Toxic masculinity has been a hot topic lately, and though some people may believe it nonsense or harmless, it may have more serious consequences.
What does toxic masculinity look like?
- Sexist behaviors, including gender stereotyping
- Use of derogatory terms that hurt others, such as calling someone emotional, “gay,” or telling another man to “stop being such a girl and toughen up” when sad
- Believing it is strong to suppress, withhold, or deny emotions, or that men expressing emotions other than anger are weak
- Believing that “boys don’t cry” or “boys will be boys” when the act is harmful/hurtful, and feeling the need to always portray a “tough guy” appearance
- Thinking anxiety, depression, alcohol/drug use, and passive aggression are negative feelings, and letting emotions build up without dealing with them
- Seeming to have only a few emotional states. When not happy, they may feel numb or angry
- See psychotherapy as a waste of time and only designed for women and weak or emotional men
“Masculinity is not bad,” explains Dr. Robert C. Reff psychologist at Aurora Behavioral Health Center in De Pere, Wis. “It’s when it’s defined through a hostile or toxic manner or overemphasized that it causes problems for the individual, his family, and friends. When we overemphasize gender and place restrictions on it, we set up false expectations and pressures to conform to gender stereotypes.”
Dr. Reff encourages his patients to define themselves in their own terms, to be comfortable with who they are, and not try to be someone they are not.
“My patients often find relief from anxiety, anger, depression and substance abuse when they stop trying to be someone they are not for another person, such as their father or peers,” Dr. Reff says. “One aspect of mental health, regardless of gender, is the ability to express a healthy range of emotions.”
Connecting with your feelings, as opposed to suppressing them, often leads to healthier relationships, greater life satisfaction and healthier behaviors, Dr. Reff says.
“Unfortunately, even today, we place too much emphasis on gender and teach boys an unhealthy definition of ‘manhood’ as opposed to valuing the child for who they are and their inherent strengths,” says Dr. Reff.
Why does toxic masculinity make men feel lonely?
Many of Dr. Reff’s male patients struggle with anger and not understanding where it comes from. This anger causes these men to push people way.
“The more we work together, the patient often realizes that their anger, as opposed to expressing sadness or other emotions, was often taught to them by their father, coaches and peers,” says Dr. Reff. “Many of them cannot recall their father crying, being sad, or vulnerable. They can, however, recall times at which they were angry.”
And when you don’t express your feelings, “chances are you might be pushing people away,” Dr. Reff says. “This can make friends, family and significant others feel less connected to you and you to them. We are social creatures and life is more enjoyable when you can share it with others.”
How do you overcome toxic masculinity and live a healthier and more connected life?
Dr. Reff offers some tips:
- Be aware of the biases and stereotypes. Knowing comes first, the next step is challenging yourself to think and to behave differently.
- Practice being emotionally open and vulnerable to those you trust and love. It may feel awkward at first, but just like with any muscle or skill, the more you practice, the easier it becomes.
- Surround yourself with emotionally healthy people. If you have friendships with men exhibiting toxic masculinity, try talking with them about it. If they do not want to change, you might have to consider setting a new boundary with that person.
- Don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Seeing a therapist is one of the best things you can do for your mental health and your family.
- If you exhibit toxic masculinity-like behaviors, hold yourself accountable. Talk with those that you have impacted, apologize, learn from it and move forward.
- There are some good workbooks out there, such as: The Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance Workbook: An Eight-Week Program for Improved Emotion Regulation and Resilience by Gonzalo Brito Pons and Margaret Cullen
- Also, try this Ted Talk to learn more: “Why am I done trying to be “man enough” by Justin Baldoni.