When a Firefighter Cries

We underestimate that some of the smallest actions can reap the greatest benefits and cost absolutely nothing. One of those actions is touch. I have talked to men who find it impossible to touch another human being, even those of their family. Psychologists call that Haphephobia; the fear of touching or being touched.

Touch does not have to be a big bear hug. You can turn a person’s life around with a simple smile, a kind word, a listening ear, a genuine compliment or an act of caring.

I found touch to be profoundly useful while coaching a group of executives. Along with having individual meetings, I decided to have a series of ten-group meetings. The members of the group were assigned the task of determining the topic for each session. One of the topics was the impact of a father on the role of a leader.

James, one of the group members, was a high-ranking officer in the city’s fire department. As James began to talk about his father, it was evident that it was going to be an emotional process for him. His chin immediately began to quiver, and his voice shake. As I helped him define the relationship with his Dad and to deal with the emotional frustration of a critical and judgmental Dad he was able to gain control of his emotions.

The work he did touched me so deeply I asked if I could give him a hug. I walked over to his seat. When he got up, he grabbed me so strongly it was hard to breathe. He laid his head on my shoulder and began to sob. Minutes later, with my shirt wet with his tears, James finally sat back down.

I moved to the next man, but James interrupted us. He slid to the front of his seat, pointed his finger directly at me said, “I want you to know that you are the first man who has ever touched me.” I admit I was struggling, at that point, to hold back my tears.

That was the experience James needed to begin resolving an issue that had caused him anxiety for years. Appropriate physical touch has power and energy to change a perspective, increase performance and to turn someone’s life around. It certainly changed James’ life.

Expert reactions:

“I was moved by Dr Bob’s courage in acknowledging the vulnerability in his client and reaching out through the power of a hug - a very basic human need. It is inspiring and encouraging to see a coach and leader sharing his experience of embracing another man, and through it, healing the rift that currently pervades the masculine archetype, namely that strength equals outward demonstrations of physical and mental prowess while emotional and spiritual suffering goes on in silence. Dr Bob’s work sets a precedent for what’s possible - that for men, there’s considerable strength to be gained on all levels by revealing, sharing and growing together. As someone who promotes diversity and inclusion, I feel optimistic for the future of men’s health and well-being.” - Lori West, Founder and Managing Director of The Brilliance Trailblazer Ltd

"I enjoyed reading your post discussing the power of touch, whether metaphorical or literal. For me, you highlight a need for ongoing discourse on important issues concerning gender roles, stereotypes of masculinity, status and power. How these interface with our roles in society and the workplace, especially when people are employed in positions, such as your senior firefighter, that often attract adjectives such as 'heroic' & 'courageous' can affect our wellbeing. Our multi-faceted identities and roles can make expressing vulnerability in public harder. Well done for creating the space where participants felt safe to express themselves. As a healer and coach trained in various approaches, including Matrix Birth Reimprinting - to help clients rewrite birth traumas - the fear of being touched you write about can be rooted in forceps delivery. For some clients, cold metal gripping their head is their very first experience of being touched. That trauma is recorded in the body's cellular memory, so they learn that touch is unpleasant and avoid it. What a powerful breakthrough you facilitated, giving participants permission to reveal their authentic selves, becoming more emotionally, intelligent through the process. " Tricia Mitchell, Clarity Expert & Intuitive Healer

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Dr. Bob Rausch

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