What if everything we were told and led to believe about being a man is wrong?
That the “rules and regulations” do the opposite of what they promised.
Leaving a lot of us, miserable, lost and not knowing who we really are.
Maybe not you, you might be one of the lucky ones but reading this will help you understand those who weren’t as lucky.
It all started back when we were children.
Curious about the world and everything in it.
Constantly asking questions which allowed us to learn and grow.
Receiving love and support from the people around us.
We had our sights on growing up to be a big boy.
Not sure what that meant at the time but it sounded appealing.
What I did know was that big boys became men.
And being a man was a big deal.
We looked up to men around us as children, they gave us a snapshot of what it would be like for us in years to come.
Maybe it was a superhero, your Dad/Grandfather/Uncle or someone we held only in our imagination.
Whoever it was, they had something we wanted, they were brave, courageous and strong.
They were confident and in control, they seemed to have everything.
We believed they would protect us until we reached manhood.
Big Boy Into Man:
On entering my teenage years and secondary school things changed.
A new arena meant new "rules and regulations."
What served me up to that point was not going to serve me any longer.
Being a man (yes a real one) was on the cards.
I needed to learn and fast.
The way we learn is through feedback.
We behave a certain way and get feedback.
Behaviours which give us positive feedback means we may link that behaviour to pleasure and it may become a habit.
Behaviours which generate negative feedback means we may link that to pain and learn not to do it.
Being kind = positive feedback = pleasure = positive feedback loop.
Touching a hot stove = negative feedback = pain = negative feedback loop.
A lot of our habits are created from these feedback loops, only there’s more to consider than short-term pain and pleasure, we have to look down the line too.
Rules For Being A Man:
In my teenage years, I learned the following things meant pain.
Showing your emotions
Sharing your feelings
Asking for help
Being open and honest
Breaking these rules meant negative feedback.
When we behaved in one of the ways above we were told in no uncertain terms;
Stop being so sensitive
Don’t be such a girl
Men don’t cry
Don’t be gay
You can’t say that
Don’t be a pussy
Toughen the fuck up
All providing a valuable lesson not break those rules again, at least around those people or in those environments.
If we were really lucky then we didn’t find ourselves in those situations or we had people around us to protect us from learning to follow these “rules”.
If we were simply lucky we may have learned that certain behaviours meant pain and were best avoided.
We changed our behaviour temporarily around certain people or avoided them where possible but largely we remained unchanged.
A “mistake” would quickly remind us to get in line by having guilt placed on us.
Worst of all the scenarios is if we were shamed by others when we “broke the rules”.
Guilt Vs Shame:
Guilt is the feeling that we done something wrong- our behaviour.
Shame is the feeling that we as a human are flawed - our character.
It’s easy to separate guilt (behaviour) from who we are, it’s extremely difficult to separate shame from who we are.
Brené Brown is a researcher on Shame, Courage and Vulnerability whose work has helped me and many more like me.
Her definition of shame;
I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. - Brené Brown
Shame is the most damaging human emotion there is.
That feeling can paralyse us.
There are different shame triggers for men and women.
Shame Triggers For Men:
The greatest shame trigger for men is around being perceived as weak.
That means to avoid being shamed we must not show weakness.
As humans, we are social beings, craving connection and love.
Being buried in shame takes those away from us.
Therefore we will do everything in our power to avoid being cast out, feeling isolated and unworthy of love.
Again, weakness as a man we are led to believe is around;
Being open and honest, showing emotions, sharing feelings, asking for help, being vulnerable and being sensitive.
In reality, the opposite is the truth.
They are all the things which are true strength of a man.
Maybe like me, you have followed the rules.
Those rules were created based out of fear.
They left me feeling lost, miserable, jealous, angry and completely unaware of who I was.
Acting out of fear, whether it’s ours or others covers up who we really are.
Only by asking questions and exploring their answers like we did as children can we start to peel back the layers holding us back from what we really want in life.
While I don’t know what that looks like for you I can simply say that committing to the journey of uncovering who I am is the best decision I have made.
I’m not alone in making that statement.
Self-expression has given me an experience of what I wanted all those years ago as a boy.
A sense of what being a man is actually like.
I’m far from there but the positive feedback along the way keeps me going.
That Journey In The Past 12 Months:
I have asked for help, something I would not allow myself to do before.
I have been so far out of my comfort zone that I couldn’t see the edges looking back.
I have been more honest and open than ever before with people I trusted who earned the right to hear my story.
I have allowed myself to cry and have cried more in the past 12 months than in the previous 12 years (including today).
I have felt completely vulnerable by exposing myself more than I believed was possible.
The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself…..that is the moment, you might be starting to get it right. - Neil Gaiman.
That is what I am starting to feel at the moment.
The Paradox Solution:
If actions based on fear have covered up who we really are then by doing the opposite we can rediscover it.
If true strength as a man is what we are told is weakness then we understand how we can really be a man.
By throwing out the rule book, being open to change and listening to ourselves.
Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.- Brené Brown
If you feel shame then to know you are capable of change and more importantly more than anything that you belong and are worthy of love and connection.
Maybe that seems an impossible task all at once, maybe open the possibility of it being the truth.
Making a decision to uncovering who you are, means there is plenty of work to be done, it will be hard, you will need to get uncomfortable and it may be the most worthwhile thing you will ever do.
Be who you are and say what you feel, because in the end those who matter don't mind and those who mind don't matter. -Theodor Seuss Geisel
For me, it was one of the most liberating feelings I have ever experienced to know that I could give myself permission to being myself and by doing so I started to experience the things I always wanted.
I am just at the beginning of my journey and willing to share my experience and what I have learned in the hope it may help another person on theirs.
I have a lot of work to do and a lot to learn, better get back to it.