Five Terrors of Being a Man

the five terrors of being a man

Mark Greene explores how men’s wide ranging fears remain hidden behind a facade of false confidence.

 

We have all heard it said, over and over. That many men do not share their feelings. That these men can be good friends, husbands and lovers but that they remain, on some level, hidden. If this is so, it’s for a damn good reason. Men are taught early in life that hiding their emotions is a matter of practical survival. Men are taught that revealing feelings, especially feelings like grief, loneliness or uncertainty is not safe. It is dangerous. It will cost them. Male emotional withdrawal is the direct result of dominant cultural traditions which value toughness and stoicism over communication and emotional connection.

Millions of men are exploring ways to move beyond old ideas of what it is to be a man. This is a good thing. Because it means men will have more options, both new and old, of how they can choose to live in the world. But millions of others still see no alternative but to keep their emotions hidden. They feel trapped in archaic gender roles that are often brutally enforced by other men, women and sometimes, their own families and spouses. On some level, we are all impacted by these generations old rules of manhood which say: hide your fears or pay the price.

One result of the continuing emotional suppression of men, is an increasing level of anger in our public dialogues (that of both men and women). We see these angry public discourses everywhere, in the media, on Facebook and at the local bar. This is because the expression of anger as a mode of emphasizing one’s point of view is somehow considered socially acceptable while revealing “weaker” emotions is not. But ask anyone who knows. Anger is just fear talking. Fears unspoken and unexplored. Below is a list of some fears that men face.  This list is by no means complete. But men’s fears, whatever they may be, must be acknowledged. Because when they are deeply rooted and well hidden, these isolating fears can determine the course of an entire lifetime. Hidden though they may be, they should never be taken lightly.

So what are men afraid of? Here are a few examples. (Please note, I am not suggesting that these fears are exclusive to men but I would suggest that they play out very differently in women’s lives.)

For many men, this central fear that sexual love doesn’t last can lead to a preemptive callousness about sex and relationships. “I want what I want and to hell with you.”

1) What I Want Sexually is Wrong (In One Way or Another)
Men carry the deep seated fear that their sexual needs are, in some way, just not right. Whether it’s something as complex as a fetish, or as simple as frequency, men carry the deep-seated fear that sexual love in relationships isn’t sustainable because what they want and need sexually is too much, is too selfish, is wrong.

This shame about their needs is compounded by a lack of emotional connectivity in their relationships; connectivity that can create a vibrant holding space for sexual exploration and generosity. For many men, this central fear that sexual love doesn’t last, can lead to a preemptive callousness about sex and relationships. “I want what I want and to hell with you.” Sexual expression can become intertwined with anger. This, coupled with underlying shame about their sexual appetites, creates a self-fulfilling fatalism, contributing to the collapse of their relationships, time and time again.

2) I’m Never Going to Earn Enough
Being the financial provider is the central role that many men assign themselves in relationships. Although self-assigned, this role is also encouraged by our culture and sometimes by women. This emphasis on providing money is often taken on by men in lieu of the more challenging task of developing crucial interpersonal capacities like emotional connectivity, empathy, and child-raising skills, (emotional skill sets which can validate men in ways other than financially.)

Initially, being the breadwinner may seem like an easy way out for men. The implication is, “if you bring the money you can take a pass on the messy emotional side of your family relationships.” But this breadwinner mode tempts some men to compound their self induced isolation by leveraging the authority associated with economic control over other family members.

Some other relationship killing parts of this equation? When judged solely on their earning capacities, men can end up being relentlessly tested by a spiral of accelerating consumerism. And, when unemployment or retirement strikes, men have no alternative emotional resources or sources of validation to draw on. Game over.

3) Other Men Will Find Out I’m Weak
Men fear their worries and sadness are a sign of weakness; and that if they are found out, they will be rejected and condemned by their friends, family members and spouses.

