Updated: Sep 23, 2019
How are you defining your manhood? How is this definition affecting you, your relationships and your sex life? As I work with many men in my practice, I commonly observe feelings of inadequacy that stem from not being connected to their true sense of self. Part of this comes from trying to find this “self” by examining external factors they expect will bring them happiness, joy, and love. I see this in both career-oriented men who achieve success but still feel a void in their lives as well as the men who struggle to find success.
Waking up fulfilled is liberating, but is also quite challenging due to the social messages defining manhood. Unfortunately, society and culture have defined manhood based on power. This erroneous idea of power is presented as suppression, repression and denial. It squashes emotions in order to prove one’s manliness. Playing a significant part in their emotions, it disconnects a man from tuning-in to their own sense of self and self-worth. Ultimately, it affects his relationship with himself as well as all intimate relationships he may try to develop or maintain. These messages start early on and are perpetuated in many ways. The reality is that all men face personal problems, but often fail to understand them at their core. At a deeper level, it can often be the need to prove themselves as men. This type of repression starts at a young age and continues throughout adulthood. Little boys do cry, express fear and are usually very affectionate. They are playful, compassionate and loving, but as they grow up, they are socialized into repressing their emotions. They are taught to prove to each other and themselves, what society has misled them to believe manhood should be.
Many men tell me about the first time they were told that they were behaving like a girl and felt the need to start questioning themselves and their sexuality. This is exacerbated during puberty, when boys start to value friendships, but must keep their relationships distant for fear of seeming too feminine. This leads them to abandon any of their softer traits in favor of a chance to join and be accepted into the boy’s club.
Additional exposure comes from watching and learning from emotionally absent men portrayed on television shows such as Family Guy, The Simpsons and Married with Children. There are countless action movies that message men in believing that masculinity must be based on their toughness. Phrases like “boys don’t cry”’ diminish a boy’s comfort often making them feel scared, insecure and overwhelmed. Even the male role models they often look up to, inadvertently pass expectations of power and toughness due to society’s quench for drama and newsworthy characters.
Men are also bombarded with messages about their physical deficiencies. Pharmaceutical companies producing products such as Viagra and Cialis are constantly highlighting how they’re failing in the bedroom. Consequently, this presents men with the message to approach sex and their bodies mechanically and with desensitization. This pressure in itself aggravates the original erection problems. It presents it as if something is wrong with a man who fails to become erect on demand. Hence, a man may think that his worth is determined by his sexual prowess. These types of beliefs can be limiting and disconnecting for a man in his intimate relationships.
All together, becoming a man comes with void and the message: “I’m not enough.” When a man carries feelings of worthlessness and shame, it will become more difficult for them to connect with their partners. Out of fear, men will refrain from sharing what they might be experiencing and feeling just to avoid an exposure to a perceived weakness. They might find it easier to spend more hours at work or more time with their male friends watching sports, playing video games or turning to porn to drown out the discomfort of emotions.
This is not to say that these activities are wrong, simply that they can be a form of escape. Men objectify themselves when they determine manhood by external factors such as how much they provide, how much money they earn, how big their penis may be or the number of women they’ve notched up on their headboard. Women may also objectify men in the same way, which only perpetuates the idea making it a vicious circle across both genders. A man’s quest to prove himself is a rigorous, exhausting and frustrating process. This struggle makes it especially difficult when he shuts himself down from facing or recognizing his true authentic self. The result can lead to loneliness, feelings of inadequacy, angst, or anxiety. Moreover, men can’t be vulnerable, expressive, emotional, playful or warm. Society tells men that these are female qualities. After a while, men become stoic and angry from having to bury themselves. It is challenging to go beyond this fear of being shamed by other men and break out of the constraining, limiting and ever tightening man-box. Just remember, it’s never too late to begin discovering these beliefs. Being a true authentic man, begins with the courage to question. In time and with some practice, analyzing and understanding these beliefs will help break out of the man-box you may have created.
How to start loving yourself as a man:
Become aware of your beliefs around manhood and how these beliefs might be limiting and affecting the way you think of yourself as a man. Do they become critical, unaccepting or hold unrealistic expectations of yourself as a man?