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The Danger of a Lone Wolf Mentality: The Power of Men’s Groups

by Craig Freund MA, LPC

In recent years, the metaphor of the lone wolf has been embraced by many men in our modern society. This metaphor glorifies one's ability to succeed without supportive relationships or community. Simply put, the lone wolf is all about going it alone, they don’t socialize or engage with others, and certainly don’t ask for help. Instead, they rely solely on themselves to survive and achieve their goals. While there is nothing wrong with a value for independence, even over interdependence, a lack of balance in these values can be extremely limiting as we pursue our goals. Ultimately, this is because we are social creatures; our brains and emotional experience have evolved to crave relationships, allowing humanity to pool resources and ideas, as well as to offer and receive emotional support. As humans, this has allowed us to not just survive, but to thrive as a species in the face of countless day-to-day challenges. Accordingly, as social creatures, fostering supportive relationships is critical to reaching our goals and to living our best lives.

Time and time again, research has demonstrated that supportive relationships are critical factors in career success, mental health, learning, and overall happiness. The truth in our need for relationships in living our best life is undeniable! While it may be necessary to “go it alone” for a time, such as during a transition or while building new relationships, a fixed lone-wolf mentality can handicap our potential and even place us at a higher risk for depression, addiction, anxiety, or other mental health issues. It has also been shown that the number one resiliency factor is supportive social connections, helping us better manage stressful situations and environments. Even in the metaphor of the lone wolf, we often miss the fact that these wolves are in transition, seeking out a mate, or exploring and expanding territory. They have not necessarily abandoned their community; most often, these wolves are not seeking isolation or avoiding relationships but are seeking growth in exploration, transition, and ultimately connection.

Beyond the value of independence, there are legitimate reasons why many men glorify the lone wolf mentality. In short, it is an avoidance of the vulnerability and accountability that relationships consistently require. Many men of today’s world have not been taught to value vulnerability in these ways. It is vulnerable to ask for help, share a problem, receive advice, or to open up and be seen for our authentic selves. This vulnerability is vital to healthy, supportive friendships, as well as family or romantic relationships, which is in turn key to our success in day-to-day living. When we avoid connection in these ways, we deny our innate human need for connection. Instead of leaning into vulnerability in relationships, many modern men often make efforts to embrace a stoic point of view in denial of interpersonal needs and often, at least eventually suffer as a result. This is likely a contributing factor in the ongoing epidemic of men’s mental health, where several major news outlets have reported on research demonstrating that men have fewer close friendships and where 4 out of 5 completed suicides are also men. As a Denver-based therapist who specializes in therapy for men, I have worked with men when they admit to themselves that they crave supportive connection. This being the first step towards making this a reality is crucial as we become honest with ourselves and our needs. If you struggle with your mental health, you would benefit from healthy, supportive friendships, relationships, and connections. Furthermore, it has been said that the majority of trauma in our world occurs within the context of relationships; similarly, healing must occur in relationships.

Next, the challenge is finding, building, and fostering these essential relationships, something easier said than done. While many men find connection in career, family, spiritual or activity-based environments, often because many other men don’t prioritize friendships, these environments don’t always meet the need. This is where a men’s group can be a powerful tool for like-minded men who seek to better themselves and foster more supportive relationships that empower them and their growth. At Elevated Counseling here in Denver, Colorado, we strive to fill the gap and support men in their growth by providing a variety of groups where men can build skills, process painful, stressful, or difficult life events or even make friends. All of our groups contain themes of support, where men can receive feedback and encouragement from others; some also contain education, skills, or other forms of empowerment. Our Denver Men’s Group is an experiential group that provides an opportunity to try out new behaviors, receive support in connection with other men, cultivate courage and develop the skills necessary to foster healthy relationships. Our Hero’s Journey Men’s Group provides support along with facilitation in recognizing where men have been, where they are going, and who or what will support them in their life journey.

Beyond our in-house men’s groups, Elevated Counseling can provide a trained therapist as a facilitator for existing organizations and outside groups. We work closely with Fishing the Good Fight, a men’s mental health and community organization in Denver, Colorado, that supports men with community, while using fishing as a common ground activity. Fishing the Good Fight offers many avenues for men to participate and promote their mental health, such as open and closed men’s groups, as well as retreats and activity events. These groups and retreats often include the space to receive support in whatever challenges life is presenting, ranging from dating and divorce to depression and overwhelm. Additionally, these groups often contain education on mental health, as well as skills and techniques for addressing any mental health-related or day-to-day challenges. These skills may include mindfulness-based approaches, coping and communication, or interpersonal effectiveness in these ever-important relationships. Ultimately these offerings are tailored on a per-group basis to best meet the unique needs presented in the given group. You do not need to be an expert in mental health and/or fishing to benefit from any of these groups and activities; You are invited to come as you are, with an openness to growth and connection.

While taking the first step and registering or showing up for your first group can be nerve-wracking, rest assured that you will be met with acceptance and support by Fishing the Good Fight and our facilitators! Not only have these groups and retreats made a significant impact on men’s mental health across the state of Colorado, but it has supported many men in developing supportive relationships in the form of healthy friendships outside of these structured activities. Please note, it is normal to have some anxiety prior to attending one of these groups; if this is the case, know that you are not alone in those feelings and that we are mindful at every turn to ensure these groups are safe and supportive across the board. If it might be helpful, reach out to the facilitator before to talk through these nerves. Ultimately, if you are human, you crave and benefit significantly from supportive relationships. It has been said that our success as men depends on the quality of our relationships! While it can be vulnerable and challenging to develop and foster quality relationships, there are excellent opportunities to work through personal issues and grow in the form of relationships. These opportunities might include MeetUp groups, spiritual groups, classes, and even men’s groups at Elevated Counseling or groups and retreats with Fishing the Good Fight here in Denver, Colorado. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about a group or other offering. We are here to help you reach new heights and be the best you can be for yourself and your loved ones!

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