Men are taught to hide their fears, collectively creating a cultural myth of male toughness. This culture of toughness is deeply isolating. When men have no way to share their stories of uncertainty, grief or fear, those fears can become overwhelming. The suppression of wider ranges of male emotional expression becomes a source of intense internal stress for men, which in turn is expressed as anger or authoritarianism. Although we don’t allow men to cry, we do allow them to express anger. It is this one-note anger mode of expression that can eventually result in alcoholism, addiction, depression and early death for many men. All in the effort to avoid appearing…human.

Because society does not typically encourage the development of soft skills in men, some must face old age without the emotional connectivity that will cushion the impact of aging.

4) I’m Getting Old
Men are often judged solely on their economic and physical vitality. Typically, men are not valued for their “feminine” soft skills, like diplomacy or emotional availability. This sets men up for an inevitable decline in value, tied directly to aging. Meanwhile, because society does not typically encourage the development of soft skills in men, some must face old age without the emotional connectivity that will cushion the impact of aging. And that makes aging terrifying.

5) I Don’t Know Who I Am
Often men spend their lives battling an uncertain world in order to provide for their families financially. Preoccupied with this struggle, men resist committing time for self examination or emotional growth. Eventually, men come to fear the person in the mirror looking back at them. After a lifetime of putting up a false front of confidence and authority, many men feel they are barely keeping a lid on their emotions. Absent the parallel journey of growing emotional connection with their families and friends, our fathers, brothers and sons are condemned to live lives of isolated desperation, ultimately unsure of who they are and what they might become.

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Being strong and being confident are important parts of being healthy human beings, but strength and confidence comes from the rich and rewarding relationships we create with the people in our lives, not from the economic or physical power we wield, regardless of our gender. Only a rich network of relationships holds the power and flexibility to carry any of us through life’s challenges.

For men, openly sharing emotions like uncertainty or grief should be a socially acceptable way of being, just as keeping these things private is socially accepted. Some men (and women) will always prefer to keep their own counsel. This is perfectly fine. But no man should be forced to live alone with his fears because it is considered weak to admit them. We need a new cultural baseline for men that says sharing our fears is an act of courage; something to be admired and respected. Because doing so in a safe and supportive community can transform these fears into sources of strength, mutual support and ultimately, love. And that is an option that should be open to all of us, men and women alike.

This article was written in conversation with Dr. Saliha Bava.

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Have you ever asked, “Why to men do what they do?” Watch Mark Greene’s Break Out of the Man Box on GMP TV.

The Man Box says, “Be a ‘real man’ or pay the price.” But for millions of American men, its time to break the hell out.
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READ MORE BY MARK GREENE:

Why Do We Murder the Beautiful Friendships of Boys?

Why America’s Culture of Shame is Killing Us

The Man Box: Why Men Police and Punish
“Every time you do this, you become less free. A rat in a cage. A dog on a chain. A prisoner.”

What Are You Doing When You Call A Man A Good Provider?

Man Box: The Link Between Emotional Suppression and Male Violence

And Then I See Him Laughing—A Father’s Message for the New Year

Mark Greene’s new book REMAKING MANHOOD–Available now on Kindle Reader for Windows, Macs, Android, iPhones and iPads

Remaking Manhood is a collection of Mark Greene’s most powerful articles on American culture, relationships, family and parenting. It is a timely and balanced look at the issues at the heart of the modern masculinity movement. Mark’s articles on masculinity and manhood have received over 100,000 FB shares and 10 million page views. Get the free Kindle Reader app for any device here. 

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The Good Men Project is an unprecedented space for hosting conversations about what it is to be a good man. We hope you will explore the wide ranging dialogues here. The voices of both men and women are crucial to the success of these conversations.  Join us, and together, we’ll create the dialogues that will make positive changes happen for us all. 

Below are a few more articles from our community that continue the conversation in different ways.

