A Resistance to Existence: Thoughts on Men and Numbing, Addiction, Depression, Violence and Anxiety

What it means to be man is constantly shifting as culture evolves, with new ways to perform masculinities are emerging all the time. Some disturbing stats about mens current mental health are that 75% of suicides are men, substance use disorders are nearly twice as common for men, men are more likely to have avoidant attachment styles, men are fall less likely to seek mental health support to deal with the psychological pain and instead reach for self-medication and numbing, escaping or addictive behaviors. Depression in men often shows up covertly; appearing successful and fine on the outside, but very dark on the inside and masked by numbing behaviors where female depression is more commonly overtly socially accepted and directly expressed. Why is it that men are resisting existing fully in their bodies and avoiding life through suicide, addiction, staying distant in relationships and refusing emotional support? From one lens this is a function of patriarchal culture on men. In Terry Reals map of psychological patriarchy he says that deep down we all have ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits, but are socialized to express only those that match our assigned gender. Men are encouraged to embody traditional masculine traits like strength, courage, leadership and dominance while avoiding traditional feminine traits like connection, sensitivity, care, sensuality and emotional vulnerability. When men inevitably feel pain they are often discouraged to reach out for connection, care for their bodies and express their vulnerable emotions, having internalized terms they may have heard as a child like “boys don’t cry”, “you’re being a pussy” or “be a man!”. This is reinforced externally but unconsciously in relationships and in media throughout the lifespan and internalized into a man’s inner voice so they perpetuate the pattern internally. The result is missing the essential ingredients to heal and connect which leads instead to numbing out with alcohol, drugs, (social) media, porn and if the pain gets to be too much, exit the scene completely through suicide, all which have sad, painful results. The other very common pattern is to project the pain externally be violent, blaming, shaming, harming those around them, anything but feel and transform it. As society balances itself out after millennia of patriarchal domination, social shifts are moving towards a new way. The main force in this shift have been feminist movements, many often express anger towards patriarchy. Unfortunately, the appropriate anger towards the patriarchal system of oppression and the actions that perpetuate it is often internalized by men as toxic shame. A belief can form that “I am toxic” for simply existing in a male body; this belief, conscious or unconscious, leads to some of the existential crisis I am trying to articulate in this article. Many confused, sensitive, caring men will out of fear of being toxic and harming others will avoid embodying traditional masculine traits. These men end up with ‘nice guy syndrome’ being all heart but no spine or balls. Other men end up going the other way towards extreme toxic masculinity, choosing to be all balls or spine with no heart. We can see this pattern in the followers of toxic male influencers like Andrew Tate; these misogynistic leaders gain power because they are one of the few camps that validate the pain of being a man and give ways to deal with it. Unfortunately they do it by blaming society and women and giving the hurt men ways to feel empowered by dominating or abusing others, hooking men into toxic masculinity. Many men as a result are stuck with a number of insufficient options when they encounter emotional pain; either numb with substance or process addiction, avoid relationships and vulnerability or dominate and abuse them to let out the pain. Deep down, the issue lies with actually being safe enough to let our bodies feel their feelings, which is difficult when we function under the lie of disconnection the map of patriarchy offers: Men must have masculine traits, women feminine ones. Actually, we are all simply humans, each unique and wired with different strengths and sensitivities. Concepts of masculine, feminine and gender are simply concepts, they are cultural creations that are constantly evolving just like language. Of course biology, genetics and hormones have a big role in lived experience, but they are far too complex to simplify into a binary. Binary ways of thinking like masculine/feminine are helpful maps to navigate through cultural life, but we are living in such complex times because of globalization, information and technology that our old maps of traditional gender roles are becoming obsolete. We need new maps that honor the complexity of traits that each individual carries. I propose that when it comes to traditionally gendered social traits we are all more “both/and” rather than “either/or”. Strong and sensitive, receptive and directive, etc. Each person is unique where they land on the spectrum of each, not because of the shape of their genitals. A person who is able to thrive and succeed in the emergent terrain will have access to all the traditional masculine and feminine traits in their pack and be able to wield them appropriately when the situation needs it.

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