comparison. And I learned how to better handle death in my own life.
Furthermore, I find this stuff deeply fascinating to listen to, because even though I may not have the same specific issue, the advice offered often does apply to another, loosely-related situation happening in my life.
Through “active listening” to others sharing the intimate, uncomfortable details of their lives I’ve actually learned a lot about myself and my own life.
Common Cultural Practices In Men’s Groups
With all of the different formats and styles of men’s groups that we outlined above, how can you know what to expect when showing up to new men’s groups?
The good news is that there are a number of normal cultural practices you will likely find in any men’s group that you attend.
- At the beginning of the meeting, each of the men will introduce themselves
- After introductions, the men will go around the circle once more and share why they are at that particular meeting.
- Many groups will open with some kind of ritual to snap members out of their daily routines and to instill a culture in the group.
- Most men’s circles have a hot-seat component where men will each have the opportunity to share what they’re facing and how they feel about it. Each man will then receive empathy, feedback, and guidance for his situation.
- At the end of the meeting, each man has the opportunity to share what is on his man or what he appreciated about the men’s meeting.
- After the group ends, guys will often hang around and chat one-on-one to follow up on topics discussed and offer more details that they couldn’t share during the group because they were keeping things concise.
How To Find A Men’s Group
There are tons of men’s groups out there so the true answer here is to just get out there and try as many of them as you can. That being said here are a few we can recommend:
- Mankind Project: The first-ever men’s group that has been around for 30 years. While their retreats and culture are heavily criticized for being cheesy and cult-like, there are thousands upon thousands of men who have been to their warrior retreats and seen benefit.
- A local men’s group near you: Simply type into Google “men’s group near me” and a number of results will likely pop up. Go check out a few of them and you might get lucky and find a group with similar values and goals, along with a culture that fits your vibe.
- Start your own group: use our resources to learn how to start a men’s group of your own.
- Online men’s groups: Many men are too busy to commute to a local meeting or fly to attend a retreat weekend. Lots live in areas that don’t have men’s groups nearby. If this sounds like you, there are men’s group meetings held virtually via video conference. We do this here are MensGroup. You can check out one of our men’s groups for free and see if it’s a good fit for you.
And if you can’t find a men’s group out there that fits your needs, you can always research how to start a men’s group and facilitate your own with its own unique topics, ideas and exercises.
Like most things in life, the only way to figure out what works for you is to go out and try it. There is no risk in doing so. You can find out first hand about what is a men’s group. You could discover that a men’s circle just isn’t for you or that you would like to try a different group.
But the potential upside is HUGE. You can grow to become happier and more successful. You may find a support crew that makes you sleep easier at night knowing that they have your back no matter what happens. You might even make life-long friends that you will share the rest of your life with.
You won’t know unless you try. Take the swing. Give it a shot. You won’t regret it.