Five Important Things Women Don’t Know About Men by Noah Brand

Babies and the Rebirth of Men by Mark Greene

Why I Don’t Want to Talk About Race by Steve Locke

Why Do We Demonize Men Who Are Honest About Their Sexual Needs by Clarisse Thorne

The Dark Side of Women’s Requests of Progressive Men by Mark Greene

The Paradox of Male Honesty by Tom Matlack

The Conversation About Dads Just Keeps Getting Bigger: A Response to the New York Times on Dad 2.0 by Lisa Hickey

 

 

About Mark Greene

Executive Editor Mark Greene’s articles for the Good Men Project have received over 250,000 Facebook shares and 20 million page views.

Greene writes and speaks on culture, society, family and fatherhood. His work is a timely and balanced look at the life affirming changes emerging from the modern masculinity movement.

Greene writes and speaks on men’s issues for the Good Men Project, the Shriver Report, the New York Times, Salon, the BBC and the Huffington Post.

Comments

  1. Most of what I know and have learned about gendered behavior is that hetero men and women define each other.There are many concrete examples of this.One need look no further than the human brain for evidence.The male and female brain were developed in relationship to each other.Moreover.it is mostly the values of mainstream Caucasian men and women that have defined what men and women are supposed to be in the western world. Whites assume that how they view the world is absolutely correct. White women decided that they did not like the definition imposed upon them by white men,so they rebelled.They decided to define themselves in absence of their relationship to men,even though that is fundamentally impossible. Now it seems men are making the same mistake that women made by defining themselves in a gender vacuum.It’s Iron John all over again but without the drums It strikes me as being pretty silly because singular definitions only work for a short time anyway. Hard core roles prevent men and women from actually living full lives and being able to adapt to ever changing circumstances that life throws at you without therapy. I mean, how stupid is it to hate on your husband because he can’t be the high wage earner because the economy is in the tank? As a single dad,I cannot think of a child related duty that should be regulated exclusively to one gender .That being said,the same goes most of the jobs necessary for society to function. Yes, men are discouraged from expressing emotions like women do.But I also believe that the base norm used to define what is and what isn’t good,healthy, communication-how women communicate- is flawed.

  2. Loved the article and the message you are trying to get across. It’s not about gender in the end but this is a men’s website that deals with men’s issues so making it about gender is important. My hope is that eventually men won’t be so afraid to show their emotions and share their vulnerability with someone the trust and love. Thanks for putting this out there.

  3. Why in the world would one want to focus on the negatives in their lives? Any sports psychologist worth his salt would tell you that the unconscious mind manifests in reality what we spend mental and emotional energy on – it’s amoral that way. It just grows what’s planted – regardless of what’s planted. Instead – men should focus on, spend mental and emotional energy on – the positives of their lives, what they aspire to, the achievements elemental to their self esteem, etc. In the war of the inner demons of Men, it’s critical to realize that those inner demons Men have cannot be killed – but they can be starved and they can crowded out….

    • Mark Greene says:

      ProfV,
      One of the biggest challenges we face as men is evident in your comment. Men are not encouraged to explore or even admit to their pain. My journey has been to acknowledge and then move past the emotional challenges of my life as a man in America. Although I heartily agree that we all need to focus on and grow the positives in our lives, to suggest that focusing on negatives has no value is just more “toughing it out” talk; textbook performance of American masculinity.

  4. Bravo. I am so glad I found a site that explores men in an honest way to encourage growth on both sides of the aisle. I think the biggest fears on this list are 1 and 2 in that order. When men can let go of the struggle and the “facade” a new world opens to them…..then again, that applies to women as well!

