A Guide to True Masculine Power
Sex, Power, and the Journey to Full Manhood
A groundbreaking guide to a genuinely healthy masculinity, at the heart of which is a potent pathway: facing our unresolved wounds and whatever else holds us back, bringing our head, heart, and guts into full-blooded alignment.
To Be a Man clarifies what’s needed to enter a manhood as strongly empowered as it’s vulnerable, as emotionally literate as it’s unapologetically alive, a manhood at home with truly intimate relationship.
If you’ve read your share of popular advice on relationships and being a man — but realize on a gut level that it’s going to take some serious inner work — here’s a deeply practical guide to that most rewarding of challenges: doing what’s needed to fully embody your authentic manhood.
With this book, you’ll explore:
- How your past may be dominating your present
- Shame in its healthy and unhealthy forms, and how to make wise use of it
- How vulnerability can be a source of strength
- The difference between anger and aggression
- The nature of healthy challenge
- Turning toward your pain: a necessary step for deep healing
- How to soften without any loss of power
- Emotional literacy — an essential skill for relational well-being
- The importance of releasing sex from the obligation to make you feel better
- How to disempower your inner critic
- Bringing your shadow (whatever you’ve disowned in yourself) out of the dark
- Healthy anger — a fieriness with at least some degree of heart
- The many faces of aggression
- Embodying your natural heroism
- Courage — having the heart to persist regardless of your fear
- Essential steps to having truly intimate relationships
- What women need from men
- How to cease acting out old hurt through sexual channels
- Understanding and outgrowing pornography
- Full-spectrum healing: bringing together all that you are
- Entering the heartland of true masculine power
From the Introduction:
“I have seen many men suffer by shutting themselves off from their own depths, stranding themselves from what would enable them to have truly fulfilling relationships — not just their empathy, vulnerability, and capacity for emotional literacy, but also their true power and resolve, their authenticity, their capacity to anchor themselves in real integrity. There is a deeper life for men, a life in which responsibility and freedom go hand in hand and level upon level, a life in which happiness is rooted not in what we have, but in what we fundamentally are. It is to such a life that this book is dedicated.”
Any book that unveils the male mystique with empathy and compassion, helping men understand themselves and helping women understand men, and that helps the culture understand the masculine dilemma should be hailed as a miracle. This is what Robert Augustus Masters does in To Be A Man. Every man should read it as autobiography, every woman should read it as revelation, and our culture should embrace it as a healing balm.
— Harville Hendrix, PhD, author of Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples and co-author (with Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD) of Making Marriage Simple
To Be a Man is a masterpiece of transformational wisdom. Thank you for this gem.
— Alan Clements, author of Instinct for Freedom and A Future to Believe In
Robert Augustus Masters has written a powerful guide for men that integrates rigor and receptivity, aggression and authority, vulnerability and potency. With highly developed emotional intelligence, and a nuanced understanding of adult development including the importance of shadow work, Masters delivers a vision of mature, embodied male empowerment. To Be A Man is a fearless book from a master of psycho-emotional healing and awakening.
— Diane Musho Hamilton, author of Everything is Workable: A Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution
To Be a Man is a tremendous resource for anyone seeking to better understand the psychospiritual and relational crosscurrents of 21st century Western manhood. Robert Augustus Masters’ often astonishing psychological insights populate every page of this compelling book, and offer new and creative ways of thinking about many of our era’s most complex and controversial gender-related issues, among them: pornography, sexual violence, militarism and war, the effects of trauma on men’s psyches and identities, and much more.
— Jackson Katz, PhD, author of The Macho Paradox and Leading Men, and creator of the award-winning films Tough Guise and Tough Guise 2
In this essential book, Robert Augustus Masters challenges current ideas about what it means to be a man, and explores crucial gender issues that affect every man, boy, woman, and girl on our planet. By uncoupling anger from aggression, sexuality from rape and porn, and masculinity from brutality, Robert supports men and boys in reclaiming the sacredness, magnificence, and true power of healthy masculinity. Robert’s empowering view of men — gay and straight — as strong, empathic, sensual, vulnerable, emotionally aware, spiritually awake, and deeply engaged is not a dream; it’s a reality that can be achieved. To Be a Man challenges current ideas about maleness and offers a road map to a deepening, fulfilling, and awakened masculinity.
— Karla McLaren, author of The Language of Emotions and The Art of Empathy
After thirty years of pioneering men’s work, if I were to write THE classic handbook for men—this would be it. To Be A Man calls out the “warrior” to do battle inside, to find authentic masculine power, allowing truly intimate relationships with women, other men, and self.
