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Rosalind Wiseman - Masterminds & Wingmen


Guys are up against a lot internally as they grow up: societal messages saying how to maneuver in the world, being told who they are, being shamed for showing parts of themselves that don't fit the stereotypical norm, getting acceptance through sports/accolades/hard work, having to learn to ignore important feelings in an attempt to belong, etc.


Masterminds & Wingmen is an excellent book which talks about the roles boys/teens tend to fall into in groups of other guys. Guys learn early on about who has the power, how they will be bullied if they really say what they really feel, and that it's best to adapt to the environment in order to survive.


I see the effects of this with men (talking about their lives) in therapy:

  • Comparing themselves to others their age who seemed to figure it out already.

  • Being competitive when they are terrified to bring their hearts to a conversation, talking around the issue in a tone of "I already have this figured out."

  • Flat-out saying defensively, "I already talked about this" (when the point is to connect emotionally on major themes). Feelings are slower and repetitive.

  • Having the appearance of competence at all costs; not ok to appear weak or to be in process with someone else emotionally.

  • Not knowing how to be vulnerable enough to be a learner - pretending they don't care because it's too humiliating.

  • Going on the offensive and criticizing those around them.

  • Thinking that logic is going to get them out of whatever issue they discuss.

  • Wanting a bullet-point list that will solve the issues they discuss. Foreign idea to embrace pain/suffering and to get to know it.

  • Talking about a partner's feedback that they rush into a "quick fix" mentality when their partner just wants them to listen/be present.

  • Feeling like their main job at home is to pay the bills; no idea how to be present with partner's/children's challenges or with their own problems too.

  • Completely abandoning their inner child or forgetting what it was like for them to be boys. The easier thing is to say, "Well I don't remember much about growing up." But then they go on to tell me quite a lot that indeed is right there to recall.

  • Wanting respect and not knowing how to get it (going to exterior things to try).

  • Believing that the male way of doing things is superior - having little tolerance for women or emotions and then struggling with those relationships.

  • Not having any frame of reference for heart issues and feeling lost when others talk about them.

  • Wanting deeper connections with other guys, but feeling limited to conversations about sports, work, superficial things. Also feeling like others aren't curious about them.

  • Wanting to be autonomous, but trying to balance that with responsibility and relationship.

  • Being a lion in the forest vs. in a cage at the zoo; feeling like they were made to be in the forest, but they can only have a relationship if they're in a cage.

  • Not wanting to pursue other relationships (the ones they have are important to them), but they feel that they're missing out on something that's also important.

  • Being more attracted to the hunt/pursuit vs. the idea of sitting in true intimacy with a potential life-long partner. Feeling bored when they get to the relationship part.

It's interesting to think about what men are up against in relationships in terms of gender norms and a learned inability to be present. Why is the message that a man has to measure success by accomplishments and external illusions of what it means to make it in life. It leaves a lot of men lacking and feeling that they don't measure up, even when they actually do measure up and contribute a lot. It surprises me when men do good work on themselves and then in the next sentence minimize it or even deny that they are doing a good job.


Brene Brown mentions in a TedTalk how a man approached her at the end of a presentation she gave and asked why she doesn't talk about men. He challenged her and said, "You say to reach out, tell our story, be vulnerable. But you see those books you just signed for my wife and my three daughters?" Brene said, "Yeah." "They'd rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us. And don't tell me it's from the guys and the coaches and the dads. Because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else."


The roles that teen guys tend to fall into:

Mastermind – He is naturally good at figuring out people’s weaknesses based on what would cause the maximum amount of public humiliation. He decides what is funny, stupid or cool.

Associate – This person is more talkative and more well-liked than the Mastermind. He’s interested in everybody else’s business and how the group can use information about people to their advantage.

Bouncer – Like a bouncer at a club, this kid is generally big and tall. He isn’t good at verbally defending himself and he can’t read other’s motivations very well. He’ll do what the Mastermind and Associate tell him to do, and that often gets him in trouble.

Entertainer – He’s the boy who’s the first to diffuse tension in a group by being willing to make fun of himself or making jokes. He has a hard time knowing when to stop joking around.

Conscience – Every group needs one. This is the kid who’s worried about getting caught and thinks through the consequences of what the group wants to do. He’s a rule follower.

Punching Bag – This boy is relentlessly ridiculed by other members of the friend group. He goes along with it because he doesn’t like conflict and just wants people to get along.

Fly – This boy hovers outside of the group, or several groups. Guys can tolerate a Fly for a while, but they generally get frustrated with him because he isn’t really a part of the group and they shoo him away.

Champion – He may be the only boy who doesn’t conform to ‘Boy world’ and is comfortable being himself. Most kids like and respect the Champion.

Masterminds and Wingmen - the complicated emotional lives of teen boys (mynorthwest.com)

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