Part 2: Crucible Forged Authenticity - Finding Truth In The Fire

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a five-part series that takes a scientific approach to study the value and impact The Crucible Project has had on men who are thirsty to live with more integrity, grace and courage. It is based on work of Crucible brother Ryan Poling, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology. In this post, we’ll dive into to authenticity and exploring how greater authenticity can help men face the fire and find their gold.

Men in our culture are suffering. When compared to women, men on average have higher rates of disease, addiction, unemployment, educational issues, and a host of other problems. As a group, men even tend to die a few years sooner than women.[i] Why is this?


The reasons for why men are suffering are not simple, or even completely clear. But my research suggests the root of some of this suffering might be that we as men are confused – and often misled – about authenticity. But what exactly is authenticity? By way of paraphrase, the authors of the survey that I used to measure authenticity define it as knowing what’s happening inside of you and expressing what’s happening inside of you.[ii]

Unfortunately, our culture interferes with authenticity. Western culture has subtle (and not so subtle) ways of telling us, even from an early age, what it means to be a man and how we should and should not act. These tenets of masculinity rarely leave much room for fear, sadness, grief, or vulnerability.

  • We’re told, “Real men don’t cry,” and we stuff our emotions and don’t feel sadness.
  • We’re told, “You need to be strong,” and we are trained to believe that we must be self-sufficient.
  • We’re told, “Don’t be such a sissy,” and we learn that tenderness is not allowed.

As men, we are in a Catch-22: Although we experience the full range of emotions, we are also told that only certain emotions – like happiness, anger, and excitement – are acceptable to show. There’s no room for sadness, fear and tenderness.

So what do we do with these marginalized emotions? We cover them up. Mask them. Insist to others and ourselves that they aren’t really there. And that’s how we show up on a Crucible Weekend. Suffering. Emotionally unhealthy. Something inside is eating away at us and we’re not quite sure what to do with it. Sometimes it’s buried so deeply that we don’t even consciously know it’s there.

I believe one of the most powerful elements of a Crucible weekend is the new narrative of masculinity that it presents. This new narrative encourages men to live without lies or pretense, to be in touch with their emotions – all of their emotions – and express them cleanly.  A Crucible weekend encourages men to know and express what is happening inside. Doesn’t that sound a bit like authenticity?


The survey I used to assess authenticity measures three particular traits: Authentic Living, Self-Alienation, and Accepting External Influence.[iii]

  • Authentic Living is concerned with behaving in accordance with our internal states and values
  • Self-Alienation is the degree to which we do, or don’t, understand ourselves
  • Accepting External Influence is the degree to which we let others sway our opinions and decisions

Naturally, we would want to see an increase in Authentic Living and decreases in Accepting External Influence and Self-Alienation after a Crucible weekend. This is because as we become more authentic, three things happen:

  • We behave more authentically (Authentic Living)
  • We stop minimizing our own values and preferences (Accepting External Influence)
  • We are more in touch with our internal experiences (Self-Alienation)

What I found is that by Sunday afternoon of the initial weekend, participants were already showing decreases in Accepting External Influence and Self-Alienation. The increase in Authentic Living took a bit more time to show up, but by the two-month follow-up, men were showing increases in Authentic Living. This delay may be due to the fact that the men needed to have some real-world experiences of living more authentically before they could identify changes in their own behavior.


It’s good to see that Crucible participants are learning to become more authentic, but why is authenticity so important?  Well, aside from the fact that increased authenticity is associated with less dishonesty, less cheating, and less anxiety[iv] as well as greater self-esteem and life satisfaction,[v] authenticity is neurologically important.

So, here comes the academic/scientific stuff. As you likely know, the brain is made up of special cells called neurons that are connected to each other and are organized into networks. These networks form large-scale structures in the brain, and different structures handle different tasks. For example, the section of your brain right behind your eyes is called the prefrontal cortex, and it’s what allows you to reason through things (among many other tasks). When our prefrontal cortices run the show, we are like Spock: logical, reasoned, but bereft of the emotionality and vulnerability that connects us to others.

However, the prefrontal cortex is in a constant tug-of-war with another part of the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system is deep in the brain. It’s an old, primitive structure, and broadly speaking, it’s responsible for emotions. When our limbic systems run the show, we are like Captain Kirk: Impulsive, emotional, and moody.

Within your brain, the prefrontal cortex (reason) is constantly duking it out with the limbic system (emotion), and I’m sure you know what it feels like when one side or the other is winning. The problem comes, however, when one part gets a TKO on the other. Neurologically speaking, the limbic system tends to suppress the activity of the prefrontal cortex and vice-versa. This is why you have trouble thinking clearly when you’re in the heat of an argument. Your limbic system is actually preventing your prefrontal cortex from firing on all cylinders. The same thing happens in the other direction when you try to intellectualize your way through a highly-emotional situation and find yourself feeling numb.


But when are authentic, we are in balance. We can be both scientific and sympathetic. We can access the fullness of our masculine souls.

As men, we are taught to suppress parts of our limbic system. But, it is these very parts that are the foundation of connection. Without vulnerability, fear, or sadness, we cannot be good husbands, fathers, boyfriends, brothers or friends.

There is no doubt that authenticity is intimidating. But I would argue that a life without authenticity is worse. Authenticity is a form of vulnerability, and vulnerability is, by definition, scary. But vulnerability is also the only road to intimacy and connection.

– By J. Ryan Poling

Ryan’s initial Crucible weekend was in August 2006. He is completing his doctoral studies in clinical psychology at Fuller Seminary Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, CA, and is currently on internship at Salina Regional Health Center. He holds Master’s degrees in Psychology and Theology, and he was also Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Azusa Pacific University. He lives in Salina, Kansas, with his wife, Erika, and their bunny, Bailey.

Photo Credit: Julia Purcell via Creative Commons

Read the rest of the series: Part 1: The Men America Left Behind

Sources for this post:

  • [i] Burke, C. K., Maton, K. L., Mankowski, E. S., & Anderson, C. (2010). Healing men and communityPredictors of outcome in a men’s initiatory and support organization. American Journal of Community Psychology, 45(1-2), 186-200. doi:10.1007/s10464-009-9283-3
  • [ii] Wood, A. M., Linley, P., Maltby, J., Baliousis, M., & Joseph, S. (2008). The authentic personality: A theoretical and empirical conceptualization and the development of the Authenticity Scale. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 55(3), 385-399. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.55.3.385.
  • [iii] Ibid.
  • [iv] Gillath, O., Sesko, A. K., Shaver, P. R., & Chun, D. S. (2010). Attachment, authenticity, and honesty: Dispositional and experimentally induced security can reduce self- and other-deception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(5), 841-855. doi:10.1037/a0019206
  • [v] Goldman, B., & Kernis, M. H. (2002). The role of authenticity in healthy psychological functioning and subjective well-being. Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, 5(6), 18-20.