— Bill Kauth, cofounder of The ManKind Project and author of A Circle of Men
What stunned me diving into To Be A Man: A Guide to True Masculine Power is how few models exist in my seriously worked-on psyche — let alone the world — of mature masculine power. As a couples therapist, author of a book on relationship repair, lifelong student of both the human condition and the men in my life, this book revealed the limited depth of my own formulations regarding the complexity of the male psyche. And my vulnerability here is a direct response to the vulnerability and courage that psychospiritual explorer and teacher Robert Augustus Masters brings to bear around his own struggles with aggression, power, belonging, sexuality and finding authenticity in the all but impossible edge between culturally sanctioned manliness and “nice-guyness.” Simply put, I have rarely heard such textured thinking from anyone: subtle energetic distinctions on the continuum of destructive and wholesome anger; the willingness to de-normalize pornography and a range of sexual and nonsexual immaturities that many would defend as “being myself;” the willingness to boldly put happiness as the basis of grown-up sex. The world has rarely seen a man who has worked his own process as Masters has, producing a brilliant, compassionate, paradigm-exploding instruction manual for any man — or woman — on the planet. What a totally beautiful, brilliant, fearless and amazing book!
— Nancy Dreyfus, Psy.D, author of Talk To Me Like I’m Someone You Love
Robert Augustus Masters’ To Be a Man dissects the three words that echo in every man’s psyche: “Be A Man!” As a seasoned therapist, Masters identifies the accompanying shame men manifest and gives us a guide toward healthy, sustainable masculinity. To Be a Man is insightful, practical, and most importantly transformative for the healthy development of men.
— Joe Ehrmann, former NFL player, cofounder of Coaching for America, and author of InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives
As a man, this book honors, challenges, teaches, and nurtures me all at once. It shows me where I have the greatest opportunity to grow. Best of all, it celebrates what’s truly sacred about being a man.
Raphael Cushnir, author of The One Thing Holding You Back and Surfing Your Inner Sea
To Be a Man is a book every man should read, especially if they long for their deepest sense of inner peace and wholeness. It’s honest. Raw. Thorough. Deep. Such an important book!
— Mary Allen, author of The Power of Inner Choice
Every once in awhile someone comes along and writes a masterpiece, and Robert Augustus Masters’ To Be A Man falls into this category. His book is a true hero’s journey of healing and awakening, one that encourages men to cultivate a deep and enduring intimacy with everything that they are for the benefit of one and all.
— Hank Wesselman, PhD, anthropologist and author of The Bowl of Light and the Spiritwalker Trilogy
The old question: “What does it mean to be a man?” has been answered wisely and completely by Robert Augustus Masters in the pages of this amazing book. I want every male on the planet to read it — and soon! It could help to heal our deeply wounded masculinity.
— Robert K. Hall, MD, psychiatrist, pioneer in the integration of somatic and psychological work, and cofounder of the Lomi School
Conscious relations between men and women require both men and women to come to understand our interrelations, differences, and unity, in and through each other, to each acknowledge the karmic threads of our collective past, and to avow our suffering. In To Be A Man Robert Augustus Masters returns to us from this journey with gift-bearing hands. As a woman, I am genuinely thankful for the cogent and thoughtful exploration of masculinity that he has offered to the dialogue between men and women. And, as the mother of two boys, I am delighted that he is sharing these fruits of wisdom with the men of today, and the generations to follow.
— Sarah Nicholson, PhD, author of The Evolutionary Journey of Woman
This book is an invitation to wholeness, to awakening, to the next step man. Compassionately written and wise, it invites men to make a conscious distinction between their benevolent and malevolent identifications, and paves the way for a way of being that is both sturdy and heartfelt. Highly recommended for anyone who has grown tired of limiting gender identifications!
— Jeff Brown, author of Soulshaping
To Be a Man is a very useful guide through the thicket of confusing options in exactly what “being a man” means, or can mean, in today’s postmodern world.
— Ken Wilber, author of The Integral Vision
This book is a brave and full-blooded deep-dive into the challenges and opportunities facing men and masculinity in the 21st century. Masters brings an array of unique insights, taken from years of his own personal practice and gleaned from decades of work with male clients, to support men on their journey towards mature manhood. This book is a very valuable read for men and women alike.”
