What is A Real Man? The Core Wound Of Toxic Masculinity.

Written By: Hendrik Van der Merwe

I’ve just finished teaching my third training course in a row with only women present.   All my life I have often been the only man in a yoga class, or meditation group. Men seem to be largely missing when it comes to the frontline trenches of spiritual work and self discovery. The heavy lifting is all being done by women. In the public sphere, my personal heroes at the moment are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Greta Thunberg, activist/politicians that are getting the work done, raising awareness, confronting and challenging the status quo.  Women are also doing the bulk of “inner” work, working on themselves, dealing with their stuff.

During this last training, which was an exploration of energy healing, but also a deeper exploration of our own wounds and scars, I started choking up when I was sharing my own programming, the expectations, and judgment, from my father.   I had no idea that it was still such a deeply ingrained patterning. We all grow up with the subconscious assimilation of our parents’ and caregivers’ expectations and their belief systems. One of these is gender politics: What is the role of a woman/man in society?    

As a young man I had fought with my father for many years to get his approval and support for my life path.  He had initially been proud of me, and stuck by me during many of my shifts, from wanting to be a human rights lawyer, to being a psychotherapist, to being an artist, to being an “esoteric healer”, whatever that was.  He’d heard about my success in this field from others. But I was still young, and I burnt out after 18 months, and left the “job”, and started making art again and busking music in the streets of Cape Town for my daily bread.  And then went to live in the woods.

In all our meetings over those years, the central theme of our conversations was:
But how will you support a wife and children?  In his eyes, I could only be a real man if I was able to do that. He wanted me to stick to something, to become successful at least in one thing.  In my often tearful eyes, my concern was: I have to find myself, follow my passion, carry on exploring, what is life? Of course, my mother was influential, a scholar of Jung and Zen, she had instilled in me Joseph Campbell’s central premise:  Follow you bliss.

I spent many years as a starving artist, carving wood and stone, whilst practicing my instruments, daily yoga, meditation and journaling.  I ate rice and beans, and lived a simple life, collecting rain water, and cooked on a wood stove. I started traveling, restless, got into some bands.  

My father, after a life of selfless service, got cancer, and saw that his life was over, and began to give up his great expectations of me when he saw that I was healthy and happy, that I was fulfilling my spiritual and emotional goals, and that I was able to earn my living in 5 different ways.  I was still in no position to support a wife and children, but he saw that I had some sense of security, and eventually gave me his blessing , before he died.


The core wound that men carry, I believe, is the expectation from your father, your family or community, to be a man, to make a man of yourself. What does it mean for you?  For most of us it means, boys don’t cry, and we are unable to articulate feelings, and express emotion.  In our capitalist and economic-growth-obsessed society it also means the pressure to go out and earn a living, to become a provider and protector - that life itself is not safe, and abundant.  All fathers themselves grew up on this modern industrial slave planet, where we owe taxes and pay rents, just to live. The pressure is immense. No wonder the high numbers for heart disease in men, stress, and earlier death.

The capitalist-industrialist dream is based on the nuclear family, the worker support unit, the unpaid labor of women who maintain the worker’s emotional and domestic world, while he slaves away for the bosses and owners, grinding, and wishing away half his life, from 9 to 5, and Monday to Friday, waiting for the evening, the weekend, the few weeks of holiday per year.  Is it not possible for everybody to create a life from which they don’t need a holiday, to do work that they love, and to be free?

The central core wound of men, is just that, we are men. What does that mean to you?  What is the purpose, the meaning, of being a man? Women can now look after themselves, society rewards it.  The healing of the “feminine” is celebrated. Voicing, and calling out toxic patriarchy and masculinity is accepted as integral to the process.  The soul searching men are being called to, by being called out, is a beginning, a nudge, and an immense trigger for some of us. Many of us are now doing the work in that field, repairing where we can.  The more insidious effect of toxic masculinity is the poisoning of our own psyche.

As a lifelong feminist and goddess worshiper, I feel that deep wound that men carry:  we are not women. We are cut off, from an early age, from our mother’s embrace, the gentleness, the warmth and nurturance of the feminine, as we are pushed out into the competitive world, to become a man, to make a man of yourself.  Gender polarization has caused a deep wounding for all of us. We all carry the burden of Being a Man, or Being a Woman. No wonder all the kids today are gender fluid.

Hendrik/Zendrik/Zen is a therapist and teacher. He is also just an ordinary person who followed his bliss; from wanting to be a human rights lawyer when he left high school, then a psychotherapist after a year of traveling after high school, then artist, before he found this central path in esoteric healing, bodywork therapies, yoga and meditation. His life work does include his passion for sacred sound, music and art, and sacred sexuality. He now has over 30 years experience as an energy healer and bodywork therapist, and offers training courses and retreats as part of his calling: to share his knowledge and love for humanity with others. Inspired by his artist mother, a zen and Jung scholar, he pursued esoteric knowledge, yoga and Buddhism from an early age, followed by lots of practice and eventually teaching. "After much of my journey through my own and others' healing I have also come to realize the need to go "beyond healing", and the need for healing. It really is the wellness industry we are in. Please read the blog on this page entitled Handbook for Healers for my insights into healing and the path of the healer/therapist.
Zendrik started his formal training in Buddhist philosophy and meditation and Hatha Yoga at the age of 21. He later studied with two zen masters and received transmissions from Namkai Norbu, a Tibetan Lama of the Dzochen school. He took his first Tibetan massage course, Taming the Tiger, while studying psychology at university, and subsequently trained in many massage and energy healing disciplines. His life and work is also strongly influenced by advaita vedanta, and the teachings of Shri Nisargadatta, as well as A Course in Miracles. He trained as a Sivananda Yoga Teacher, and has been a yoga teacher since 2002. He also works as a musician, sound healer, DJ and sculptor.