The Men’s Resource Center of West Michigan offers in-person and online counseling for men who are abusers and those who have themselves been abused. It’s where Dan Beelen came when he needed to set his life aright. And, it’s where he learned to manage his fear and anger. For this Revealing Men podcast, Beelen returns to the space where he first received counseling nearly 20 years ago and reflects upon his experience with Randy Flood, psychotherapist, and Director of the Men’s Resource Center. In an often emotional conversation, Beelen shares how counseling changed his life: how it helped to make him a better spouse, parent, businessman, and person. In telling his story, he hopes to encourage other men to reach out and seek the positive change counseling can make. Excerpts from the conversation are below and have been edited for length and clarity. The entire discussion is available now on the Revealing Men podcast.
This is the first in a series of four podcasts featuring men who reveal their personal experiences with abuse, violence, and bullying. The series provides insight as to how males are often socialized to accept emotional and physical abuse and pain—suck it up—and how that primes them to pass this abuse forward. Each man interviewed identifies how he has experienced abuse and how a new self-awareness allows a revisioning of masculinity where the cycle of abuse is no longer accepted or mindlessly passed down. Find the other podcasts in the series here:
- Bullying: Understanding and Mitigating its Effects — personal stories of bullying and redemption
- One Man’s Story of Surviving Domestic Abuse — a man finds new life and strength after being abused.
- Becoming a Pro-feminist Male in the Military — how the concepts of masculinity and masculine identity can include compassion and thoughtfulness while retaining courage and leadership
Recognizing the Need for Help
Flood: It’s been a while. …. Dan, you feel passionate about the work you’ve done and this belief that other men can experience similar kinds of healing. So, you’re not apologetic about your work, and where you’ve been, and where you’ve walked, so that’s the cool thing about you.
Beelen: Okay, yeah. That’s true! I don’t know about the cool part. [Both: Laugh.]
Flood: You’re unashamed and you have an interesting formulation of courage to share. And I thought that maybe it would be an interesting thing to start out with something you wrote several years ago when you heard that I was writing a book and you wanted to offer your insights into what you learned by the journey here at the Men’s Resource Center. So, I thought I’d start out with that and then we can deconstruct it and talk about the details of it. Okay, it says:
It’s been a long haul. I find it difficult to imagine myself back in those days. The attitudes, the convictions that allowed me to know what was right, what was wrong, how people should be thinking and behaving, have left. I am left with a world where I don’t have all the answers. I don’t really have any. I am instead struggling to figure out what works for me and the people around me.
I went into therapy because I was abusive. I had this anger inside of me that would not go away and it rose up to dictate my behavior, over and over. Therapy was at first a grueling affair. I did not like it at all, but I was determined to stick it out. The 26-week course for abusers. Man, I hated that word. Hated being lumped in a bunch of court-ordered wife-beaters.
Somehow, when I got to the end of it, I found that I had listened to at least some of what was being said and I decided to join a personal growth group comprised of men who wanted to figure out why their lives were such a mess. This is where the real work started; we did all kinds of weird, touchy-feely stuff that scared me, but I hung on. This group became a safe place for me to explore doubts and fears and questions that had never been safe to bring up when I was a child. For me, much of this centered around my parents and their religion.
I found my voice in therapy. The one that was never allowed to be heard in my home. And it became to be very loud! I discovered who I was really angry at for all these years and I started making life decisions based on my own desires and convictions, not those of my parents, family, and church.
Then my life turned upside down. Therapy is not for sissies. It takes guts, and courage, and money, and time—eight years for me—and patience. A willingness to jump off emotional cliffs, over and over. I am proud of what I’ve accomplished over those eight years. Today my life is quite different. I still have some of the same feelings inside of fear, anger, anxiety, but I have become more comfortable with them. I don’t need to do anything about those feelings, just live with them, and wonder about them. It’s okay. Along with that, I now have pleasure, joy, and happiness… Therapy only works if you want it to.”
So, you seem a little teary. When is the last time you heard that read?
Beelen: I don’t know if I’ve ever heard it read. Certainly, not by you.
Flood: Well, take your time.
Beelen: [Pauses; breathes] That sounds pretty good. [Both: Laugh.]
Flood: Why don’t you say a little bit about the beginning?