— Vanessa D. Fisher, co-editor and author of Integral Voices on Sex, Gender & Sexuality: Critical Inquiries
This very important book covers the whole spectrum of men’s experience and challenges in these times. Dr. Masters explains the development of men’s many strengths as well as their compensations, the downsides that so many adopt to “be a man,” including burying some parts of themselves so deeply that they forget that such parts are even there! Dr. Masters is courageous in disclosing his own personal challenges throughout his life and the discoveries he found valuable both for himself and the many men he has counseled on their way forward to a bigger and more complete sense of self-respect and wholeness. This is both a book for men who want to embrace their inner life as well as well as for women who want to understand them.
— Ian Macnaughton, PhD, author of Body Breath & Consciousness
Every once in a while, not very often, a book shows up that illuminates what it means to be a man. To Be a Man is such a book for our new millennium. I believe Robert Augustus Masters is one of the essential wisdom teachers of our time. To Be a Man reflects his deep learning, humility, personal struggle and decades of experience as a therapist, clinician and healer. In the section of my library where I have a small collection of books about being a man, To Be a Man has moved to the top of my list. I enthusiastically recommend this book for any man who wants to wake up, grow up and show up…and for those who love us.
— John Dupuy, addictions expert and author of Integral Recovery
“Be a man!”
Whatever its intentions, this demand does a lot more harm than good. It’s a powerful shame-amplifier, packed with “shoulds” — and the last thing males need is more shaming, more degradation for not making the grade.
Men — and boys — on the receiving end of “Be a man!” get the message that they are lacking in certain factors that supposedly constitute manliness.
And what are some of these factors? Showing no weakness; emotional stoicism; aggressiveness; holding it together and not losing face, no matter what’s going on. Sucking it up. (Think of what pride boys may feel when they’re successful at this, especially when they’re “strong” enough to not cry or show any signs of vulnerability.)
A manly handshake is a firm one, even a steely one; a manly approach means, among other things, keeping it together emotionally, not losing one’s cool. To be unmanned is to “lose it” emotionally (except when it comes to anger), such a loss of face often being taken to mean a loss of strength (when Abraham Lincoln couldn’t help publicly crying over the killing of a friend, he described his very visible upset as having “unmanned” him). To be unmanned means being visibly vulnerable, being ball-less (“chickening out”), being brought low by shame, being subservient to dominant others.
To “man up” is an expression originally used in football and military contexts, meaning not much more than toughen up, move into battle, “grow a pair,” with the apparent failure to do so often resulting in one getting referred to as a girl or lady (who in this context epitomize softness, equated in many a male mind with weakness). Imagine a masculine icon, a famous leader or athlete, not just misting up, not just shedding a few silent tears or fighting back his tears, but crying hard and with abandon — this would be very, very uncomfortable for all too many men watching, no matter how “legitimate” the sadness or grief was.
Men may respond to the exhortation to “be a man!” by getting harder or tougher, more ruthlessly driven, more competitive, more uncaring about their unresolved wounds, making “getting over it” more important than “feeling it” or “going through it.” Conversely, men might also respond to the exhortation to “be a man!” by rebelling against its certainties of what constitutes a man, driving their hardness and competitiveness into the shadows and making too much of a virtue out of their softness and more “feminine” qualities. But in either case they are reacting to whatever notion of manhood has been or is being authoritatively held aloft before them, defining themselves through — and impaling themselves upon — such reactivity.
So let’s consider other factors or qualities that ought to — but generally don’t — count for much in making a male a “real” man, factors that many men keep in the shadows: vulnerability, empathy, emotional transparency and literacy, the capacity for relational intimacy — all qualities far more commonly associated with being female than male.
The visible presence of these “soft” qualities induces far more discomfort in most men than the “hard” ones. But once they are brought out into the open and respected/honored — which takes courage — they can coexist with the capacity to express anger skillfully and take strongly directed action, empowering men in ways that serve the highest good of all of us. True masculine power is rooted in this dynamic blend of “softer” and “harder” attributes — showing up as a potent alignment of head, heart, and guts. When head (thinking, rationality, analysis), heart (caring, compassion, love) and guts (resolve, resilience, bravery) all inform each other and work together, a truly healthy manhood cannot help but arise.
Getting to such power requires facing and outgrowing less-than-healthy forms of power. There is great beauty and much to celebrate in men stepping more fully into their authentic manhood, a beauty at once rough and tender, caring and fierce, raw and subtle, anchored in standing one’s true ground, whatever the weather.
