It has been two months since I asked the woman I love to marry me. While ecstatic for this new journey in my life, being engaged has brought a new level of accountability that I did not expect. I spent the first 30 years of my life thinking about me, myself and I. This has been a tough learning curve psychologically for me to think as a unit as oppose to just thinking about myself. Through some long and uncomfortable conversations with my fiancé, I have realized that there is a stubborn little boy inside of me.
Children are inherently self-centered. This is normal for them. However, adults are supposed to have progressed beyond that. Unfortunately for me, I have not. Though I may be mature in some areas, at the core of my being — where it matters the most — I am clinging to childish fantasies and behaviors. This is clearly evident in the way I have been communicating with my fiancé.
I am an avoider. As an avoider, I use one of the most powerful weapons there is: Silence. Don’t get me wrong. I can have a congenial side, but when the conversation gets too intense, I tend to shut down. I have learned from childhood that silence is a great way to keep people out and unconsciously dodges my need for change. I have now realized that a true adult approach would be to take ownership of my flaws, inner suffering and loneliness. I have learned to stop stonewalling those who invite me to step out of my comfort zone and embrace the pain of my shadow.
As a man, a Black man in particular, it is perceived as a liability to be vulnerable. With my fiancé I had to step out of my comfort zone and be honest with her about the inner suffering and loneliness inside that I have been dealing with since childhood. In the past, I would wait for the pain to become so unbearable that I felt a need to silence it with some kind of dysfunctional behavior. This would put me in a cycle in which I believed deep down I was unworthy of love. This was the root to my loneliness. I already assumed I was unlovable, so I consistently deflected the affection expressed to me by others.
This, of course, became a self-fulfilling prophecy in which I pulled away from all who cared about my well-being and isolated myself in depression. I am thankful that I now seek to positively express my emotions in a healthy and edifying manner. Whether it is writing about them, participating in a men’s group or more effective communication with my fiancé.
As humans, we all have multi-layered personalities. These personalities can be compared to that of subjects in an ancient kingdom. My subjects would be described as follows: There is the little boy Walt, Warrior Walt, Sage Walt, Lover Walt, and King Walter. It is said that “every part of our personality that we do not love will become hostile to us. It may move to a distant place and begin an internal revolt against “us.” I have learned to love all parts of me, even the troubled parts. When the subjects attempt to run the kingdom of my mind (child, warrior, sage, lover) there is chaos. When King Walter takes control, there is order and balance. The subjects may not get their way all the time, but they know the King loves them and has their best interest at heart.
I have discovered that the little boy inside of me was angry because it is trying to meet legitimate needs of physical love and affection, but went about it in a destructive manner. For many of us, we let the subjects rule the kingdom of our mind which leads to destruction and rebellion. We must begin to operate in our King perspective. If we do that we will lead effective, healthy, edifying lives.
By Walter Mendenhall
Walter completed his initial Urban weekend for men in 2013 and is currently enrolled in our Two-Year Transformational program. Having accomplished his lifelong dream of making it to the National Football League (NFL), Walter’s desire for mentoring and teaching young people prompted him to walk away from football to focus on pursuing his passion for teaching the next generation of leaders.
He is currently a professor at Northeastern Illinois University (Leadership Development) and South Suburban College (Sociology), and a successful motivational speaker and mentor.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Walter Mendenhall