Hugh Jackman shared a personal experience about meeting up his longtime friend after a few months of being apart — and noticing almost immediately that something about him was strikingly different. “Whatever it is that he has, I want it, ” Hugh thought to himself.
Hugh Jackman was a featured speaker on the last day of a 4 day summit that I participated in this past week. I was drawn to the summit by the extensive list of presenters and the wide array of resources — all under the heading of “The Healing Power of Relationships.” While most of the presenters were experts in their fields of neuroscience, mindfulness and meditation, trauma and childhood development, Hugh was “one of us” — an eager student of personal growth.
If you are a fan of Hugh Jackman through his various acting roles, you are probably drawn to his charisma, talents and easy going personality. Trust me, if you had witnessed him sharing his personal stories and his self-discoveries so vulnerably in this summit, you would be an even bigger fan. A fan of another human being that is evolving into the best version of himself — and inspiring others to do the same. Just as his longtime friend did for him.
You see, that “difference” that Hugh was seeing and feeling emanating from his friend was this grounded sense of calm and authenticity. Hugh’s friend explained to him that he’d been working with a therapist, Terry Real, and that it had been a game-changer for him. Hugh was all in.
Take note — it wasn’t that there was a major crisis that prompted Hugh to meet with Terry. It was seeing a change in his friend that inspired him. This is not at all surprising. It becomes very evident to others when we’ve undergone a significant change, especially when it is related to personal growth. The secret: it’s co-regulation.
When you are in the presence of someone who is calm, has good energy and an innate sense of empathy, you feel it. In fact, those attributes will bring you into alignment with them. Of course, you’d have to be paying attention to consciously recognize it, but there’s no doubt that your heart rate would slow and any tension you were feeling would dissipate somewhat. That’s co-regulation.
This works in reverse too. Frenzied, disregulated energy is super magnetic and stickier than fly paper. A toddler throwing a a temper tantrum and an agitated parent rarely leads to a quick deescalation.
What Hugh Jackman learned as he took a deep dive into self awareness and personal growth with Terry Real is that our relationships and experiences have impacted us all throughout our lifetimes. Unbeknownst to us, some of that emotional baggage and the habits we’ve developed actually weigh us down, distract us and even set us off on a wrong course. Furthermore, we are learning that some of the age-old parenting models and myths we were raised on were wrong. We can thank neurobiology, neuroscience and psychology for these transformational breakthroughs.
Hugh was quite honest about what he discovered and uncovered about himself through his sessions with Terry. Things that surprised him, things that didn’t really surprise him but were hard to reconcile, ways he was responding to life that created the anxieties he was trying to avoid. The truth is that to get to that place of authenticity and grounded calmness, it is necessary to discard what isn’t working. We literally can “lighten up”.
When we drop the armor we use to protect ourselves, unpack the habits and behaviors that aren’t matching the adult we want to be, and realize that old myths were so wrong — that’s when our true authentic selves get to come out and flourish.
Hugh Jackman was most enthusiastic about how his life has changed for the better since working with Terry. He’s more present in his daily life, more relaxed and fluid with his time and creativity, deepening his relationships with his wife, his kids and his friends (especially his male friends). He wants to spread the word about the game-changing, transformational benefits of personal growth work and the healing power of our heathy relationships. His participation as a guest in this 4 day summit was testament to his commitment to inspire others.
I’ve shared in prior posts a few of the things we got wrong that may have pre-disposed us to developing habits that have not served us well: Believing that showing vulnerability was weakness, that we should live a life without reflecting on regrets, or that “sucking it up”, “pushing through” our emotions was the best way to move on after heartbreak or adversity.
A big myth for men was that they should not show “feminine” emotions. While “anger” was perceived as acceptable and manly, “sensitive or crying” was not. This melted over into parenting and we believed that soothing our little boys when they were scared or hurt would turn them into sissies.
Dr. Dan Siegel was instrumental in blowing the lid off both of these harmful misconceptions. Children, regardless of gender, need to be soothed and supported when they are scared or hurt. In fact, we actually help to build their grit and resilience by being proactive in acknowledging what they are feeling and assuring them. This proactive approach also helps a child develop empathy and compassion for others. Bullying, entitlement and power struggles are rooted in a lack of empathy.
As for our wide array of human emotions, both Dr. Siegel and Dr. Bruce Perry reinforce the importance of learning how to be with our emotions, to process and learn from them and respond in an appropriate way. Naming emotions helps our children create emotional agility and self-regulation. Stuffing or dismissing emotions only puts them in a dark closet that will eventually spring open and cause major havoc.
Generations of men were incorrectly taught that vulnerability is weakness and showing emotions is unmanly. Is it any wonder that men may have a hard time showing empathy, struggle with emotional regulation, and deal with confusion when they are hurting or fearful. Not to mention all the challenges they face when trying to navigate the emotional landscape of their partners and children.
Gender simply does not matter when it comes to emotions, vulnerability, empathy and connection. What does matter is teaching ourselves and our children the skills and tools to better understand how our emotions, vulnerability, empathy and innate need for connection are instrumental for our healthy relationships.
This brings me back to co-regulation. Many of us grew up in homes that did not have a lot of positive co-regulation. Because prior generations of parents did not have the knowledge and resources we have today, there were many disregulated emotions and unhealthy parenting practices. We grew up vowing not to behave like our parents, but without an awareness of the root causes of so much confusion and dysfunction.
During the 4 day summit there was a fair amount of time given to both big T and little t trauma in childhood. We all developed some form of adaptive child behavioral patterns when we were little. With young developing brains and limited language, we developed habits to help us make sense of what was happening in our lives. Terry Real shares that we just did not have the capabilities of a fully developed prefrontal cortex to help us.
Yet all too often, we are still constrained by those adaptive childhood patterns. We are simply unaware that we are confined by these childhood patterns; things like people-pleasing, conflict avoiding, perfectionism, hyper vigilance and anxiety. This is where a counselor, therapist or even a trusted friend can really be of value. Once we become aware of these adaptive child patterns, we can begin to break old habits and move into the freedom of truly being ourselves. I have a feeling that this is also what Hugh was witnessing when he saw the transformation in his friend.
When we shed those old patterns and step into our fuller selves, it is so amazing. No longer encumbered, we can readily identify our needs, set boundaries, stop excessive worrying and time travel. We can truly feel comfortable in our own skin. We can be more fully present.
Grounded confidence comes from knowing ourselves well. This creates an inner calmness. Eliminating patterns that were distracting brings a lot more clarity and sharpens self-awareness. Learning to have compassion for ourselves fosters empathy for others.
When we know ourselves well, we have a much clearer lens with which to see others. It makes it so much easier for others to be vulnerable, and show up as their true selves. Our connection with others can deepen because we are open now — to listening to understand (rather than defend or respond), to be curious rather than judgmental and to be empathetic to what they are feeling (even if it quite different from our own experiences). This is co-regulation. We meet others where they are.
Hugh Jackman shared that he is part of a men’s group that is committed to personal growth work and supporting each other through all aspects of their lives. His friend that introduced him to Terry Real is very quick to “see through” an “I’m OK” response from a buddy and is fearless about going deeper to support his friend. Together, they have forged the relational scaffolding that Dr. Bruce Perry advocates for — the empathetic emotional support we all need to survive and thrive.
What I am so inspired by is the number of men who are embracing personal growth work, cultivating more self awareness and recognizing that old paradigms are relics of the past. These are the men that are proactively involved in raising their sons and daughters with equanimity.
Definition of equanimity: mental calmness, composure and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.
You can watch Hugh Jackman’s interview — it begins at hour 6 on this YouTube presentation (Day 4)