  5. This article shows me how different American men must be from Scandinavian men, in general.

  6. Joe Sparks says:

    Hi Mark, you want to feel terror? Say to a woman someday you are going to be a soldier and kill people who you no nothing about. She would look at you very strangely. Or you will play a sport where you are going hit someone as hard as you can and try to hurt them, while other folks watch. Or if you try to put your arms around your best friend in public, you might killed, and don’t even think about holdings! Men don’t feel the slightest bit of terror. How could we, we have thoroughly trained not to. Men live on average 7-8 years less longer than women. We haven’t internalized a thing. I do not no any man who doesn’t feel bad about himself. We cannot show it, because that would be terrifying! Nothing is going to change unless we learn to listen to each other. That is a fact. Thanks!

  7. I agree with your general conclusion that human beings, and men in particular, must confront their fears & share with those that are close to them. However, the examples given appear to be outdated caricatures & not representative of the majority of modern men. Honestly, I think the biggest” fear” of modern men equates to narcissism: the fear that they do not get affirmation for doing routine tasks (I.e., raising their kids, being faithful to their spouse, etc.) Furthermore, openly sharing emotions would be much easier if men werenot judged when their feelings did no fi neatly into some PC category that was accepted as “authentic.” It is my belief that men will share their emotions in a more productive manner when the dialogue about true emotional expression values honesty & is less patronizing.

  8. Dear Gary,
    Aging is a wide ranging issue. It can be about end of life issues, or it can be about mid-life challenges created when younger men begin to pose a threat to our employment security. When women stop looking. When we can’t find our damned reading glasses. So the fears I speak of can be wide ranging.
    What I am most definitely not saying is that men as they age need to “replace physical vitality with emotional sensitivity” in order to “maintain value.” What I am saying is that emotional connectivity gives us rich and varied ways to manage the changes that aging brings.
    It is not an exclusionary stance I am taking. I encourage physical vitality and strength through exercise for men for as long as that is an option (well into their 80’s), but some day we all will face the degradation of our physical form. I would suggest that the extra capacities provided by emotional connectivity will carry us through that phase of our lives when we can no longer run a marathon or work a stair climber. (Not to mention a wide range of other benefits in our ongoing lives.)
    What I am also saying is that no matter how economically powerful and authoritative any of us are, we won’t be that way forever. Someday, if even for a short time, we will be humbled and feeble. And if financial and authoritative power is our central mode for engaging the world, our old age will be a frightening thing indeed.

  9. It is rubbish to conclude that economic & physical vitality must be replaced by emotional sensitivity to maintain an older man’s value!
    From my experience I have found that the need for economic vitality loses its importance as we age and we become less focused on material needs. We get by with less and are still as happy (or even more so).
    As for physical vitality goes, older men can & should maintain their physical condition for as long as they can into their old age. I am 67 and have never been fitter, working out at gym 3 days per week with long walks & cycling on the other days.
    I don’t think you should be suggesting that men progress through old age by replacing physical activity with emotional sensitivity. Old people need to maintain their strength and keep active as long as possible.
    It is wrong to say old age terrorises men.

  10. I am this man. Spot-On on all five counts.

    I agree it is courageous for man to be self-aware and admit his fears. But your conclusion takes it too far. Way too far.

    The real question is why is it socially acceptable to convey these fears by expressing “weaker” emotions, but yet not socially acceptable to express them via manly emotions.

    John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” What’s wrong with that brand of courage? I think that type of “false confidence” should be admired.

    Your are correct that men have these five fears. Your conclusions on what should be done in light of this are off base.

    • Hey Beau,
      If I’m not being clear, let me attempt to be so here. I am not excluding any of the culturally approved approaches to living that men might choose to take. I am arguing to add some more approaches that have thus far been stigmatized as weak or unmanly.

  11. I think if I were generalizing about men’s emotions I would say that men are less likely to politicize their emotions and are less negotiable about their emotions.

    I think the characterization of “soft skills” as being undeveloped can easily be seen as unreceived and under appreciated. To be honest I see more soft skills generally in young males than I do in young females. Which leads me to consider this perspective to be somewhat dated or directed at old men like me.

