Many men carry around this idea of what it means to be a man, and if they believe that who they are–or their experiences–don’t fit into this model, then they might feel emasculated as a result. Although it can be difficult to shake off the power of masculine norms (let alone realize the effect they have on you), it is possible for men to overcome this gender-unique experience that can cause low self-esteem. But men don’t have to let cultural expectations of what it means to be a man impact their self-worth in this way.
Low Self-Esteem and the Trap of ‘What It Means to Be a Man’
According to research, there are 11 masculine norms that embody what it means to be a man: winning, emotional control, risk-taking, violence, power over women, dominance, playboy lifestyle, self-reliance, primacy of work, disdain for homosexuals, and pursuit of status.1
If a man feels that he is not conforming to one or more of these norms, then he may feel he is failing as a man, which can lead to low self-esteem. Experiences such as unemployment, being single or sexually inactive, not having emotional control (due to poor mental health, perhaps) and seeking help from others can lead men to think that they are “weak,” “pathetic,” or “unmanly”. Of course, these life experiences can lead anyone to develop a negative opinion of themselves, but for men, the effects on self-esteem can be unique.
Some men may also have personality types that don’t fit the stereotype of what they think it means to be a man; that is, someone who is bold, assertive, outspoken and stoic. Many men are shy, introverted, quiet, and sensitive. In the population, 15-20% meet the criteria for high sensitivity.2 This trait is shared by men and women in equal numbers.3
However, men who are sensitive may feel it is an unmanly trait, that only women should be sensitive, let alone be highly sensitive. Living in a culture which expects men to be tough and not to cry or show vulnerability, being a sensitive man can make you feel abnormal or defective. You may think you’re a wimp or thin-skinned. When you call yourself, or others call you, too sensitive, this can impact your self-esteem. But you don’t have to let these beliefs affect you in this way.
What It Means to Be a Man Is Your Decision
Times are changing. Many men are rejecting these masculine norms in favor of ones more conducive to their wellbeing and healthy relationships. A study published by University College London (UCL) reveals that 97% of the men surveyed desire qualities such as reliability and dependability.4 Honesty and loyalty were also valued highly while being macho, a playboy, and having a stiff upper lip were seen as less important. In fact, the men in the study were quite willing to open up about their mental health. Given that a stiff upper lip and not wanting to seek help is influencing the high male suicide rate, this trend is quite reassuring.5
Don’t worry if you don’t fit the stereotype of what it means to be a man. Even though phrases like “be a man” and “man up” can pressure men to repress their emotions and conform to a tough guy stereotype, men can build their self-worth by taking note of their virtues, such as being caring, loyal, and honest. Seeing the value of these traits and then developing them is an effective way to boost your self-esteem.
Self-acceptance is also crucial for tackling low self-esteem. Sensitive men can either reject and feel disdain for how they truly are or they can accept and embrace their nature, which is valuable in so many ways. If your thoughts are steering in the direction of the former, respond with the latter. This is how you build self-esteem.
1 Mahalik, J. R., Locke, et al (2003). Development of the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory. Retrieved November 08, 2017 from PsychWiki.
2 Morin, A. (n.d.). What Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. Retrieved November 09, 2017, from PsychologyToday.com
3 Belden, R. (2012, November 27). I Am a Highly Sensitive Man. Retrieved November 09, 2017, from GoodmenProject.com
4 So macho? No, men just want to be Mr Reliable. Retrieved November 13, 2017, from The Times
5 Woolfe, S. (2017, March 27). Study sheds light on why the male suicide rate is so high. Retrieved November 09, 2017, from TheCanary.co