The attitude towards men having issues in their masculine identity is very often treated like the first rule of Fight Club – don’t talk about it! For various sociological and cultural reasons, men have been conditioned to believe that their problems should be kept secret and dealt with alone or even that they should deny having such problems at all. Also, going inward and shutting off are inherent aspects of masculine behaviour.
We also live in a modern world that gives the impression that men no longer need to possess typical masculine traits. Indeed, a stigma has been built up around much of what we consider masculine behaviour. The result is that men are confused about what is appropriate in regards to how they feel and conduct themselves.
Many problems revolve around having an unhealthy and uneducated relationship with vulnerability in one of two polar opposite directions: giving in to feelings of self-pity and seeking comfort or hiding and/or repressing feelings of upset, hurt or fear.
In their sense of personal identity, many men report:
- Not feeling complete as a man – as if despite being physically male, missing something in their character which defines them as masculine
- Feeling unable to live up to certain ideals in their character, physical appearance, social/financial status
- Uncertainty over what behaviours are acceptable; fear of being labelled as a brute, overly feminine or man-child, for having certain thoughts or feelings
Common problem areas for men in relationships:
- Feeling like they are not allowed to get upset or show hurt or conversely spending too much time in a child-like state of self-pity and comfort-seeking. When a partner feels them shutting off emotionally they feel insignificant causing a cycle of upset. Or a partner may feel insecure and unprotected if they detect a fundamental lack of emotional strength in the man.
- Not being able to ‘reach’ their partner and make them happy. Finding themselves up against an emotional wall they can’t get through. Feeling like nothing they do can create the connection they are looking for.
- Not being respected in the relationship – constantly being punished for wrongs they did not mean to create.
- Feeling like they can’t be honest for fear of causing a fight.
- Having no control over angry reactions during conflict – knowing that certain reactions are unhelpful and will bring more upset, but not being able to resist the feelings that arise.
- For single men, they will often encounter deep feelings of fear; fear of rejection, fear of not being ‘enough’, fear of being hurt.