    I would also say that when it comes to emotional growth, people around me have had a vested interest in ignoring it. Change does not serve their interests. It’s a great article to consider the male experience and perspective but not as definitive as it reads. I do think that men today are more sophisticated than the article suggests.

  12. I completely agree with 1, 2 & 5

  13. I simply don’t recognize these men you are describing. At all.

    My ex-boss weeping because the farmer next door shot his dog for trespassing.
    My son’s pride and exhaustion after a 14 hour day digging fence posts in clay, visible in the way he wiped the sweat from his head.
    My nephew’s joy at having his beef wellington turn out perfectly for a dinner party of 40,visible in his grin as he surveyed the pin drop silence, and closed eyes around the room.
    My brother’s sorrow and grief as he contemplates his lost relationship, and the profound serenity as he reads to his son and his daughter.
    My other brother’s fury and contempt as he deals with the vicious emotional abuse of his ex’s rejection of her own son, and the crushing of his son’s sense of maternal attachment.
    The skepticism and worry evident in the posture of the hard rock miners as I stood in a stope, seven levels down, to explain a major change in their employment.
    ___________
    I know of no man who does not readily express emotions other than anger. None.
    As for fears (and I reject the use of terror in the title) – everyone has fears. When men trust you, they readily express fear. Nothing, and I mean nothing, comes close to working hands-on with a man with fears, to deal with the issue driving the fear. Men often express their emotions while doing something with another person. And it does not matter whether the thing being done is teaching a kid to skate, working on his financial problems, addressing an educational failure, confronting a challenging future path to open up options, building a house, cooking haute cuisine for family and friends, or playing pick-up hockey on an open air rink on a frozen lake.

    Perhaps the problem is more that one doesn’t engage with men doing things, one doesn’t know a lot of men who trust you, the micro-culture you inhabit is rife with distrust, or you are not attuned to the ways that they communicate emotion. If you think that all men will sit down and discuss their emotions using a vocabulary that you recognize from talking to women… yeah, you are likely to be disappointed.

    As for your list of fears, everyone has those fears (sex, resources, capability, age, and identity), they may present slightly differently between the conventional sexes, and the addressing of those fears varies even more, but to attempt to explain men by means of fear, is a disservice and disrespect to men, in my view.

  14. Mark, Wow, I really enjoyed this article. These themes resonate with man’s inner-caveman. Isolate these concepts/fears and they have an instinctual male-quality to them, generally speaking. Those qualities tend to complement instinctual female-qualities. Even #2, the male-fear of providing tends to correspond to the female-fear of nesting today. Men fear not being able to provide enough today, women fear becoming a burden or a mouth to feed, if you will.

    Although, you mention men being emotionally disconnected today, that part is disturbing to me as a woman. It’s our responsibility to complement the opposite sex and try to meet each other’s emotional needs. I think we’ve all strayed from that quite a bit.

  15. wellokaythen says:

    Common enough issues to be worth a good look.

    It seems to be pretty common for men to seem more emotionally withdrawn and more cautious about expressing their feelings than women. I don’t think that’s just an empty stereotype.

    But, part of the problem is how our society talks about talking about feelings. In some ways, we keep making it a really big deal when a man openly talks about his feelings, when we should not make such a huge production out of it. Telling men over and over again that expressing your feelings makes you “vulnerable” or “opens you up to other people” is actually discouraging it, not encouraging it. It just reinforces the idea of a bunker mentality.

    And, not everyone works through feelings in the same way. Just because a man is not currently, right this moment, talking about his feelings does NOT mean that he’s “withdrawn” or “repressing” or “ignoring” his feelings. Not everyone is a jabberer. There is no single healthy, appropriate way to have an emotionally fulfilled life.

  16. Impressive. Nice write up.

  17. At first glance, I tend to agree.

  18. Well written article, but it’s a bit broad brush and one dimensional. It seems to be playing to the male stereotypes that are floating around and, with a bit more depth, could have been sensational. Well done though.

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