The serious problem of our “Man Up” culture

man up, Greenwood Village couples therapist, Denver marriage counseling

Most of us have heard the expression “man up!” many times. For men and boys, it’s truly everywhere, repeated many times in many ways for most of their lives.

As a culture, we are increasingly linking this toxic masculinity with many of the mental health and societal challenges men face. But, as couples counselors, we also have to ask:

“How is toxic masculinity affecting the most important relationships we have?”

Turns out, the price of manning up is incredibly high. 

Do you have a problem with toxic masculinity that could be ruining your most important relationships?

Man Up – also known as Stuff Your Feelings

In a 1995 study by American Psychological Association President Ronald F. Levant, the term “normative male alexithymia” was coined. This describes a socialized pattern of an inability to put emotions and feelings into words (1995).

Many men come into counseling describing challenges with expressing emotions. It isn’t uncommon for us to hear things like:

  • No one in my family would talk about their feelings
  • I was told not to cry. Crying was for sissies, weak, pointless, etc.
  • Showing feelings makes you weaker, creates problems
  • My parents told me to “Man up”

In other words, manning up is changing the way our men and boys are learning to interact -for the worse.

“Manning up” by stuffing your feelings and certainly not expressing them seems to be something that boys and men are surrounded by in our culture.

The idea that men must “man up” and be tough by not revealing their vulnerabilities is an almost constant message from family, friends, coaches and the media since childhood.

This message is sometimes indirectly taught to boys at a young age through interactions with peers, sports, and older male figures.

What’s wrong with manning up?

Males subject to heavy doses of this message had greater difficulty expressing themselves, particularly feelings related to vulnerability and attachment—which is exactly what relationships thrive on.

In a society which seems to prefer aggression and values male dominance and strength, it’s no wonder men suppress and struggle to express softer emotions like longing, hurt, and fear.

“Boys are taught at a young age to separate their hearts from their heads. Boys are taught that to have emotions, to show them, to share them, to emote them, somehow those things are considered signs of masculine failure.”

-Be A Man: Joe Ehrmann at TEDx

Check out this TedX video on the cultural messages men and boys get about emotions:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVI1Xutc_Ws

“The way men are taught, through childhood, to be ‘manly’ does not emphasize social and emotional skills, and that, in contrast to women, the ‘healthy’ ways men cope are by using music or exercise to manage stress and worry, rather than talking”

–“Man Up” By Jack Urwin(p. x).

Is Man Up harming my relationship?

This brings us back to troubled relationships in the counseling office.

Counseling gives couples a space to focus on the soft spots and explicitly shines light on the unspoken feelings. We hear men saying things like:

  • “I don’t know how to communicate that without starting a fight,” and
  • “I guess I don’t tell her things like that enough.”
  • “I don’t know how to talk about my feelings.”
  • “It doesn’t feel natural to say that (vulnerable feeling in my heart).”

The impact on partners of a man raised in a “Man up” culture

We think we are really good at interpreting or knowing things about how our partner feels, but the truth is that we often get it wrong.

In couples counseling, it is so common for us to uncover that a wife sees her husband’s tough stoicism and takes that personally to mean he does not care about her. In the absence of his sharing his feelings, most women fill in the blanks with their own insecurities.

Frequently, we have found this the exact opposite of what he is trying to communicate. Despite his efforts to disprove this doubt and lack of love, the words, the expression, is stunted.  The less that is said, the more is implied and thus the painful cycle continues.

This tough, protective mask prevents connection and a secure bond. Check out this video on the problems we see when men have relationships with their masks always on:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hc45-ptHMxo

While there are some movements cropping up around the globe to counter this toxic masculinity that has been hurting our men, there is still a long way to go.

Here are two videos to inspire you if you have been holding a lot inside:

“It takes guts to show pain. It takes a man to show pain.”

-Man up campaign https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSAeOhCrv_s

Real Boys Cry https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTMNWiIurOM

If you feel that your relationship has fallen victim to a negative cycle due to a lack of emotional responsiveness, counseling can help!

Through couples counseling, this long ingrained, yet subtle pattern can be brought to light and healing can happen.

We know withholding feelings is bad for us

The amount of effort it takes to regulate and suppress signs of vulnerability is exhausting and painful. Many research studies have shown the emotional and physical impact of holding in feelings.

The isolation is lonely for not only women, but also men! Many women are shocked to find their own pain at this gap in their connection is also mirrored in their partner.

The struggle of manning up is a shared experience.

Stop this cycle. Stop manning up.

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy was specifically designed to tap into our already existing attachment wiring. Our bodies (female and MALE) know that to hold in feelings isn’t good for us. Sometimes, though, we need support and practice to start the new habit of communicating more vulnerably.

Why couples counseling is the perfect space for overcoming toxic masculinity

If you are like many couples, you may seek out marriage counseling or relationship therapy because one of you is asking (begging?) the other to go. Many times, this is the female partner. Sometimes, the male partner is hesitant or even resistant to the idea.

Yes, you could do some individual counseling to work on overcoming “man up” messages. But the truth is, to really overcome this problem, you need to feel the vulnerability that only comes with taking an emotional risk with someone who really matters.

In other words, you need to feel your feels, then take a risk and share them with your partner. Expect big fears to come up! This is entirely predictable given our culture’s massive doses of toxic masculinity that is shouting at you to “Keep stuffing your feelings!!!”

Terrified? Share your vulnerable feelings anyway. 

But don’t be too scared, we are here to help. We help people overcome their fears of sharing emotions all the time as Emotionally Focused Therapists.

We often say to couples that it is sort of like going to the gym to see a trainer for the first time after years of living like a couch potato. Your movements will probably feel really foreign, maybe even awkward at first. It can be painful even, at times, to start to feel things that have been held in tightly for so long.

However, the results can be stunning.

If your relationship suffering at the hands of toxic masculinity messages, we would love to help you get out of that dead-end.

The antidote to disconnection is not really about “communication skills.” It is learning to reach out to your partner. To do this, you have to reject this toxic masculinity slowly killing you and your most important relationships.

If you are ready to take your love to a whole new level, let’s get started! Call us today at 303-513-8975 to learn to give your feelings a voice. Your relationship will be stronger, and you will be stronger! We use a convenient online scheduling system to book Couples Counseling in the Denver Tech Center area:

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About the Author

Denver Tech Center Counselors specializing in Couples Therapy, Marriage Counseling, Pre-Marital Counseling, and Individual Therapy for Relationship Issues.

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