Counseling for Abusive Behavior
Beelen: April 3, 2003 was my first intake meeting with Al [Heystek]. I was referred here [the Men’s Resource Center] by my brother after my wife spoke with him. So, I was more or less ordered here. My brother is a pastor and I was attending his church and I was a very visible leader in that church. He convinced me pretty easily. Everyone in the group was court-ordered, as I recall, except for me, and I felt like I shouldn’t be there for that… [Flood: “Reason.”] yeah.
Flood: Could you have been? Court-ordered?
Beelen: No. The actual physical abuse that I delivered had stopped 20 years before, because I was threatened with exposure by a marriage therapist we were seeing. That scared me enough to never raise my hand again, but, certainly the interior attitudes and convictions and belief system that was all in place. It didn’t really make any difference. There’s just no bruises that you can see.
Flood: Okay. So, you came and you had this intake session…. Say a little more about that process in the beginning, of starting the group, and what you were experiencing in that first group.
Beelen: A lot of anger, a lot of “I don’t belong here.” I hadn’t touched my wife in 20 years. What was I doing here? I was fine. That’s what I believed and that’s what cycled through over and over. And I don’t, frankly, know how you convinced me of anything other than that but it happened, somehow.
Flood: And you stayed, even though you had, probably, the impulse to bolt, to run, to say “I don’t need to be here,” to shut down, or whatever. But something had you stay. Do you know if it was the pressure? Or was it something inward?
Beelen: I think at that point in my life it was my upbringing. My “you don’t quit, you don’t stop, you committed yourself to this, you just keep going.” I mean, that’s the reason I was still in my marriage, because those are the rules. And so that worked to my benefit, certainly. In that situation.
Overcoming Expectations of Power and Control
Flood: What do you remember about the conversations in that particular, —you refer to a 26-week group, so you must’ve been in the domestic relationships program—so what do you remember about what you were supposed to, what you were learning, or supposed to learn or…?
Beelen: There’s that power and control wheel? Right? …. I remember that, because I remember looking at it and secretly thinking, oh yeah, that’s exactly, that’s my life. Right there! That wheel, at least at home. And just getting to that point, where I could look at it and say, “Yup! That’s me!” And then, being able to say that out loud, however many years that took is another big step.
Flood: So, what is it about, would you say, your upbringing that taught you about power control? That you as a man needed it, or that you as a man operated with it? What kind of teachings, in terms of male culture, growing up in male culture, or growing up in your religion, growing up in your family, growing up in the neighborhood that taught you, that lead you to use power and control in your marriage at the time?
Beelen: Real men are in control. And real men don’t cry. Crying for me still is hard to come by. I wish it happened more. You never can be vulnerable. And man, it just robs, robbed, still does, rob me of so much.
Flood: Not being able to be vulnerable?
Beelen: Yeah. And I’m still terrified. It doesn’t mean I don’t go there but the feelings inside are still the same. Terror. That’s a good word for it, sometimes, terror.
Flood: I remember you used to say “if I’m scared to talk about it, that’s probably what I need to talk about it.”
Beelen: Yes, yes, I did say that! [Both: Laugh.] …. That’s a good one to go by if you’re in therapy. If you’re afraid of it, then that’s what you need to talk about.
Discovering the Your Authentic Voice
Flood: Going back. Growing up is learning the rules of manhood. We talked about the man in the box, maybe if you remember that. Here’s what real men behave like, think like, treat women like, and treat each other like, and treat ourselves like. And that, you say, is when you get in touch with it you realize how difficult that was to pull that off, or how constraining it was to your humanity or how damaging it was to others.
Beelen: Yeah. All of the above. Certainly, how damaging it was to my first wife, my children, … I mean it touches everything. Everything. …I’m starting to lose track here.
Flood: That’s alright. I think that sometimes that’s what happens when we get connected to our emotions. Sometimes it hijacks our head. You just get re-grounded. …. Let’s talk, if you want, a little bit about how you transitioned, that first group, as you remember it, as you just talked in that story or narrative. Is learning about power and control, learning about male socialization, and it was psycho-educational and learning processing, and then you were introduced to the idea of a different kind of group. Which we call a therapy group or a process group, and so, say a little bit about that transition and what you remember how it was different.