Shame Left Unattended Is Shame that Runs Us
“Be a man!” may seem a straightforward statement, but is packed to varying degrees with pressures and expectations — and often an in-your-face shaming — the delivery of which often alienates men from much of their basic humanity. Such alienation has enormous consequences. When we are thus cut off — emotionally and relationally disconnected or numbed — we are far more capable of dehumanizing activity, far more able to rationalize harmful behavior, far more likely to be caught up in abuses of power and sex. But nothing can truly compensate for what’s been lost through such disconnection and numbing. Dissociation from one’s soul — one’s individuated essence or core of being — is hell, regardless of one’s comforts and distractions, and all too many men are suffering this, doing little more than just getting by or dutifully “manning up.”
There is such pain in the pressure, the demand, “to be a man,” such deep and often debilitating hurt, however much it might be camouflaged by stoicism, excessive pride, apparent sexual prowess, aggression, and conventional success. Men in general are hurting far more than they are showing, and everyone is paying the price for this, regardless of gender, age, nationality, or occupation. Attempts to address this have barely made a dent in conventional manhood’s armoring, one key reason for this being that such efforts can, however unintentionally, shame men for not meeting the standards of yet another way of saying what a man needs to be.
Until such shame (and shame in general) is recognized and understood, it will dominate — often from behind the scenes — men’s emotional and relational lives, obstructing their capacity to face and work through their unresolved wounding. Shame left unattended, shame left in the shadows, is shame that will run us from behind the scenes, disempowering us and determining far more of our behavior than we might imagine.
To in so many words tell a man (or boy) to “be a man!” carries the implication that he is not enough of a man (or enough of a person), that he is not measuring up — he’s not only failing to meet a certain standard, a preset expectation or “should,” but also is being shamed for this, however subtly or indirectly.
The shaming effect of telling a man (or boy) to “be a man” is rarely seen for what it is, being commonly viewed as a kind of tough-love support (psychologically akin to “spare the rod and spoil the child”), especially in authoritarian or militaristic contexts. And such shaming usually becomes internalized as yet another aspect of the inner critic (a heartlessly negative self-appraisal originating in childhood), the shaming finger of which gets waved in our face so often that it gets normalized. This internal drill sergeant, this love-barren relentless inner overseer, simply wears us down even as it pushes us to be better, to be more successful, to be more of a man, etcetera after self-castigating etcetera. And if the delivery of this is sufficiently harsh, we may lose much or all of our drive to better ourselves, sinking into depression, apathy, and self-loathing — so long as we leave our inner critic unquestioned and in charge.
The pressure to “be a man!” is generally little more than oppression in good intentions’ clothing. Such pressure, such insensitive or out-of-tune motivational intensity, is but unhealthy or toxic challenge. From an early age, boys thrive in the presence of healthy challenge — non-shaming, age-appropriate, loving encouragement infused with a significant but safe degree of risk — learning firsthand how to both extend their edge and respect their limits. But boys who are steered by overly zealous (and commonly well-meaning) parents and teachers into overachieving and being “little men” (often taking on a premature responsibility) quickly learn to make a problem out of whatever in them counters such parental ambitions and pressures — like their tenderness and empathy and vulnerability.
Shame, Aggression, and Sex
When a man feels crushed or disempowered by shame (and/or by being shamed), he’s likely going to try to get as far away from it as possible, escaping, for example, into the compensatory power he feels through aggression. And why thus escape? Because shame is such a squirmingly uncomfortable and contracted emotion — especially when it is directed not just at our behavior but at our very being. Quite understandably, we generally want to get away from it as quickly as we can, ordinarily doing so by shifting into other states, like numbness, exaggerated detachment, or aggression
In females, such aggression is more commonly directed at oneself, but in males, it is more commonly directed at others. Men tend to counteract the self-deflation that is felt through shame — falling short of what’s expected of them — with the self-inflation they feel by being aggressive (getting righteously “pumped up”). In such aggressiveness toward others — passive, dominating, and otherwise — we usually feel more powerful, more in control. What more potent antidote might a man find to feeling crushed than feeling his readily-activated, adrenaline-fueled capacity to crush others (as through verbal abuse or physical violence)?
Statements like “be a man” or “be man enough” not only catalyze shame, but also often a drive a man to prove himself, a drive put into high gear when our shame shifts into aggression. The “proving” behavior that possess so many males — which start at an early age — needs to be deglamorized and not so unquestioningly equated with masculinity, but this can’t be effectively done without addressing and working with the shame at its root.
Aggression can make us feel better, beefing up our everyday sense of self; we’re not down, but are on top or closer to the top, whatever the scale. Even if we’re low on the ladder, under some unpleasant others, we usually can keep ourselves above some others who are lower in the pecking order than us — and we also can fantasize, perhaps very aggressively, about overpowering those who are above us in the hierarchy.
