Toxic Masculinity and Men’s Mental Health

Are you familiar with phrases such as, “Boy’s don’t cry,” “Man up,” “don’t be a girl?” 


Societal expectations are commonly tossed around in our language of how boys/men should behave. From what to wear, to how to present yourself, your “man status” is often questioned if you don’t adhere to these expectations. Another big one is how men feel and express emotions. There’s often an expectation that boys and men should be self-sustaining, independent and essentially emotionless. There’s a good chance that at some point in a guy’s life he’s been told to “man up” and they maybe even tell themselves that’s the standard they need to live up to. 


We’ve heard the term toxic masculinity used in conversations pertaining to men’s health. As stated in the New York Times, toxic masculinity, “refers to a set of behaviors and beliefs that include suppressing emotions, maintaining an appearance of toughness and using violence as an indicator of power. It’s the result of teaching generations of young boys that they can’t express their emotions openly and that displaying any emotion whatsoever is a sign of emasculation and femininity.” 


So, let’s talk about how confused men are by this. Their real emotions are often mocked and denied as they are told to fit in their role as a provider.  Growing up, boys watched their fathers and other male figures struggle with this. There was a whole generation that silently didn’t know how to deal with their anger or even love because expressing feelings wasn’t the norm. Dr. Nicole LePera states, “Toxic masculinity isn’t something a man chooses, it’s the result of being wounded. It’s the result of not learning emotional skills. It’s the result of not actually knowing how to emotionally connect.” 


Many men and boys experience feelings of being emotionally lost. All humans have the desire to be loved and feel connected.  Men can experience frustration because of that model they’re supposed to live up to. They don’t have the skills to deal with their emotions in a healthy way. They’re taught emotional vulnerability is a weakness, and rage/anger/control are acceptable. As a result, most men lack the language to express much of anything else, let alone discuss their mental health concerns. 


Men’s mental health is a topic that many males don’t address. It is found that men are more likely than women to avoid diagnosis and even deny the possibility they have an “emotional disability.” The first way we can address this is by allowing men to experience/express all emotions, especially emotions such as sadness and fear, without immediate suppression. It starts with recognition and validation instead of challenging or making an excuse for how we feel. One of the first things I do with new clients is break out the “feelings wheel” to practice identifying and expanding our emotional vocabulary. When we can readily identify and accept our experiences, more than just “happiness” and “anger”, we begin the process of validation and we gain freedom to express emotion. This challenges societal expectations of how we should present ourselves and allows us to accept the fact we are human.


And that’s just it- we are all human. By nature humans are emotionally driven creatures. We all have brains, emotional needs and the desire to connect. We are motivated and activated by emotions. Emotions shape our existence. Everyone is entitled to their own emotional experience without gender norms to dictate right and wrong. It’s never too late to heal the inner wounds of invalidation and allow yourself the true experience of emotional expression.


Blog by Emma Doran, MA RYT-200 C-AAIS
Photo by Mateusz Sałaciak via Pexels