Beelen: I don’t remember why I decided to keep going, but I do remember, yes, it was quite different, these are men who wanted to be there. Generally older, have had plenty of time to mess up their lives and figure out that it has something to do with us. [Both: Laugh.] So, these people, including me, apparently, wanted to be there and that’s quite different.
That group became truly scary sometimes for me. The stuff that would come up inside and a question would be asked of me and the answer would come inside [of me] and I would immediately shove it off to the side, because I didn’t want to say that; I wanted to say whatever I was supposed to say. When I learned to say what came up instantly, in my body and in my mind, when I learned to say that out loud, I remember that was a shift.
Flood: So, what were you denying? Your authentic voice, or what you were really feeling?
Beelen: Denying my authentic voice. Yes. That’s what had been happening. I was afraid to say things I wasn’t supposed to say about my faith, my father, my mother. Those three things are pretty core. Yeah.
Flood: Was it like getting connected to what you were really pissed off about?
Beelen: Yeah. That was a big part of it.
Flood: Before that, you didn’t have a little consciousness around it?
Beelen: Well, before that I thought I was angry at my wife. [Both: Laugh.] …. I mean, I am sure she gave me reason once and a while but this had nothing to do with her. Yeah, realizing that—where my anger belonged—that was quite a hump to get over, that was a big one.
Managing Anger and Fear
Flood: If I recall, you were actually scared of who you were angry at and to actually be honest about it; that shift was like, holy shit.
Beelen: That was discovering that my anger was with my father, that was so hard to admit. Well, it was hard to discover, and then for another year I wouldn’t, …when that popped up inside, I would go somewhere else and answer the question with, … I wouldn’t tell the truth.
Beelen: Apparently, I finally did.
Flood: Did you want to say anything about what the anger was about?
Beelen: It was pretty much centered around religion and absolutely not being able to question my father’s belief system. …. And overall, he was a pretty supportive father, but there was this off-limits place that, ya know. I had questions when I was really young about weird shit in the Bible, “that doesn’t make any sense,” but I couldn’t go there.
Flood: You couldn’t do that. Yeah. So instead, you just what? Learned to internalize it? Tell yourself that there’s something wrong with me?
Beelen: Yeah. Apparently, there’s a lot that I don’t understand. That I can’t articulate. Ya know, maybe that’s something my dad got wrong. He got an awful lot right. And where did all this rage come from? I’m still not sure, maybe I’m just wired that way. I don’t know.
Flood: There’s some of that! As men, we’re kind of wired to be more, some of us, more aggressive, more take charge kinda people, it’s just temperamental, and learning to embrace that, because you can do wonderful things with it. But also, how do you temper it? Manage it? So that it’s not hurting others and running over others. Right?
Beelen: Yeah. I didn’t learn that. [Flood: Laughs.] In my home, certainly. In my home, it was fear that kept me in line.
Flood: Fear of what?
Beelen: Of punishment or fear of rejection, whether that’s legitimate fear or not, I’m not convinced that it is.
Embracing a Full Range of Emotions
Flood: For listeners that are like: “Gosh, what the hell do you do in those men’s groups?” “How is it helpful?” “Why is it important to get in touch with emotions?” “Isn’t that gonna make you weak?” “Isn’t that gonna make you, drown in a puddle? [Laughs.] Or melt in a puddle?” Say what it is about those experiences or what you learned about the role of emotions.
Beelen: Well, certainly, your emotions tell you when your needs aren’t being met. They’re good at that, emotions. And frankly, I’d like to be able to drown in a puddle, from month to month, at a time of my choosing. My wife can do that and I’m jealous of that. [Pauses.]
Flood: When you can cry, what do you notice?
Beelen: That it’s wonderful. Mind you, I don’t do it at work!
Flood: Why not? [Both: Laugh.] Because you work at a manly job?
Beelen: Manly construction job. [Flood: “Yeah.”] Plus, I’m the boss, so that wouldn’t work. [Flood: “Okay.”] How do I articulate how much wonderful-er it is, it feels sad, or to feel joy? Joy is different than happy [Flood: “Yeah it is.”] and…it’s not like I’m not a man anymore, there’s not much question about that. I’m still trying to let more of the other side, the feminine side, come through. I’ve got a little bit too much masculine gifted to me, I think, or that’s how it feels anyways.
