03/11/2012 10:49 am ET Updated May 10, 2012

Who Are the Real Tough Guys?

Who are the real tough guys? The men who stoically suck up their emotional pain like they were taught to do as boys, or those who work with other men to resolve their issues?

Emotional pain is like a warning light that lets you know something's wrong. And the problem for guys who suck up their pain instead of facing and dealing with it is that that emotional pain doesn't ever go away on its own. The old bromide that time heals all wounds is nonsense, unless during that time a man works on resolving the cause of his pain. Otherwise, it just gets inflicted on everyone who comes in contact with him. A guy who allows unresolved pain and fear to control his life and devastate the lives of other people isn't a tough guy -- he's a clueless wimp.

Even once they admit they're in pain, though, too many guys believe that they have no choice but to suffer alone. I'm here to tell you that's just not true. Men can find the understanding, trust, wisdom and support they need to help them change their lives in a group of like-minded other men.

There's no question that getting a group of guys together can be daunting. When I started my men's group over 20 years ago, I didn't trust men, and in fact I was terrified of them. I only had one casual acquaintance. But he knew another guy and that guy knew someone else, and within a week, we'd brought together eight guys and held our first meeting. I was beyond anxious at the prospect of having to talk about my personal issues with these guys who I didn't know at all, but operating on the premise that I didn't need anyone and could go it alone had been an abysmal failure. This was my chance to change all that.

My father had been a raging, violent man, with the brunt of his violence directed at me. And not surprisingly, although I wasn't violent, I turned out to be his son -- an angry guy myself. At that first meeting, someone suggested fathers as a topic to kick-start the conversation. For 30 years, I'd stuffed my boyhood memories so deep that I never consciously thought about them, let alone consider that they could be the source of my anger. Just the mention of fathers opened a Pandora's box I thought I'd nailed shut.

The conversation about our fathers lasted for nearly two years, during which we also addressed other more immediate issues. Each man had stories about his boyhood experiences with his father that had adversely affected his life. Our father experiences ranged from benign neglect to outright violence, with half of us still suffering from unresolved toxic fallout. While surprisingly, none of us thought of those childhood experiences as being particularly relevant to our present lives, we had to share our stories -- sometimes repeatedly -- before we could begin to leave the pain behind and move on.

The focus of the dialogue wasn't on blaming our fathers. Instead, it was on healing the wounds they'd inflicted on us, which meant being able to forgive them. And, over time, each man found that forgiveness in his heart. I not only forgave my father, but I also came to understand and feel sorry for him. His self-esteem must've suffered horribly each time he lost control and beat a defenseless little boy. He had no respect for himself and no men friends who might've helped him work out his issues. That's pitiful and pitiable.

Men's groups offer the opportunity of healing emotional pain from the gamut of issues that cause it -- abandonment, rejection, divorce, death, sexual problems, dating, unemployment and on and on. The potential to heal old and new wounds is as great as a man's willingness to face and share them -- to get out of his head and into his heart. In addition, doing this emotional work with other guys will improve the quality of your emotional dialogue and intimacy with women and lead to authentic life-long friendships with other men. And it's absolutely free.

A national registry of men's groups doesn't exist yet, but check on craigslist and other social networking sites in your community to locate one. And, if none is available, start your own.

Are you a tough guy who can meet this challenge or just another wimp pretending to be a tough guy? Check out my book trailer at to learn more about the real tough guys.

For more by Ken Solin, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.