And what else can make us feel better in a hurry, especially when we haven’t been feeling so good .
All the pressure and shame of trying to be a certain kind of man, all the anxiety and tension that can go with that, often can be briefly but potently eased very quickly through sex. And so too can the sense of not having much power, or of not being very important. So whatever feeds men’s sexual appetite, whatever amplifies it, whatever keeps it front and central, can easily take on an exaggerated emphasis, as is so lavishly illustrated by our culture’s sexual obsession. How easy it is to burden sex with the obligation to make us feel better or more secure or more manly!
Pornography has become one hell of an epidemic, gluing vast numbers of men to its screens and ejaculatory dreams, hooking up mind and genitals in dramas that turn relational connection into a no-man’s-land wherein sexual arousal and discharge reign supreme. The power that so many men give to pornography — and to what it promises — not only cripples their capacity for real intimacy, but also keeps their underlying wounding cut off from the healing it needs. Pornography flattens and emasculates men, obstructing their evolving into a deeper manhood. Merely condemning pornography is not the solution, however, anymore than is being overly tolerant of it (as if any restriction on things sexual is somehow an infringement on our freedom). What is needed is to outgrow our “need” for pornography (including as a “solution” to our pain and unresolved wounds).
Shame, power, sex — these three in their unhealthy forms are at the core of male dysfunction, simultaneously possessing and crippling many men. Shame that crushes and shrinks, power (especially in the form of aggression) that inflates and dominates, sex that compensates and distracts — this unholy triumvirate usurps the throne of self in a great number of men, obstructing them from taking the journey that can restore their integrity, dignity, and capacity for real intimacy.
Toward True Masculine Power
Many men tend to be at war — at war with life, with each other, with themselves, consumed by the fight to win at work and elsewhere. Bloodless war is still war, still an arena of battling with whatever weapons are at hand. A victorious athletic moment may not just feature some full-out exultation, but also sometimes a sense of standing over the defeated team as if on some bloody battlefield. Our entire culture is permeated with the language of war: the war on drugs, the war on cancer, the war on poverty, and so on. We don’t just die from cancer, but lose our battle with it. Warfare is all about oppositional extremes, and so is much of conventional manhood, with an endless list of things to conquer. What a burden! And what a diversion from embodying our full humanity.
What could be more packed with excitation (both positive and negative) than war? After all, it includes huge drama, high stakes, tremendous challenges and risk, primal encounters, great danger, unusual camaraderie, and extremes of playing-of-the-edge. I once worked with a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, an officer of the highest caliber who’d done plenty of time in the trenches of direct battle; after doing a few sessions with me that took him to the core of his emotional wounding and required a deep vulnerability of him, he said that such work was more difficult than anything he’d had to do while in the military — and that he didn’t want to stop doing it. It asked more of him, it gave him more, it further deepened him, bringing out a different kind of warrior in him, in whom vulnerability was an obvious source of strength and relational intimacy a crucible for breakthough healing.
True masculine power happens when courage, integrity, vulnerability, compassion, awareness, and the capacity to take strong action are all functioning together. Such power is potent but not aggressive, challenging but not shaming, grounded but not rigid, forceful but not pushy. Again, it requires head, heart, and guts in full-blooded alignment.
I sometimes tell men who are venturing into the work of accessing their true power that the journey they’re beginning is one asking for a courage no less than that of real battle, calling forth from them a warriorhood as rooted in tenderness and relational openness as it is in facing and integrating one’s monsters and shadow-places. This is a true hero’s journey of healing and awakening, connecting the dots of past and present emotionally as well as intellectually, encountering on the way all that we’ve been and are. Along the way we cultivate an intimacy with everything that we are — high and low, dark and light, masculine and feminine, dying and undying — for the benefit of one and all. This is the primal odyssey pulsing in every man’s marrow, whether we embark on it or not.
And there is a huge need for us to take this journey, not as one more should, but out of service to everyone. My aim in this book is to illuminate and support this journey as much as possible, providing navigational guidance for us to step more fully into our own authenticity, helping deepen our capacity for taking wise care of ourselves and our environment.
I have seen many men suffering from shutting themselves off to their own depths, cutting themselves off from what would enable them to have truly fulfilling relationships — not just their empathy, vulnerability, and capacity for emotional literacy, but also their true power and strength, their authenticity, their capacity to anchor themselves in real integrity. There is a deeper life for men, a life in which responsibility and freedom go hand in hand and level upon level, a life in which happiness is rooted not in what we have but in what we fundamentally are. It is to such a life that this book is dedicated.