Flood: Or that’s what was practiced, for sure, right. [Beelen: “Right.”] You practice that side of your humanity and that becomes really, really strong and loud and it doesn’t get balanced, maybe, in a way that is needed.
Receiving Permission to be Vulnerable
Flood: So, is there any type of group process, or experience, or event; sentinel moment that you remember?
Beelen: Ohhhh, yes…. There were many sentinel moments…. There is one I remember talking about: hiding in a closet downstairs in our basement that was six feet wide and three feet deep and it had lots of long coats and clothes in it. It was a clothing closet for the church. I used to go sit down and hide in there in the dark. I still like the dark, lights are always off at my house. [Flood: Laughs.]
You and Ken [Porter] wanted to recreate that situation in this room and so I sat down probably behind that chair or whatever chair was there and people started putting hands on me. Touching me. [Pauses; Sighs.] To relive that moment or those many moments; to understand what I was doing. I was trying to protect myself. And to have people in the room who understood and were there. Yeah. That’s uh… [Pauses; Emotional.]
Flood: That was a very healing experience and it’s almost like it has given you permission. You can come out of the closet and be alive and be out and be real and be vulnerable and all of that.
Beelen: Yeah. I think that’s right. I really miss being in the group. Because, when you don’t deliberately practice that once a week, ya know?
Flood: It is a practice. It’s like everything, ya know? You’re a musician and you got to keep at it, right? Otherwise, you start losing it and I think that in life, being able to stay connected to our emotions and do intimacy with others is something you have to be intentional about. You have to learn how to do it and reclaim the emotion that you were suppressing but then it’s never over, right?
Beelen: No, it isn’t. Lynn and I, my second wife, still go to therapy. I don’t know if it’s marriage therapy, I mean, we go because it’s fun and exciting, and at least every other week we have to shut up and listen to ourselves and listen to each other. It’s not that we don’t in real life, but yeah. [Flood: “Right.”] It’s pretty important to me and Lynn.
De-stigmatizing Counseling and Therapy for Men
Flood: I think that …. sometimes it gets, therapy gets a bad rap, because it gets stigmatized as something you do when you’re sick, or ill, or something is wrong with you. Rather than seeing it being as something to help optimize you, help develop you, help you be a better, fuller person. And it sounds like this experience that you’re in now is enriching. It gives you a sacred space to be able to share an open, kinda a ritual and doing that together.
Beelen: Yeah. It’s wonderful. I remember driving up to therapy in the beginning. Here’s my truck with the logo on it and so worried and scared, and you had this file that you would take out and write in about me and I was worried about what was going in the file. Then, four years in or something, I just didn’t give a shit what you wrote in that file anymore [Flood: Laughs.] and I still don’t.
Flood: Yeah. There’s something freeing about moving to that place and transitioning where you can say, “Here I am! This is me. And, I’ve dealt with my shame around that,” and you can just live more openly. Andy Atwood told me, “You gotta wake up, clean up, and then once you grow up, then you can just show up.”
Beelen: Right. Let it all hang out!
Flood: And going through life when you do those first three, not that it’s that sequential, we’re always working to be aware and clean up and grow up. It’s nice to be able to just show up. Show up with your kids, show up with your wife, show up in relationships, and not carry as much fear around it.
Beelen: Showing up is still work for me. If I go unconscious, then I forget, or check out, or whatever I do.
Flood: Or can you sometimes go into old patterns? And then you can catch yourself? Ya know?
Beelen: Yeah. Oh boy, the old patterns…hm. I don’t know, I can’t tell how different I am in a social evening, dinner, Thanksgiving Eve party. [Flood: “Yeah.”] My kids tell me I’m different, so I’m going with that.
Flood: That’s always helpful feedback, right?
Beelen: Yes. They should know! [Flood: Laughs.]
Deciding to be a Different Man
Flood: I wonder if you could talk to other men, say there’s other men listening, what would you say if they’re wondering about doing something and taking that step, and they’re scared or reluctant and they don’t think they need it or whatever. Is there anything that you would offer them?
Beelen: Well, you have to want to do it and most of us wait until the pain is so great, the loss is so great, ya know, we’re 65-years-old or whatever we are. I was lucky that I hadn’t reached that point yet.
Flood: You’ve had some losses and stuff but you’re saying…
Beelen: Those are my conscious decisions. You have to be prepared to give a lot up. A lot of life choices that we make and then just stick to because. Because. Everything has got to be on the table and that’s pretty terrifying. So, I suggest you get in here right now. But my life is, wow, vastly different and it’s way better.
Flood: That’s like, if therapy works, you’ve gotta change your life, right?
Beelen: Yeah! [Laughs.]
Flood: You say life is vastly different? …. What do you notice about your emotional life or relational life that’s so remarkably different for you that you enjoy?
Beelen: It certainly has changed my relationship with my children. For the much better!
Flood: What do you notice mostly that’s so satisfying?
Beelen: Um, they come over a lot.
Flood: That’s a good sign!
Controlling Emotional Triggers
Beelen: Another thing I notice that is different and very much the same is—in conversation with, particularly, my wife—I get these rage triggers and I feel the same emotion inside and I recognize it now. It’s just, oh, here’s this again. And, I can wait for it to pass and I can tell Lynn this is what just happened and she knows it doesn’t have anything to do with her. And then, it goes away. I don’t have to punch a hole in the wall. I don’t have to curse Lynn or anybody else. That’s especially when I tell Lynn what’s going on in the moment, that hasn’t happened in a while, that’s pretty satisfying, to come out the other end in ten minutes and not have done any damage. In fact, to have built up our relationship a little bit more.
Flood: It sounds like you have this relationship with your inner life that’s so much different, you reclaimed it, got acquainted with it, so that you know that it has, emotions have a life cycle. They have a surge, you attend to it, and then it finally starts waning. You don’t have to act it out. And it sounds like there’s this knowledge of that; I don’t have to do anything with this.
Beelen: I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to. I can just be.
Dispelling Stereotypes about Masculinity
Flood: …. One of the things we get criticized for is this idea of emasculating men by getting them connected with emotions. All the things you’re sharing. It’s like, you never lost your masculinity!
Beelen: I don’t think so!
Flood: [Do] you want to say a little bit, just what is stuck with you? What you do? Do you still feel proud as a man that you continue to do? You never lost it. That’s the beautiful thing. You don’t lose masculinity; you gain your humanity.
Beelen: I would agree. I mean, the masculine side, stick to it, work hard, don’t complain, obviously in business that’s done me very well. I’m proud of my business.
Flood: You can fix shit, too.
Beelen: I can fix shit! [Both: Laugh.] Yeah! Lots of things. I’m good at that. Fortunately, when my life turned upside down, it turns out that I had picked the right profession from the beginning, so I didn’t have to change that. [Both: Laugh.] Construction work…I guess it’s not…I don’t know what to call it. Restoration work. …That part of my life didn’t really change.
Flood: Is there anything about it that actually got enriched? That you got better at it? Or more creative?
Beelen: I hope that I got better at managing personnel.
Flood: Okay, so that’s an interesting part. That you got better at that.
Beelen: Well, I hope I did. …. I think I’m better at that. I certainly, it occupies far more space inside than it used to.
Flood: You know it matters, right? [Beelen: “I do.”] To work on it.
Beelen: Nobody’s perfect. You might not want to interview my employees. [Flood: Laughs.]
Flood: But it matters, that relationship you build with people and the leadership. That stuff matters as much as teaching them how to do something, a craft.
Beelen: Craft comes second, really, when I’m looking for people to hire.
Flood: Looking for a certain personality that’s gonna fit in your culture?
Flood: Well, it’s certainly a delight to sit across from you and your willingness to share your story and be open. I know it will help others.
Beelen: Thank you, Randy.
Taking The First Step Toward Changing Your Life
Randy Flood incorporated Dan Beelen’s story into the book “Stop Hurting the Woman You Love: Breaking the Cycle of Abusive Behavior.” If you’re inspired by his experience and/or want more information about how to move away from abusive behavior, contact the Men’s Resource Center online or at (616) 456-1178. Also, feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions about this segment, ideas for a topic, or would like to be a guest on the Revealing Men podcast.